You know who doesn’t have an Academy Award nomination and who definitely should have at least an Academy Award nomination if not an actual Academy Award? John Goodman. I’m sure if I did an exhaustive search of both memory and my vast assortment of movie-related spreadsheets, I could turn up a big bunch of actors and actresses who should have been nominated for an Oscar by now but haven’t been. But in this very moment, if you asked me who is the best working actor/actress who doesn’t have at least an Oscar nomination on his/her resume, I’d name Goodman and feel good about my answer.
John Goodman is the best. He’s a heck of actor, by all accounts a great guy, and someone who brings joy to my heart every time he shows up on screen no matter how large or small the role. He’s also one of the original American Treasures that Richard and I came up with before Mad About Movies even began and obviously, I expect this is the achievement of which he is proudest. With Captive State opening this weekend, I looked back at his illustrious career and picked my five favorite movie performances.
5. John Chambers, Argo
This felt like the performance that was most likely to bring an Oscar nomination, though Supporting Actor is always a deep category. I’m not sure there is a better example of Goodman’s inherent likability and pleasantness than what you get with Chambers. The character exudes a much-needed sense of optimism that perfectly balances the inherent hopelessness that exists within the plot.
4. Sully, Monsters Inc. and University
I’m always ready to ride or die for a Pixar movie and Monsters Inc. is one of their best in my estimation. I love how Goodman (and Billy Crystal, too) blends his personality into the on-screen character and I think that’s part of what makes the heart of the movie, Sully and Boo, work so well. Sometimes in animation, the voice is just the voice and the art is just the art and there’s a sense of separation between the two parts. That’s not the case with Goodman and Sully and because of that, I think, you get one of the truly great characters in the Pixar universe.
3. Gale, Raising Arizona
This was basically my only frame of reference for Goodman for many years, having never watched Roseanne during its first run. I loved Raising Arizona from an early (too early?) age and always found Gale to be hilarious. Now I see the classic Goodman traits all over this character and it’s kind of amazing that he had such a great sense of identity this early in his career.
2. Howard, 10 Cloverfield Lane
Goodman hasn’t dabbled much in on-screen villainy but 10 Cloverfield Lane exemplifies what a great villain he can be when called upon. Howard is creepy, to be sure, but he’s also very caring and he keeps his craziness relegated to his edges so that you’re never quite sure of what you did and did not see; little pockets of anger that burst forth then dance back behind his pleasant-ish façade. I’d wager it’s a much more nuanced performance than you’d get from most actors in his place and his ability to keep both the audience and his on-screen counterparts on unstable ground makes this movie what it is.
1. Walter Sobchak, The Big Lebowski
I could expand this list out to 20 or 30 entries, but the top spot would never be in jeopardy. Goodman fits the Coen’s world so incredibly well, whether it’s in the aforementioned Raising Arizona or a short stint as a stoic passenger in Inside Llewyn Davis but Lebowski is where he truly shines. Walter is a buffoon and an unhinged buffoon at that but with Goodman at the wheel, he’s a thousand times more likable and memorable than he has any right to be. To be sure, the Coens gave him some INCREDIBLE lines to deliver but it is the actual delivery that brings them home and Goodman knocks every single one of his scenes out of the park. As much as I love Jeff Bridges in the lead and admire the work of Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, Julianne Moore, and the rest, I think it’s Goodman that holds the movie together and provides the most entertainment.