The Best Movie Ever | John Goodman
John Goodman, beloved character actor, TV star and blue furry Pixar monster, has been a mainstay with audiences for decades. From brief early roles in Revenge of the Nerds and C.H.U.D. to prolific collaborations with The Coen Brothers and Disney, Goodman’s alternatively soft and powerful demeanor, off-the-cuff sense of humor and dramatic gravitas regularly earns him the respect of his peers and audiences alike.
But with the mysterious 10 Cloverfield Lane opening this week, trapping John Goodman in a bunker under unknown circumstances, we got to wondering: he’s made a lot of great movies, but what’s the best John Goodman movie ever?
As always, the rules are simple. Our panel of film critics (Crave’s William Bibbiani and Witney Seibold, Collider’s Brian Formo) are only allowed to pick one film to defend as John Goodman’s finest hour. This time they each rallied around films by The Coen Brothers, but they couldn’t narrow it down to a single film. They’re going head to head… Goodman-style.
Find out what they picked and why, and come back every Wednesday for another highly debatable installment of Crave’s The Best Movie Ever!
Brian Formo’s Pick: Barton Fink (1991)
Of modern supporting actors, John Goodman is perhaps the most egregiously overlooked (in regards to racking up acting nominations). Goodman is a reliable actor, but also unlike any other in the modern era. He possesses a gravelly, seen-the-world voice; but that world has done many things to him. In some instances it’s beaten him down, the cruel winds have sent him to jail, to a bad sandwich in Seattle, or all the way to Vietnam or even Hell. But Goodman’s characters often are the toughest sons of bitches. At some point people go “over the line” with Goodman and they often lose.
In terms of both loss and being overlooked, Goodman’s performance in Barton Fink is perhaps his most heartbreaking because it perhaps reflects how Hollywood tends to look at him: as the handy Midwestern everyman. Goodman’s Charlie Meadows is the always smiling, yet lonesome traveling salesman who finds himself in the same hotel as a Broadway playwright named Barton Fink (John Turturro). Fink has moved to Los Angeles to churn out quick, digestible garbage screenplays, but he fancies telling stories about the common man. Meadows tells Fink that he’s got all kinds of stories in that regard, but Fink always shuts him down. He’s committed to telling the story of the common man, not in listening to the common man. And Meadows lets it slide off his common back.
You feel for Charlie Meadows because he’s so kind. He asks questions and he waits for his turn to speak. He has a wide smile. But people don’t listen to him unless they get to talk about themselves. A lot of people have talked at Goodman as an actor. And Goodman has enhanced some great performances, but his own magnificence has been far too often overlooked as well. God bless the Coen brothers for being so giving to a modern (overlooked) great.
William Bibbiani’s Pick: The Big Lebowski (1998)
John Goodman’s greatest performance will probably always be in the television series Roseanne, where he made working class attitudes, humor and physicality seem more attractive than ever before. But in movies his fury is a huge part of his identity. Even in Monsters Inc. the cuddly monster he plays is a master “scarer.” The masterful acting of John Goodman can infect even the most terrifying of creatures with vulnerability. And never was the balance more exquisite than in The Big Lebowski.
Goodman plays Walter Sobchak, a dangerously violent bowler who ill-advised self-confidence nearly causes one disaster over another. One toe over the line, BAM! Walter’s got a gun in your face, and thanks in part to The Coen Brothers’ skillful writing and in majority to Goodman’s performance… we like this guy.
We like Walter Sobchak. Think for a moment about how mad that is. If Walter were a part of any of our lives we would have a restraining order against him, but instead he’s become a pop culture teddy bear. We know he means well. Goodman reveals the humane rationale for Walter’s righteous anger in speeches about his ex-wife and his pitiful attempts to wipe human ashes off of his best friend’s face. While in reality the means wouldn’t justify his ends, in The Big Lebowski we love him for trying.
Witney Seibold’s Pick: The Big Lebowski (1998)
Given the size and passion of the cult surrounding it, it’s difficult to imagine the time – 1998 until late 1999 – when The Coen Bros. The Big Lebowski didn’t dominate cult film discourse. The film has, in the ensuing years, become a staple of midnight movie programming, and is one of the more heavily-quoted feature films to have come out since, gosh, The Princess Bride a decade earlier. It passionate following likely comes from its perhaps-misread slacker philosophy. Relax, abide, and the world will take care of itself. In fact, The Big Lebowski is a satirical look at the ultra-masculine trappings of film noir. What would happen if Sam Spade were not a hard boiled mug, but a burnt-out aging hippie whose only passions are marijuana and bowling? Comedy.
The exemplar of that masculinity in The Big Lebowski is John Goodman’s character, Walter Sobchak. Walter is a noisy, self-important gun-toting blowhard with delusions of grandeur and just enough intelligence to sound smart, but has only anger and arrogance to back it up. Everyone knows someone exactly like Walter, frustrated by his confidence, angered by his backward worldview, and annoyed by his immature refusal to grow up and move on. He is the awful uncle who brings up politics at the Thanksgiving table. Walter lives in a world where the Vietnam war is the only historical event, and, perhaps more quietly pathetic, where his stalled marriage is still hanging on.
Walter is so comprehensively embodied by Goodman, you would be forgiven for assuming Goodman is that way in real life. Goodman didn’t just play a part, but seems to have invented a strangely persistent cinematic icon. He’s funny, aggravating, and convincingly real. In an impressive career full of amazing performances, Goodman never stood taller than when playing this asshole. He’s not wrong. He’s just as asshole.