Sitcom star, dependable character actor, occasional leading man — John Goodman has basked in the glow of a number of different spotlights over the last few decades, carving out a career enviable for its versatility and sheer success as well as entertaining to watch. Whether he’s making good use of his expert comic timing or lending dramatic gravitas to a scene, Goodman has become a reliable indicator of quality for whatever project he happens to be involved with — and this weekend, given that the project in question happens to be Kong: Skull Island, we figured now would be the perfect time to pay tribute to Mr. Goodman with a look back at his best-reviewed films. All hail King Ralph, it’s time for Total Recall!
Frank Marshall (backed here by his longtime production partner Steven Spielberg) made his directorial debut with this affectionate, cheerfully creepy tribute to classic Hollywood creature features, in which a deadly breed of spider terrorizes a small town whose residents include a lunatic exterminator (John Goodman) and, of course, a doctor with the titular phobia (Jeff Daniels). “That sound you hear in the background is the ‘ugh!’ heard round the world,” chuckled Janet Maslin of the New York Times, adding, “luckily, Arachnophobia will also be generating its share of boisterous, nervous laughter.”
Goodman’s outsize personality was a perfect fit for 1993’s Matinee — not only because it lent itself well to the leading character, the William Castle-inspired film producer Lawrence Woolsey, but also because Goodman proved an excellent on-screen foil for director Joe Dante’s equally boisterous style. Sadly, Dante’s fond look back at the politics and culture of the early ‘60s — which framed Woolsey’s efforts to debut a half-man, half-ant horror movie called Mant against the shadow of the Cuban Missile Crisis — failed to resonate with audiences, who ignored it to the tune of a paltry $9.5 million domestic gross. But it hit a home run with critics like Jeffrey M. Anderson of the San Francisco Examiner, who called it “A riot, and Joe Dante’s most touchingly personal movie at the same time.”
Goodman’s work with the Coen brothers hasn’t always translated to a ton of screen time, but his association with the duo has given him the opportunity to play some truly memorable, scene-stealing characters. Case in point: Roland Turner, the unforgettably noxious jazz artist who shares a ride to Chicago with the titular protagonist during Inside Llewyn Davis. Turner’s passing presence in the film is just one of a handful of regrettable misadventures, but as he has so often in his career, Goodman adds an expert dash of seasoning with his performance — and rounds out what the Arizona Republic’s Bill Goodykoontz called “one of the strangest yet most satisfying movie experiences of the year” and “one of those films in which you can’t really appreciate what you’ve seen until it’s over.” Concluded Goodykoontz, “You just have to trust that the trip is worth the trouble. And it is.”
1. Argo (2012) 96%
The lion’s share of the attention for this Best Picture Oscar winner went to star and director Ben Affleck, and rightly so — but Argo also offered Goodman one of the many crucial supporting roles he’s enjoyed during his career: real-life Hollywood hero John Chambers, the award-winning makeup artist whose clandestine involvement was critical in assembling the phony science fiction movie whose “film crew” sneaked into Iran and rescued a crew of refugee diplomats during the 1979 hostage crisis. Offering some well-timed comic relief, Goodman and his partner Alan Arkin helped provide a safety valve for the often excruciatingly tense Iranian scenes. “The movieland satire is laid on thick, but it’s also deadly accurate,” observed Peter Rainer for the Christian Science Monitor. “Schlock has never seemed so patriotic, and Arkin and Goodman have rarely been so good.”