This post is part of the 31 Days of Oscar blogathon. I’m taking part in the Oscar Snubs segment, hosted by Once Upon a Screen! There are so many amazing posts. Check them out here. Also see Paula’s Cinema Club & Outspoken & Freckled for the other great Oscar topics.
I’m rarely puzzled by an actor failing to win an Oscar. The competition is steep, the Academy biases evident, and the campaigning too embarrassing for some well-respected professionals to attempt. But for an actor not to be nominated when he regularly appears in critically acclaimed movies (and presumably played a role in their success) is surprising. With over two decades of fine performances to his name, John Goodman has yet to receive a single Oscar nod.
He is a regular in Coen brothers’ films, and thus would presumably take on the shimmer of those critical darlings. How’s this for a partial list of acting credits?: Inside Llewyn Davis (2013), O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), The Big Lebowski (1998), The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) (voice only), Barton Fink (1991), and Raising Arizona (1987).
For two years in a row, Goodman acted in the Oscar-winning film: Argo (2012) and The Artist (2011). In 2011, in fact, he performed in two Oscar-nominated films, playing the doorman in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close as well as the executive in The Artist. While his roles in the other two might not have been significant enough for Academy Award consideration, his performance in Argo certainly was.
Goodman won a Golden Globe for playing Dan Conner on Roseanne (1988-97) and an Emmy for his guest performance in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. He’s won other honors, including, of course, for comedy, but the most prestigious have been ensemble awards. His only Golden Globe-nominated film performance was for Barton Fink.
I have to ask: Why?
Is His Acting Not Good Enough?
The easiest answer is that he’s simply not skilled enough to win. I guess that’s possible, even though I find it tough to believe any other actor could have so memorably captured Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski, or the oddest hotel guest ever in Barton Fink. Even in small roles his impact is felt. I can’t stop laughing when I think about his performance as an escaped convict in Raising Arizona, especially when he gets into his never-leave-a-man-behind diatribe.
And with all of Hollywood to choose from, why would the gifted Coen brothers continue to cast Goodman if they didn’t find him talented? While the directing duo features the same actors in many of their films, I think only Joel Coen’s wife makes more showings than Goodman. (John Turturro, also beloved by the brothers, has been in four of their movies to Goodman’s six.)
Are His Roles Not Sufficiently Challenging?
Goodman fits well into a number of stereotypical roles, especially the kind of good ol’ boy he plays in Alpha House. He clearly plays these with ease. But he enjoys eccentric characters too, as so many of his Coen brothers movies prove. The Academy seems to love larger-than-life characters. Anthony Hopkins and Daniel Day-Lewis have been honored for roles that bear no resemblance to actual human beings. Does anyone believe there was ever a man like those Day-Lewis played in Gangs of New York or There Will Be Blood? In what world is Hannibal Lecter anything but a caricature?
Goodman’s oddball and sometimes sinister characters, in contrast, are typically very believable, especially Walter in The Big Lebowski. Is it easy to make a person who is comically bizarre come off as realistic?
I don’t think it is, nor do I believe the much-loved Day-Lewis has pulled off this feat nearly as often as Goodman has (admittedly, the latter’s role in O Brother also never gets beyond myth).
In terms of understated performances, which I typically think more deserving of honors, Goodman isn’t always given enough play time for the kind of nuanced and subtle acting we saw in Roseanne, and he doesn’t seem to demand meatier roles when he could. I’d like to see him attempt these types of parts more than he does. If only such understated roles were honored, Goodman being bypassed by the Academy would make sense given the number of his quirky parts. But that’s not the case. Oscars would otherwise never have been given to Day-Lewis for There Will Be Blood or Hopkins for The Silence of the Lambs.
Is It the Usual Reason—No Love for Comedians?
Those of you who’ve read my blog for a while know that I regularly take the Academy to task for their lack of appreciation for comedic performances and scripts (Harold Ramis, Steve Martin, Ralph Fiennes). While Goodman has often starred in dramas, even his more serious roles are usually punctuated with humor. And with a face as expressive as this one, why would he neglect the opportunity to make us laugh?
The Academy’s dismissal of comedy could explain how often Goodman is never even discussed—much less chosen—when it comes to nominations.
Could It Be the TV Curse?
In the new golden age of TV, actors can move from big screen to television and back again without losing their star status—as long as that show is on cable. Network television still retains its low status. (Doubt me? Check out which shows win most Emmys for drama.) Whatever his other accomplishments, Goodman will always be known as Roseanne’s Dan Conner. He starred too long on a hit show—and performed too well—for it to be otherwise. While we see the rare exception—J.K. Simmons’s Oscar nomination this year, for example—most network television stars never get much credit once they turn to film. I can’t explain this trend nearly as fluently as Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) does in 30 Rock.
Jack is advising Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) on how to tank his acting career. In the NBC TV show’s typical self-referential fashion, Baldwin is actually describing his own life:
“Do TV. No one will ever take you seriously again. Doesn’t matter how big a movie star you are, even if you have the kind of career where you walked away from a blockbuster franchise or worked with Meryl Streep or Anthony Hopkins. Made important movies about things like civil rights or Pearl Harbor. Stole films with supporting roles and then turned around and blew them away on Broadway. None of that will matter once you do television. You can win every award in sight, be the biggest thing on the small screen, and you’ll still get laughed out of the Vanity Fair Oscar party by Greg Kinnear….You wanted to hit rock bottom again? Go on network television.”
Could this trend explain Goodman’s snubs?
Is He Discounted Due to His Choices—and Costars?
Perhaps no number of outstanding performances can make the Academy forget this role:
Or the fact that he starred with Roseanne Barr, who never has gained any traction outside of TV and unfortunately earned even a presidential slam thanks to this performance:
That the show they shared was remarkably ahead of its time, wise and real in a way few sitcoms then or since have been, doesn’t seem to make any difference.
Of course, there’s no way to know for sure why the Academy passes on this lovable character actor. My belief? The omission maybe has a bit to do with the TV curse or his former costar. But mainly, he’s ignored for the same reason Jeff Bridges was for The Big Lebowski and for many other roles that preceded it: Goodman simply makes it look too easy.
Please check out the other 31 Days of Oscar entries! (I will, by the way, return to classic movie fare on Thursday:))