Monday, May 5, 2014

Should John Goodman Get an Honorary Oscar?

John Goodman in The Artist
Every now and then there are discussions about Academy Award winners of the past. To many, it remains a chance to spout obscure trivia facts like: What was Morgan Freeman's first Oscar nomination for? (Answer: Best Supporting Actor - Street Smart) or What film was Bob Hoskins nominated for? (Answer: Best Actor - Mona Lisa). It is likely that some facts have been brushed under the table to the point where we think that everyone of cinematic value has at very least been nominated. However, one of the most shocking omissions from even the nomination bracket is the legendary character actor John Goodman. Quick! Name the film he was nominated for. You can't because he never was nominated. In this post, I ask you the question: Should John Goodman receive an honorary Oscar?

For those unaware, honorary Oscars are given out at the Governor's Ball and are essentially awards commemorating one person's achievement in film. Last year's recipients included Steve Martin, Angela Lansbury, and Angelina Jolie. Of those, one of the strangest first timers was constant Oscar host Martin, whose body of work features a lot brilliant work, including L.A. Story and All of Me, which should have gotten him something. That was the inspiration to look into performers with an empty mantel and try to right some wrongs. With the ever changing Academy, it is likely that in time things work themselves out. Much like the debate over "Best Stunt Actor," (a fascinating case for another day), there is a need to recognize film as it continues to grow beyond a camera and a body.

However, there is one actor who deserves more credit. Since 2011, he has starred in six pictures that have been Oscar nominated, including back-to-back Best Picture winners The Artist and Argo. He may have not had a major role in the former, but in the latter, he was in top shape as he provided plenty of witty lines and brought the charm necessary to make the story work. Going back to films like Barton Fink or Monsters Inc., he has been an iconic force. We recognize this humble giant who performs his lunacy with dignity and charisma. While it can be seen as offensive, he manages to do plenty to make obese actors subject to doing more than pratfalls and gross out gags involving food. It may seem like a stretch, but considering that culture still likes its share of lowbrow, it is a nice achievement.

Another issue with his roles is that he usually is a supporting actor in every sense of the phrase. His success doesn't come through in his own performance, but how he benefits the opposing actor in any given scene. He is a nuanced figure whose range can go from subtle to manic as evidenced in The Big Lebowski or ParaNorman. These actors have always had trouble getting recognition from the Academy notably because their nominees tend to be either fresh new faces that have challenged cinema in fresh ways (see: Lupita Nyong'o) or elder statesman who turn in performances that is a compilation of a lifetime of great work (see: Christopher Plummer). John Goodman career was heightened in TV and by the time he made it to film, he wasn't young. Hypothetically, he isn't an elder statesman in the same regards that Plummer is. However, he has influenced cinema in ways evidenced by the Oscar nominated films that he has been associated with. It still seems baffling that he was in The Artist notably because how out-of-nowhere that film was upon its release. 

Even then, Goodman's career is defined by doing anything and everything. While I don't think that The Hangover: Part III is a necessary reason to campaign for an Oscar, there should be more attention to him in general. Yes, it is all implicated by what films are critically popular in any given year. I fear that unless he pulls out a gut wrenching performance soon, he may fall into a camp currently frequented by surprise not-nominees such as Jim Carrey, Alan Rickman, Steve Buscemi, or even Donald Sutherland (who much like Goodman, has appeared in multiple Oscar winning films including Ordinary People). It is hard to segregate why these particular actors have no trophy to their credit, but to find out, one must do some extensive cultural research to any given year. Yes, there are some travesties, but for the most part a lot of them can contextually make sense.

Of those, the strangest is Barton Fink, which Goodman won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for. Yes, it was before the Coen Brothers became the iconic directors that they are today, but that alone was proof that Goodman is a bona fide powerhouse of talent. He makes that film memorable with fellow non-nominee John Turturro. It would be egregious to make a big deal out of this, but seeing as that film is 23 years old, it should at least put some context into how long Goodman has been impacting audiences and deserving of awards. While some consider The Big Lebowski to be the next robbery, it also doesn't make sense even following Fargo and the Coen Brothers gaining respect. Please notice that The Big Lebowski was very much a stoner film and despite quotability, wouldn't appeal to the Academy who made Seabiscuit or Moulin Rouge a nominee.

Onto honorary Oscar. Why should this be the case? Consider the talent who have never won an Oscar yet sport this trophy: Ennio Morricone, Jean Luc-Godard, Chuck Jones, Groucho Marx, Sidney Lumet and Robert Altman to name a few.A diverse cast that don't automatically jump to the forefront when nomination time rolls around. All of them embody credits that influence modern society in ways that were eventually recognized. To not put Goodman on this list is a little unfair because what he has done is impressive not only for Academy Award films, but also for mainstream movies. He has rarely been the worst part of anything. Also, the idea of giving it to him despite having bad films on his resume shouldn't be the case. To point out that despite winning a lifetime achievement Oscar for his work, Francis Ford Coppola did not get it for directing Jack. It was for everything that he did right, which is unparalleled even if just discussing his impact on 70's film culture.

This shouldn't be seen as an angry letter, but more of a hypothetical situation. We all want our favorite performers to get an Oscar nomination. We really do. Some hold the award to such a high esteem that their credibility is defined by it. I will admit that Goodman is only the tip of actors who have been overlooked, but he is a great starting point because of his legacy and recent success with the Oscars' not too distant in memory. This is meant to generate conversation and think about ways in which the Academy can go. If this takes off or another idea pops up, I will likely do more of these. As it stands, this case for Goodman has been one that has been on my mind for quite some time and would like to hear criticism from people who admire his work, or at least acknowledge that he is probably in a few of your favorite flicks.

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