It’s never too early for Oscar talk because — God willing, anyway — quality work is there to be discussed year-round. So while the 88th Academy Awards may still be fresh in our minds, and 2016 itself barely more than two months old, there’s already a performance hitting screens that deserves earmarking for year-end kudos.
But first, a question…
How has an Oscar nomination eluded John Goodman for this long? Arguments could have been made for any number of Coen brothers films over the years (“Barton Fink,” “The Big Lebowski,” “Inside Llewyn Davis”), and he’s been in the mix with other players like “Argo” and “Flight” as of late. The 63-year-old Emmy and Golden Globe winner was a highlight of the Screen Actors Guild-nominated “Trumbo” cast last year as well.
Basically, the “it’s time” narrative is there for the taking. But that kind of thing generally conforms to traditional awards movie territory; just look at the circuit Leonardo DiCaprio recently completed. All the sweeter it would be, then, for Goodman to finally net Oscar recognition for a little genre film completely outside the Academy’s wheelhouse. Because that’s what his performance in Dan Trachtenberg’s “10 Cloverfield Lane” is. It’s Oscar-worthy.
I hesitate to say too much about Goodman’s character or, certainly, the film’s plot — the mystery box is working overtime here — but his performance is impressive for its complexity. Working from a script that ebbs and flows with ease and tension, the actor’s work is like a waltz, gliding on the narrative’s rhythms, commanding acute attention every moment he’s on screen. It’s a clinic, really, a performance as compelling in its quieter moments as it is in its explosive ones. I wouldn’t flinch if someone called it Goodman’s best work.
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(By the way, the film features tight ensemble work, with Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr. contributing plenty to the mixture. But Goodman really just owns this movie.)
Just like Jeff Nichols’ “Midnight Special” and Jeremy Saulnier’s “Green Room,” “10 Cloverfield Lane” (opening March 11) is an economic thriller grounded by real-world specificity. It’s that approach that makes performances like Goodman’s — and Michael Shannon’s, and Anton Yelchin’s — really sing. They deserve a seat at the Oscar table along with the biopics and the festival darlings and the “prestige” players.
So cringe at stirring the awards pot a year in advance if you must, but it’s good to plant an early flag. These movies depend on the drumbeat, and sometimes — as we saw with “Ex Machina” last year — it can carry them through. After all, the year is just going to push on, and eventually we’ll enter the awards season, where films from Ang Lee, Martin Scorsese, Nate Parker, Clint Eastwood and more will predictably dominate the discussion. Tom Hanks, Amy Adams, Michael Keaton, Matthew McConaughey and Judi Dench will no doubt dot the prognostication landscape.
But I’ll still be talking about John Goodman.