Total Recall

John Goodman's 10 Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Kong: Skull Island star.

by | March 8, 2017 | Comments

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!


10. The Big Easy (1987) 88%

An early and enduring critical favorite, The Big Easy was a concerted move to the mainstream for director Jim McBride, who cut his teeth on stuff like the X-rated apocalyptic fantasy Glen and Randa. It captured Dennis Quaid at his Hollywood heartthrob peak, chucking him and Goodman into the bayou with a never-sultrier Ellen Barkin for a sex-drenched neo-noir about police corruption (and, it must be noted, really good music). Easy wasn’t a huge hit — it grossed less than $18 million during its theatrical run — but its cult has grown over the years, affirming the words of critics like the Washington Post’s Hal Hinson, who enthused, “This is one movie that lives up to its billing; it’s easy all right. Like falling off a log.”


9. Raising Arizona (1987) 91%

Something of a palate cleanser for the Coen brothers after the rich darkness of their previous effort, Blood Simple, 1987’s cockeyed comedy Raising Arizona united a motley crew of character actors to tell the tale of a well-meaning ex-con (Nicolas Cage) who hatches a plan with his police officer wife (Holly Hunter) to cure their childless condition by kidnapping a baby from a furniture magnate (Trey Wilson) who publicly jokes that his five infants are more than he knows what to do with. The kidnapping coincides with the unfortunate reappearance of Cage’s criminal associates (Goodman and William Forsythe), who complicate the situation with plans of their own — and then there’s the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse (Randall “Tex” Cobb) to contend with. Perhaps less a movie than an artfully assembled compilation of quirks, Arizona quickly ascended to cult classic status; as Time Out’s Geoff Andrew enthused, “Starting from a point of delirious excess, the film leaps into dark and virtually uncharted territory to soar like a comet.”


8. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) 90%

Goodman’s cuddly frame and avuncular smile have made him a natural for a number of kindly characters, but he also has a unique intensity that makes him great for villains — dual gifts that were both put to effective use in 2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane. As Howard Stambler, a mysterious doomsday prepper who saves (or maybe kidnaps) our heroine (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) after a car accident, Goodman has to play a lot of character notes: is he a loony with outlandish end-of-days beliefs and nefarious plans for his guest/captive, or does he really represent safety in a world gone wrong? From scene to scene, the audience is never quite sure, and the end result is — as Jeannette Catsoulis put it for the New York Times — “A master class on narrative pacing and carefully managed jolts.”


7. Arachnophobia (1990) 91%

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.”


6. Barton Fink (1991) 91%

Goodman has delivered more than his share of memorable supporting performances, but his work in Barton Fink is near the top of a distinguished list, helping anchor an early Coen brothers picture that uses the uneasy partnership between art and commerce as a backdrop for a surreal drama about sex, lies, and a shotgun-toting traveling salesman (played by Goodman, natch). Calling the end result “Gnomic, claustrophobic, hallucinatory, just plain weird,” Time’s Richard Schickel lauded it as “the kind of movie critics can soak up thousands of words analyzing and cinephiles can soak up at least three espressos arguing their way through.”


5. Matinee (1992) 93%

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.”


4. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) 93%

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.”


3. Monsters, Inc. (2001) 96%

The saga of Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (Goodman), two employees of the titular kiddie-scaring company, Monsters, Inc. (and its belated prequel, Monsters University) vividly imagines a world in which children’s screams are the energy source that powers the secret city of Monstropolis — and one in which the monsters themselves are just 9-to-5 clock punchers with problems of their own. After meeting up in college and having some wacky academic adventures, Mike and Sulley go to work together — and ultimately discover that not only is inter-species harmony possible, but it may hold the key to their civilization’s looming energy crisis. “The analogy to our dependence on, say, oil is soon abandoned, the better to blur the distinction between abstract and concrete,” wrote Lisa Alspector of the Chicago Reader, pointing out that it’s “something older viewers of this 2001 animated adventure may appreciate more than younger ones.”


2. The Artist (2011) 96%

Given all the success he’s had with voicework, it might seem a tad ironic that one of John Goodman’s top-rated films is a silent movie. But aside from having an instantly recognizable voice, Goodman’s also been blessed with a marvelously expressive face, which made him a perfect choice for writer/director Michel Hazanavicius when casting The Artist, a Best Picture-winning romantic dramedy about a pair of silent film stars (played by Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo) whose careers — both managed by studio boss Al Zimmer (Goodman) — diverge sharply with the advent of the talkies. A somewhat unlikely box office hit, The Artist also earned nearly unanimous praise from critics; as Mark Rabinowitz enthused for CNN, “There is literally nothing wrong with it. I don’t have a single nit to pick, minor flaw to point out or little bit that annoyed me. It is pure magic from the first frame to the last.”


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.”

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