Every year, it seems that one of the four Oscar acting categories is several orders of magnitude weaker than the others, and this year, that category is Best Supporting Actor.
There are certainly some fine contenders, including Mahershala Ali from Moonlight, Jeff Bridges from Hell or High Water, and Lucas Hedges from Manchester by the Sea, among others. And if Liam Neeson is at his best in the upcoming Silence (which very few people have seen as of this writing, but which comes at the point in his career when he’d typically win an Oscar), he could become the category’s frontrunner.
But for the most part, the 2017 Supporting Actor race already feels a bit like grasping at straws in the dark. Few of this year’s obvious Oscar-bait films, for whatever reason, seem to contain the sorts of strong supporting male performances that would easily fill out this category.
So allow me to suggest a nominee who might seem a little goofy but will make more sense the more you consider the idea — I promise.
Goodman has never been nominated for an Oscar, despite starring in several Oscar favorites
Even when Goodman appears in a terrible movie, he’s generally a bright spot. He’s capable of playing everything from gregarious to terrifying — and sometimes both in the same scene. His big, teddy bear exterior often conceals something far darker, be it all-consuming rage or a fear of his own weakness.
Goodman’s best known film roles tend to come in Coen brothers movies, though he’s curiously never starred in one of the pair’s several Best Picture nominees (not even True Grit, where he would have been a natural).
Meanwhile, he’s appeared in several Oscar favorites and Oscar-adjacent films — including during the two-year stretch of 2011 and 2012, when he starred in two consecutive Best Picture winners (The Artist and Argo) and another nominee (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close). But he wasn’t nominated for any of them, despite relatively major supporting roles in The Artist and Argo.
Of those three films, Goodman probably only should have been nominated for Argo — where his world-weary Hollywood makeup artist was much more lived-in and nuanced than the catchphrase-spewing producer played by Alan Arkin, who actually garnered a nomination. But one can surmise that Goodman has at least been on Oscar voters’ radar before.
If you look back all the way to March, when 10 Cloverfield Lane was released, nearly every review (including mine) underlined just how terrific and terrifying he was in the part of Howard, a doomsday prepper who traps two younger adults in his underground bunker, insisting that doomsday has, in fact, arrived.
There’s plenty of room in 10 Cloverfield Lane’s script for Howard to simply be a kook, but Goodman teases out nuances that might never have existed on the page. His scenes with Mary Elizabeth Winstead (who plays the movie’s protagonist) have a surprisingly bittersweet tang to them, as you realize that Howard is probably crazy and almost certainly a danger to this woman’s life, but you also find yourself secretly feeling sorry for the guy. He’s lost everything! Why can’t she just take him at his word that the world has ended?
It’s all to Goodman’s credit that Howard isn’t merely a monster or a misunderstood genius. He vacillates wildly between the two, which makes the film’s climax all the more effective. You know that in a film like this, the heroine will have to escape, and she’ll have to take out Howard to do it. And when that moment arrives, it brings the sort of triumphant popcorn movie mayhem we get too little of nowadays.
But Goodman also gives the proceedings a weird gravitas. There’s a sense that Howard’s downfall was inevitable, destined from the moment he first began building his underground bunker. The best villains, goes the cliché, are the heroes of their own stories, but Howard is something beyond even that. It’s like he’s living out a Greek tragedy right alongside whatever the other characters are up to.
There’s not a ton of precedent for a role like this — especially one that debuted so early in the year — to wind up nominated for an Oscar. But Goodman not only offers a deft performance, he also raises the film he’s in by at least a couple of notches. That’s gotta be worth a nomination at least.