It's early enough in the year that I'm still writing "2015" on all my rent checks, yet 10 Cloverfield Lane has already delivered one of the first great film performances of 2016. Of course, I'm talking about veteran actor John Goodman, who plays paranoid survivalist Howard in the sort-of sequel to 2008's Cloverfield . Horror and science fiction aren't normally the Academy's bag, particularly in acting awards. However, critics and audiences are buzzing about Goodman's work in the movie, especially since it sets the tense tone for the claustrophobic thriller. Many, many more noteworthy performances are still to come in this industry year. But I'm going on record to say that John Goodman could get an Oscar nomination for 10 Cloverfield Lane. Will he win? That depends on the rest of the pack.
If you haven't seen the movie yet, this is what you're in for. (Spoiler free, I pinky-swear.) A young woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) gets into a car accident and wakes up in an underground bunker. The owner of the structure is Howard, who claims that he saved her and that she owes him her life. But she's not free to leave, because some catastrophic event has occurred that makes the outside world unsafe. Is Howard really concerned with the best interests of Michelle and his other bunker roomie Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.)? Or is he keeping them inside for more nefarious purposes?
Winstead and Gallagher are great in Cloverfield Lane, but their performances orbit Goodman's. In most of 10 Cloverfield Lane's best scenes, Michelle and Emmett are reacting to Howard's rapid mood swings. They're constantly on edge, knowing that the slightest misstep could set their host off. The strength of Goodman's performance is that Howard's motives don't come into focus until the script allows it. In an interview with Slash Film, Goodman talked about his approach to playing a guy like Howard, whose mania shows itself in his obsessive pursuit of his goals. (Whatever they may be.) Goodman said, "You have to find out what [Howard] believes in most of all, what he wants most of all. He’s got a very narrow scope of range."
Put the film's genre aside, and a character like Howard has a kinship with many Oscar nominated roles. Just two years ago, Steve Carell snagged a nod for playing an fixated billionaire in Foxcatcher. The thinly veiled Scientology biopic The Master courted Academy attention for Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. Leonardo DiCaprio followed Howard Hughes' dark path in The Aviator and was nominated. I could go on.
It's also in Goodman's favor that he's been in the business for so long and is mostly known for playing characters on the complete opposite side of the coin from Howard. His most major award win is a 1993 Golden Globe for Best Performance By An Actor In A Television Comedy for one of the nine seasons he played husband and father Dan Connor on the classic sitcom Roseanne. When voters look at his long career alongside this indelible performance in 10 Cloverfield Lane, it could have the combined effect that Sylvester Stallone's turn in Creed did this year.
It's only March, but it's entirely possible that John Goodman could be hearing his name from the Oscar podium around this time next year.
Images: Paramount Pictures; Giphy