Bobcat Goldthwait’s latest, Call Me Lucky, is the director’s first foray into documentary filmmaking since dabbling in the format with the 2003 TV film Windy City Heat, and it might be his best film to date. Spanning a career behind the camera that has served to bring his particular point of view as a stand-up comedian to a wider audience in theaters, Goldthwait has fast become one of the most idiosyncratic voices to watch within the independent film movement, and his films have quickly become dark comedy, cult-classics. Below, you’ll find a ranked listing of the auteur’s entire filmography as curated and detailed by two of our esteemed staff writers, Schyler Martin and Sean K. Cureton. So, without further ado, here are our favorite films directed by the premiere documentarian:
World’s Greatest Dad (2009)
Schyler: World’s Greatest Dad features everything that makes Goldthwait an amazing director. Darkly funny, edgy, often a little offensive, and with a big statement to make about the state of our world, World’s Greatest Dad is the perfect Bobcat Golthwait storm. Goldthwait explores some familiar themes — dishonesty, fraudulent feelings, the judgment of others, and the cult of celebrity — and his directorial voice is never clearer and more refreshing than in World’s Greatest Dad. With the supreme talent and inherent gentle likability of the late, great Robin Williams, World’s Greatest Dad proves that Goldthwait can be bitingly funny and humanely compassionate at the same time. It’s a rare skill, one that makes Goldthwait a wonderful director.
Sean: Possibly the comedian and director’s greatest contribution to the basic studio comedy formula, World’s Greatest Dad might also be the very best on screen performance from the late, great actor and stand-up comic Robin Williams. Throughout Goldthwait’s third feature effort, Willliams exudes existential melancholia leavened by his innate charisma and flair for self-deprecating humor that arises from an intensely fine tuned and intellectually nuanced understanding of the human condition. It’s still painful to watch the film, but it’s also the most rewarding and thematically charged narrative piece from Goldthwait as a director.
Call Me Lucky (2015)
Sean: Standing as Goldthwait’s most mature and well constructed piece of filmmaking, his documentary feature on close friend and fellow stand-up comedian Barry Crimmins is intimately heartfelt with a well documented dramatic revelation that still comes as a surprise and packs a real punch to the gut when it hits viewer fifty minutes into the film’s one-hundred-and-six-minute runtime. As in real life, Crimmins testimony, alongside the accounts given by many of his closest personal friends and family members is heartbreaking to hear and hard to take in even once, but demands to be examined and urges the viewer to think about what they’ve just born witness to by proxy long after the credits roll. It’s hard to rank Goldthwait’s latest film accurately, as so much of it feels so viscerally honest and rhetorically sound, making it quiet possibly Goldthwait’s greatest work as a director to date.
Schyler: Goldthwait’s most recent film, a documentary about comedian and activist Barry Crimmins, is easily his most heartfelt work yet. Goldthwait has always treated his protagonists with respect (with the exception of Windy City Heat,) and that treatment makes Call Me Lucky an honest, emotional, and immensely impactful film. Crimmins has a story that matters, and Goldthwait treats that story with care. Like other Goldthwait films, Call Me Lucky takes a hard look at the dark depths of comedy and the hardships we face in life. His honesty as a filmmaker pairs flawlessly with Crimmins, and the two come together to make a really special film.
God Bless America (2011)
Schyler: This is another quintessential Goldthwait film. Slightly reminiscent of World’s Greatest Dad, God Bless America stars the inherently likable and naturally friendly Joel Murray. This is Goldthwait at his boldest, at his angriest. This is a Goldthwait that many will recognize from his manic stand-up comedy routines. However, God Bless America brings more than fury to the table, and that’s what makes it so good. Thanks in one part to Murray’s brilliant performance and in another to Goldthwait’s sharp satirical directorial voice, God Bless America is a must-see. Even if you don’t enjoy it, you’ll think about it, and in a film like this one, that’s what really matters.
Sean: Easily his most bombastic and abrasive work, God Bless America is the perfect encapsulation of Goldthwait’s political views and personally held philosophy as it has developed in his stand-up act over the years. In Joel Murray’s performance as the film’s anti-hero Frank, the viewer is almost treated to a cinematic reincarnation of Goldthwait’s screeching, half-articulate persona of the 1980s, only its tempered by the weathering effects of middle age and crushing conservative, economic security, that is both comforting and desperately soul-crushing. While the film is ultimately self-indulgent and morally untenable, the finished product is pruriently enjoyable, and consistently rings true with any malcontented viewers upon repeated viewings.
Willow Creek (2014)
Sean: Willow Creek is odd in much the same way that Goldthwait’s sophomore outing is, though it is decidedly more cohesive in its affirmation of the found-footage, horror sub-genre, particularly in regards to its obvious source of chief cinematic inspiration, The Blair Witch Project. Where lead actor Bryce Johnson was a dramatic deterrent in Sleeping Dogs Lie, his sloven and undisguised, regular-guy deportment does wonders in a project that is meant to be taken mock-seriously, with Johnson and his co-star and reluctant director Alexie Gilmore oozing a certain realism and overt sentimentality. It’s an odd gamble that mostly pays off for the comedy director, though it can be a little redundant and obvious at times.
Schyler: A found-footage horror film starring Bigfoot as the villain? Of course, it’s a Bobcat Goldthwait film. Goldthwait’s first foray into the horror genre stands out as a clunky addition to his body of work. Though it has an interesting premise, found-footage horror films almost always feel formulaic and overdone, and Willow Creek is no exception. The film’s best moments are in its sly darkly comedic lines that catch viewers off guard. Willow Creek is fine. It’s entertaining and well made, but Goldthwait’s voice is sorely missed, and if he only makes dark comedies and documentaries in the future, I think I’d be all right with that.
Windy City Heat (2003)
Schyler: Windy City Heat is one of the most fascinating films I’ve ever seen, and another big win for Goldthwait. This made-for-TV documentary follows Perry Caravello, an unknown actor, as hundreds of people work to play an elaborate prank on him. Caravello thinks he’s been cast in a major motion picture. In reality, he’s being set up every step of the way. The premise is cringe-worthy and morally problematic, but it’s worth mentioning that Caravello doesn’t seem like a very good person, and the movie is hilarious, despite it’s moral dilemmas. Windy City Heat doesn’t fit as comfortably into Goldthwait’s filmography as any of his other works, and that’s probably because he didn’t write it or come up with the idea to prank Caravello. Nonetheless, it’s a very funny, interesting movie, one that enforces the fact that Goldthwait does things differently, and he can make just about anything fun to watch.
Shakes the Clown (1991)
Schyler: Goldthwait’s first full-length feature is also his weakest. Shakes the Clown isn’t a bad movie, but it isn’t exactly a good one either. What it is, is a film filled to the brim with potential. When this strange movie works, it’s a funny, brutal look at alcoholism and show business. But when it falls flat, it’s painful and unfunny in a way that Goldthwait’s later films never stoop to. As the start of a directing career though, Shakes the Clown is solid and worth watching. Goldthwait’s interest in exploring the darkest corners of the comedy world begins here, and even a weak Goldthwait movie is a damn good movie.
Sean: As Goldthwait’s first feature film, Shakes the Clown lacks a lot of the narrative cohesion more readily applied to his sophomore outing Sleeping Dogs Lie, though his debut film is far more personally felt than his rom-com follow-up. As Shakes, Goldthwait explores a little bit of his own past and career as a stand-up comic in the 1980s, and playfully satirizes some of the more morally dubious and ethically complicated aspects of his life’s work and chosen vocation. While there is little to objectively recommend in hindsight, Goldthwait’s first feature film is entertaining for what it is and offers a look into the more pointedly critical satire and political farce that would come to define his later and greater work on films like God Bless America and this year’s devastating political documentary Call Me Lucky.
Sleeping Dogs Lie (2006)
Sean: Released well over a decade after his first feature film, Goldthwait’s sophomore slump runs like something you might catch on Lifetime or the Hallmark Channel. While the subject matter is decidedly provocative and potentially interesting, the cast is led by a crew of disinterested actors alongside a number of stand-up comics who feel entirely out of place and aimless in terms of any outright direction coming from Goldthwait. The whole film quickly tires itself out after preemptively stating its central dramatic source of tension and eventual catharsis too soon and in the process becomes Goldthwait’s worst effort as a visual storyteller.
Schyler: There’s a lot wrong with Sleeping Dogs Lie, but there’s also some major thematic strength that pops back up with a vengeance in later, more mature Goldthwait films. With a weak story and a premise that can only stretch so far, Sleeping Dogs Lie often feels like the work of a different filmmaker. But the underlying examination of honesty and shame is something Goldthwait does well, even in his weaker films, and Sleeping Dogs Lie packs a few punches that remind viewers just who Goldthwait is as a director.
Edited for content on 08/27