best film:  It is Do the Right Thing (1989) over Big Lebowski (1998) as far as John Turturro’s best film goes – with all due respect to sensational films like Miller’s Crossing (1990), Barton Fink (1991), and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000). So four (4) out of those top five (5) are with the Coen brothers – but the Coens never quite made one like Do the Right Thing. Turturro’s true debut, an uncredited blink and you’ll miss it role in Raging Bull (1980) has to be acknowledged – as does Hannah and Her Sisters from Woody Allen – but these hardly qualify for the purposes of this list and this category. Turturro’s impact on Spike’s artistically audacious masterpiece is a different story altogether. Turturro plays Pino – a racist – but  certainly one with nuance and complexity.

 

John Turturro as Pino in Spike Lee’s watershed film Do the Right Thing (1989)

 

best performance: Turturro’s best moment on celluloid may be his portion that brilliant fourth wall-breaking montage in Do the Right Thing – but over the full length of a performance, it is his work as Barton Fink in the Coen brother’s 1991 film that stands above the rest. The Coen brothers changed pace going from slapstick zany (Raising Arizona – 1987) to gangster film (Miller’s Crossing – 1990) to an introspective film about writer’s block (Barton Fink – 1991) – and Turturro’s work is is the best performance in a Coen brother’s film to this point in their career in 1991.

 

Turturro as the titular Barton Fink in the Coen brothers’ 1991 film. This is the height of John Turturro’s career – all five (5) of his best performances come between 1989 and 1995.

 

stylistic innovations/traits:  The Brooklyn born John Turturro paid his dues for nearly a decade (debuted in 1980, at the age of twenty-three) before connecting with the right filmmaker (Spike Lee) on the right project (Do the Right Thing). He had already worked with Martin Scorsese, William Friedkin and Woody Allen during the decade – but nothing big enough to break him through. Turturro never quite became a star or leading man – Turturro’s is the John Cazale career path and skill set. Still, in the ten (10) years between 1989 and 1998 Turturro is in twelve (12) archiveable films (he has twenty archiveable films overall). The best patch in that decade is the 1989, 1990 and 1991 years where he gives one of the better performances of the year in three consecutive years (not something that happens often at all) – in one Spike Lee joint – and two Coen brothers’ films. Score one for Cannes over the Oscars here – somehow Turturro never landed an Oscar nomination – but he did win at Cannes for his portrayal of Barton Fink. Turturro has worked with Spike and the Coen brothers for nine (9) of his twenty (20) archiveable films – including five (5) with Spike – one (1) more than Denzel Washington.

 

Turturro is just breathtaking as Bernie Bernbaum in his few minutes on screen in Miller’s Crossing (1990) – this is one of the phenomenal per-minute film performances à la Orson Welles in The Third Man, Kevin Spacey in Se7en, Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross or Matthew McConaughey in The Wolf of Wall Street where the film is elevated to a different level every time the actor is on screen. The same thing happens on a smaller scale in 1994’s Quiz Show – Turturro’s Herbie Stempel may be the best part of that film – and it does not look that way on the page.

 

directors worked with: Spike Lee (5), the Coen brothers (4), Martin Scorsese (2), William Friedkin (1), Woody Allen (1), Peter Weir (1)

 

top five performances:

  1. Barton Fink
  2. Do the Right Thing
  3. Miller’s Crossing
  4. Quiz Show
  5. Clockers

 

archiveable films

1980- Raging Bull
1985- To Live and Die in L.A.
1986- Hannah and Her Sisters
1986- The Color of Money
1989- Do the Right Thing
1990- Miller’s Crossing
1990- Mo’ Better Blues
1990- State of Grace
1991- Barton Fink
1991- Jungle Fever
1993- Fearless
1994- Quiz Show
1995- Clockers
1998- He Got Game
1998- Rounders
1998- The Big Lebowski
2000- O Brother, Where Art Thou?
2001- Thirteen Conversations About One Thing
2018- Gloria Bell
2022- The Batman