By John H. Foote
For his magnificent performance in Cast Away (2000) Tom Hanks won the coveted New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor seeming to pave the way for a third Academy Award which would have made him the first actor to win three Oscars for Best Actor. Further he would have done so within eight years! A few weeks later he won the Golden Globe as Best Actor, his third, which seemed to assure him the Academy Award. Sadly the Academy decided not to vote for Hanks but to award Russell Crowe the Oscar for Gladiator (2000), having snubbed him wrongly for his superb performance the year before in The Insider (1999).
Let me be clear, Hanks deserved that Oscar, his performance in Cast Away being among the greatest ever captured on film and his loss was shameful.
But even more shameful was the fact that after his nomination for Cast Away, despite a long list of brilliant performances over the next 19 years, he did not receive a single nomination.
In this piece, I look at the films for which Hanks deserved nominations and SHOULD have received them for the named films. His astonishing performance in Captain Phillips (2013) should have got the nomination, the recovery scene in which the Captain is treated for traumatic shock alone should have WON him the damned Oscar. The most complete performance I saw that year was Leonardo Di Caprio in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), but come on, Hanks absolutely deserved to be in the race!! His performance in Captain Phillips was easily stronger than the winner, Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club (2013) and Christian Bale in American Hustle (2013), so somebody explain why he was not there?
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was created to honour the finest in film, yet it has become more of a popularity contest, or it is all about honoring who is due. What exactly does due even mean? Why was McConaughey more “due” than veteran Bruce Dern in Nebraska (2013) of the often nominated Di Caprio? To be fair the Oscars often get it right, but when they blow it, they truly screw it up.
Nearly 20 years, two decades between nominations for this superb actor was ridiculous, and rather sad. Here are his nomination worth performances, and at the end of each description the nominated actors for that year.
ROAD TO PERDITION (2002)
Cast against type as a Michael Sullivan, hitman during the Depression for the Irish mob, Hanks was a revelation, slipping the role on like a well-worn glove. Loyal to John Rooney (Paul Newman) he has long held a high place in the family as the executioner of Rooney, the man you do not wish to see. When Rooney’s son massacres Sullivan’s, leaving one boy alive, Michael wants the younger Rooney dead. He hits the road with his boy and makes plans of what to do, how to flush Rooney out, how to deal with John. Hanks is quietly, darkly stoic in the film as he moves closer to his target, making friends with his son along the way. Complicating his journey is the hitman that has been hired to kill both father and son, portrayed by Jude Law. Hanks captures the essence of this dark man who has made a good living killing the enemies of Rooney and is thought of as a son. But blood is blood and John Rooney chooses to protect his son, despite his deeds. Face to face with John Rooney, his surrogate father, Sullivan guns him down but only after Rooney tells him “I’m glad it was you Mike” a gesture of the respect he holds for Michael. Hanks should have been a nominee. No question. The nominees that year were a mixed batch, the winner, frankly, undeserving and Hanks could have replaced either Brody or Caine.
Nominees for Best Actor: Adrien Brody in The Pianist (winner), Nicolas Cage in Adaptation, Michael Caine in The Quiet American, Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York, and Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt.
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (2002)
For this supporting role I remain astonished that Hanks was not a nominee, just as I am amazed the film, lead actor Leonardo Di Caprio, and director Steven Spielberg were not among the nominees. As FBI Agent Carl Henratty, Hanks was superb, hot on the trail of teenage fraudster Frank Abagnale who will eventually commit fraud to the tune of more than three million dollars. Strange relationship exists between the two men, and at one point they encounter each other face to face, but the younger man bluffs his way out of the room, fooling Henratty. Later the boy calls the agent on Christmas Day, hanging up in a fury when Henratty boldly states “You have no one else to call” a biting truth. When finally caught, it is Henratty who offers the fraud artist a job with the FBI spotting serial fraudsters like himself. Likable, dedicated, he knows he will catch the younger thief, because eventually a mistake will be made. Focused and whip smart, though he discovers his target is much smarter, there is no reason not to like Henratty. One of the actor’s finest performances. The Academy DID nominate Christopher Walken for his gentle performance as Frank’s father but ignored Hanks.
Nominees for Best Supporting Actor: Chris Cooper in Adaptation (winner), Ed Harris in The Hours, Paul Newman in Road to Perdition, John C. Reilly in Chicago, and Christopher Walken in Catch Me If You Can
THE TERMINAL (2004)
Hanks gives a greater performance than the film, soaring past the narrative with a magical Chaplinesque performance as a man trapped in the JFK Airport when a coup in his country leaves him without a country. He plays Viktor Navorski, a gentle, decent man who lands to see on the television Civil War in his homeland, as a military coup has disrupted the government, leaving him unable to enter the United States. He has come to pay respects to his late father by performing an act of love for the late man. Nothing more. Instead he ends up living in the airport for weeks, finding various ways to feed himself, finding a place to sleep, getting a job that pays cash, and existing by buying in the shops of the massive airport. For the first time in his career, Hanks spoke with an East European accent to perfection but gives one of most delightful physical performances he has ever given. Weak movies have before seen their actors nominated for major awards and Hanks should have been at least nominated. Interestingly, the year’s best performance by an actor, Paul Giamatti in Sideways, was likewise ignored.
The nominees for Best Actor: Don Cheadle in Hotel Rwanda, Clint Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby, Jamie Fox in Ray (winner), Leonardo Di Caprio in The Aviator, and Johnny Depp in Finding Neverland
CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR (2007)
This one is here needing an explanation because I understand implicitly why it was not nominated, just as I understand why other fine performances were passed over. Hanks was wonderful as the cocaine snorting party boy senator who was like Teflon, nothing would stick to him, he managed to walk through his career unscathed. A womanizer with a preference for beautiful women he knew he could get, a hard drinker and drug tooting man, he was a liability to himself, but well insulated by a protective staff and very powerful friends. Hanks gave a great performance, no question, but 2007 was overstuffed with great work from actors, there could have been ten nominees for Best Actor and if there had been, Hanks would have been among them. Given there were just five nominees, the Academy got it right.
The nominees for Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood (winner), George Clooney in Michael Clayton, Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd, Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises, and Tommy Lee Jones in In the Valley of Elah.
CLOUD ATLAS (2012)
This audacious, bizarre, demanding but ultimately brilliant science fiction film offers the actors within several roles and they each excelled. Hanks is superb as a treacherous pirate, a dangerous criminal turned author, a doctor, other roles but best of all a futuristic man trying to keep he and his daughter alive, and who encounters a character portrayed by Halle Berry who he has encountered in past lives. The film offers the actor a great challenge and he meets it head on as do Halle Berry, Hugh Grant and everyone else in the film, though personally I found Hanks to be a standout. It failed with audiences, critics were split, and frankly not enough people say the film to get Hanks a much deserved nomination. 2012 was also filled with profoundly great performances and Hanks might have been a statistic as the guy not among the final five.
The nominees for Best Actor: Denzel Washington in Flight, Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln (winner), Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook, Joaquin Phoenix in The Master, and Hugh Jackman in Les Misérables.
CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013)
His finest performance since Cast Away (2000) period. For the 10 minute sequence after his rescue, trying to cope with staggering emotional trauma in the medical unit Hanks deserved to be nominated. He was astonishing as a man who has lost his grip on reality for a short time, trying to deal with the nightmare he has been through. His voice breaks, he holds back sobs, he shakes uncontrollably, he cannot focus, it is a marvelous sequence of great acting. The entire film is filled with Hanks at his very best as Captain Richard Phillips, who had his ocean freighter attacked and taken by Somali pirates who eventually threaten his very life. Terrified he could die at any moment, he literally lives second to second, until finally the American military rescue him, killing all but one of the pirates. Hanks is superb, easily among the greatest performances of his career, easily among the year’s best performances, stronger than at least two maybe three of the nominated actors, including the eventual winner, why was this man not an Oscar nominee??
The nominees for Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Byers Club (winner), Bruce Dern in Nebraska, Leonardo Di Caprio in The Wolf of Wall Street, Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave, and Christian Bale in American Hustle.
SAVING MR. BANKS (2013)
Again in a supporting role, Hanks is superb as American icon Walt Disney in this film which explores the sale and eventual making of the film Mary Poppins. Moving back and forth in time, the bulk of the film begins in 1961 when Walt Disney wants to purchase the rights to “Mary Poppins” after promising his daughters he will make a film of the books. But he hits resistance with the author of the books, P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) who has given strong stipulations for the making of the film, ones Disney cannot agree too. The back and forth between the two of them make of the bulk of the film, as well as flashbacks to Travers childhood in which she idolized her father. Once she agrees, and the making of the film begins she is horrified to find that it will be a musical and there are indeed animated sequences. Yet Disney’s warm, truthful pitchy to her about trusting her father’s memory to him, along him to let generations find his story, be impact by the character Poppins, as his daughters have been. Though nervous at the premiere, Disney carefully watches her reaction and is delighted that the tears form, and she loves the film as he did. Nominations for both actors would have been deserved.
The nominees for Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club (winner), Barkhad Adbi in Captain Phillips, Bradley Cooper in American Hustle, Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave, and Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street.
As Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, Hanks delivered a strong performance for director Clint Eastwood in his film about the miraculous landing on a plane on the Hudson River after an accident after takeoff placing the film in peril. All 55 souls escaped with their lives thanks to the fast acting action of Sullenberger who did not panic, but instead realized the only option to save the lives of his passengers was to attempt a water landing on the Hudson in broad daylight. After the landing in which he is deemed a hero, the investigations by the ACARS and the National Transportation Safety Board suggest that it was pilot error that caused Sully to have to land and simulations showed the plane could have easily been turned around and landed on a runway. After a long period of going back and forth with the investigators, the engine is recovered, inspected and Sully’s actions are deemed proper and he is again hailed as a hero. Hanks was excellent in the film, brave, intelligent, confident in his abilities and decisions and yet filled with humility. He never once thinks as himself as a hero, just a pilot doing his job, landing the plane with all souls alive. Again, a nomination was deserving, though admittedly the category was loaded with fine performances. Tough to know which to bump.
The nominees for Best Actor: Casey Affleck in Manchester By the Sea (winner), Ryan Gosling in La La Land, Denzel Washington in Fences, Andrew Garfield in Hacksaw Ridge, and Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic.
THE POST (2017)
When I heard Hanks was going to portray Ben Bradlee in Steven Spielberg’s The Post, my thoughts went at once to the portrayal of Bradlee in All the President’s Men (1976) by Jason Robards which won him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Could Hanks equal what Bradlee accomplished? Could he surpass? No he did not surpass, but he certainly equaled what Robards had done, capturing the dedication of a newsman looking for a great story, but more wanting the truth of the story. When the Washington Post gets their hands on the Pentagon Papers, which make clear the war in Vietnam could have ended sooner, the White House bans the publication. The question becomes do they do their due diligence and report the news, or do they do what their government has told them to do, which is in essence, cover the actions of the Johnson and Nixon administrations. Hanks and Meryl Streep are excellent in this radically underappreciated drama that deserved a much wider audience than it received, and though a Best Picture nominee, and Best Actress, it should have had much more. Hanks deserved a nomination and in fact gave a stronger performance than the winner of the Oscar, Gary Oldman’s make up induced work in Darkest Hour as Winston Churchill, as well as at least three others.
The nominees for Best Actor: Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour (winner), Timothee Chalamet in Call Me by Your Name, Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread, Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out, and Denzel Washington in Roman Israel Esq.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.