By John H. Foote
Tom Hanks is often hailed as America’s most beloved actor. Despite this, the ever-fickle Academy seems to take every opportunity it can to bring him down a notch. The Academy has a long history of ignoring talent once they have received a few nominations. Case in point, Mr. Hanks. Yes, he won two consecutive Academy Awards in the 90s for his superb work in Philadelphia (1993) as a lawyer diagnosed with AIDS who sues his former employer for wrongful dismissal as he dies from this terrible disease. He won again a year later as Forrest Gump (1994) as the savant fluttering through history like a leaf in the wind. Both were brilliant pieces of acting, each win well deserved. He was nominated again in the 90s for his Captain Miller in Steven Spielberg’s magnificent Saving Private Ryan (1998). Two years later, he gave arguably his finest performance in Cast Away (2000), which earned him the prestigious New York Film Critics Award for Best Actor and a Golden Globe, along with a slew of critics’ awards, but no Oscar.
That was his final nomination for nearly two decades despite an array of great performances that deserved to be among the final five.
Hanks has been nominated for the Academy Award as Best Actor five times (once for supporting) and won twice. In the race for the Golden Globes, he has won four and been nominated for ten, while the Screen Actors Guild Awards have seen him nominated for eight with two wins. The New York Film Critics, a widely coveted prize, honoured him with Best Actor for Cast Away while the National Board of review have twice given him their Best Actor award for Forrest Gump and again for The Post (2017), a film that never really found an audience despite him and Meryl Streep being superb. The near 20-year gap between Oscar nominations remains difficult, no impossible, to explain.
Not surprisingly Hanks did some of the bravest and boldest work of his career in that 20-year period. And though his individual performance often surpassed the film itself, it still didn’t result in the nominations he so richly deserved. He would not be nominated again until his marvelous performance as Mr. Rogers, the famous children’s program host, was up for Best Supporting Actor in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019). There seemed to be a collective sigh of relief among Hanks’ fans, but the snubs carried on into the next year when he was again ignored for his superb work in News of the World (2020), the western I felt was the year’s very best film.
I took a look back at the snubs throughout his career, though you would never catch him complaining. Not his style.
Here are the films for which I believe Hanks should have earned an Academy Award nomination, and yes, I stand among those who believe he deserved an Oscar for Cast Away. He was astonishing.
A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (1992)
“There’s no crying in baseball!” roars Jimmy Dugan (Hanks) to a player after a pitiful error in the field. Tears have filled her eyes and he cannot believe it. Watch the disbelief on his face, the shock that this ball player, which is how he sees her, would dare cry on the field! As the broken-down ball player who drank his way out of pro ball during the war years, he lands in California coaching one of the new teams in the freshly created Women’s Professional League. What Jimmy does not expect is to find a group of women who love the game as much as he does, and he re-discovers his deep love of the game. The drinking ceases and his friendship with star player Dottie (Geena Davis) dances close to becoming romantic. But Jimmy knows she loves her husband, who is overseas fighting the war, and would never attempt anything. A criminally underappreciated film, among the very best of the year and certainly the best film of Penny Marshall’s career. Not a single Oscar nomination, not even for Hanks’ superb performance that has since become iconic.
APOLLO 13 (1995)
Here again, Hanks was superb, but after two straight Oscar wins, it was highly doubtful he would find his way into the Oscar race, and true to form, he did not. As the all-American, stoic hero James Lovell, he calmly and quietly provides hope and leadership to his crew aboard the Apollo 13. Lovell communicates with Mission Control as they try to find ways to get the men home. It is a fine performance in a brilliant film, the year’s best, directed by Ron Howard. In fairness, the film is a marvelous ensemble film anchored by Hanks and Ed Harris. Ron Howard’s great gifts as a storyteller became clear with this film as he manages to work up massive tension, despite the ending being well known by audiences. The actors were a huge part of that, with Hanks and Harris leading the way.
THE GREEN MIILE (1999)
On the DVD making of track films, Michael Clarke Duncan, the massive actor who portrayed the miraculous John Coffey, and director Frank Darabont talk about Hanks giving Academy Award worthy readings to the actors on camera. Often actors do not even show up for these readings, but Hanks did because he felt the other actors needed his energy for the film. He was right. As the lead guard on Death Row in a prison in the south, he operates the green mile, essentially the last walk a man makes before he is executed on the electric chair. When Coffey comes to them, it does not take long before he performs miracles, healing a urinary tract infection, bringing back a deceased pet, and curing cancer. He is also innocent of the murders for which he has been convicted. Hanks is superb as a man in the midst of something he does not understand. A Stephen King novella that again is made into a superb film.
ROAD TO PERDITION (2002)
Cast against type as a gangster in the late 20’s, Hanks is again darkly brilliant as Michael Sullivan, the lead enforcer for the Rooney crime syndicate outside Chicago and connected to the Capone mob. Favored by the head of the family John Rooney (Paul Newman), who makes no secret of the fatherly love he has for Michael. But when Rooney’s son murders Michael’s wife and youngest son, Michael hits the road with his 12-year-old boy and goes into hiding. Only Rooney understands his enforcer’s plans, and when Michael begins robbing mob money from isolated banks, he is working himself right back to Connor (Daniel Craig) who killed his family. Knowing this, John Rooney must make a choice, which son? Who does he give up? Michael or his flesh and blood? There is no question what he wants to do, but he cannot bring himself to do it. Hanks is again wonderful as Michael, a killer, focused, quiet, watchful, and sharing his skills with his boy on the road. One of the most beautifully shot films of the last 30 years, this was a masterpiece that deserved to be in the race for at least ten nominations.
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (2002)
A supporting performance as FBI Agent Carl Henratty, a man searching for young Frank Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio), one of the most prolific forgers in American history. DiCaprio has the lead, but Hanks is brilliant as the man searching for this kid who constantly eludes him. The best scene in the film comes when Henratty has him, he is in the same room with him, but Abagnale, showing enormous cool and poise, bluffs him out of it and manages to get out of the room to escape. The incredulous look of shock and shame on Henratty’s face is perfect as he comes to realize the mastery of the kid’s game. Steven Spielberg’s jaunty, entertaining film is often funny, but make no mistake, the film is deeply dramatic, with all the actors doing fine work. Oddly, the Academy essentially ignored the film, and neither DiCaprio nor Hanks, both deserving, were nominated.
THE TERMINAL (2004)
Before the howls of protest begin, let me state that I am saying Hanks deserved the nomination for Best Actor; the film deserved nothing else other than Production Design. Hanks is Viktor Navorski, and is absolutely Chaplin-esque in the film, using his body, his facial expressions, and his purity of acting to create this unique character who arrives in New York as his country has suffered a coup, leaving him without citizenship. Forced to live in the terminal, he does just that, ever resourceful, easily finding work, making money, managing to buy a beautiful suit, he lives as though he were outside in New York City. It is a charming performance featuring a man with great energy, held captive in a terminal, and tormented by the nasty terminal chief, portrayed with a constant sneer by Stanley Tucci. This is one of those examples where Hanks’ performance elevates a film to greater heights than it deserves.
CLOUD ATLAS (2012)
Do our souls move through time, living various lives around the world, possibly encountering souls we might have known in a previous life? I believe so, truly, always have. Energy never dies, and we as humans are mostly energy, so why would anyone believe we die? Our bodies die, no question, but our being, our souls never die. In this profoundly challenging, profoundly moving film, we watch as several souls move through their lives at various times in human history, eventually living far into the future on different planets. Portraying several roles in different time frames, Hanks is incredible as a treacherous doctor in 1849 slowly poisoning his patient aboard a ship, a hotel manager in 1936, another doctor in 1973, a vile murdering gangster and author in 2012, who murders a literary critic who didn’t like his book, and finally a futuristic man, who watches a cannibalistic tribe slaughter his tribe, before he kills the leader and runs to another planet with the love of his life, portrayed by Halle Berry. Range? Astounding. Nomination? Nope.
CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013)
Hanks deserved a nomination for just his 15 minutes in the medical bay after his rescue from modern-day Somali pirates who board his tanker ship. In shock, deep shock he fumbles with words, always on the verge of weeping, barely able to react to the questions he is gently being asked. It is a heartbreaking sequence, as fine a portrayal of shock I have ever seen. His performance as a whole is astonishing, the true story of Captain Phillips who lost command of his ship when a group of vicious pirates caught up to his ship, boarded and managed to take command with threats of death. It was Phillips they kept close, Phillips they taunted and tortured with weapons and near constant threats of death. Hanks is remarkable in the film because we see his transition from a confident Captain, well liked and respected by all to a quivering, near feral man who has experienced absolute terror and lived through primal fear. And no nomination?
NEWS OF THE WORLD (2020)
Some actors really can do anything. They have no limitations. Could Laurence Olivier have managed a western? No. Al Pacino as a soldier in 1776? No, he looked and sounded ridiculous in Revolution (1985). Even Robert De Niro, a great actor, but so modern he would be out of place in a period piece. Not Hanks. He slipped into the role of Captain Jefferson Kidd like a well-worn glove and was absolutely believable in the film’s setting, the American West. The war is over, and life is beginning to resume to normal. Captain Kidd makes a meagre living roaming from town to town reading the news from newspapers he collects along his journey. In the remote towns in the west, the news of the world often did not get to them, so Kidd tries to remedy that. On one of his trips, he finds a child, a blonde girl of German descent, about fourteen who has been raised by the Kiowa Indians and now has been left behind. He takes the task of returning her to her people, and they make out across the wilderness to find them. Along the way, a strange bond takes place and though he does indeed deliver her, he realizes he has made a terrible mistake. After losing his family in the war, Kidd realize Johanna is his family. One of the year’s best films, I thought Hanks gave the best performance I saw last year.
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.