|Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips|
Today marks the birthday for the two-time Academy Award winning actor Tom Hanks. Over the course of his career, he has gone from playing comedic roles in films such as Turner & Hooch to a more respected actor with dramatic roles like Saving Private Ryan and Cast Away. In honor of this occasion, it feels as good of a time as any to share a personal list of my Top 10 favorite Hanks performances spanning over his film career. If for no other reason, it will help to show the range and give you a better understanding as to why I consider him one of the best and charismatic actors of his generation.
1. Toy Story 1-3 (1995, 2000, 2010)
For the sake of argument, all three Toy Story films will be regarded as one in order to provide a wider variety of roles. While Hanks has done many children's films before and since, there are few that are likely going to become his ultimate legacy as that of Woody the cowboy. Even for animated films, the trilogy pushed boundaries on story telling, choosing to deal with hard hitting subjects such as existentialism, abandonment, death, self-worth, and so much more. At the center was Woody, whose story as the leader has resulted in some of Pixar's best moments. Even if he has done far more impressive work in live action, there's no denying that he lucked out when Pixar called his name for Toy Story.
2. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
It was the first of many collaborations both on screen and behind the scenes for director Steven Spielberg and Hanks. Here, the duo team up to create one of the most visually and emotionally arresting takes on World War II from the Battle at Normandy Beach to the titular rescuing. With another superb ensemble where even the smallest name is recognizable, Hanks delivers a great performance as a leader with a desire to do what's right. It may be one of the grittiest things that Hanks has ever done, but it only helps to uncover more of what made him such a unique and charismatic actor during the entire 90's.
3. Big (1988)
It was the film that took Hanks from just another goofy 80's actor and showed the promise of what was to come. He earned an Oscar nomination for his role as a boy who grows up and discovers the perils of being an adult. While this sounds like a loathsome prospect for a comedy, the premise works thanks to the actor's dedication to portraying childlike innocence at every turn and creating one of the best literal man-child performances in mainstream cinematic history. It is heartfelt and funny and captures everything that early Hanks was best at while hinting at the dedication and complexity that he would display in the decade to come.
4. Catch Me If You Can (2002)
It is the second on screen collaboration between Spielberg and Hanks. It is also their most fun to date. It is a cat and mouse game that is every bit as fun as the John Williams' score and now iconic title cards sequence. While many will likely remember the bratty genius of Leonardo DiCaprio's performance, Hanks serves as a great anchor to the comedy with his own morose wit and professionalism. It is one of those miraculous period piece movies that is just as much fun stylistically as it is intellectually.
5. Cast Away (2000)
While many would consider Wilson the ball to be the real star of the film, this is really just an example of why Hanks should be respected. While he has continually made great movies, this is one of the few that reflects specifically what makes him great. This is likely thanks to him being the only central character for long stretches of time. We are forced to become intimate with him and see how he handles solitude. The story is itself impressive and full of optimism, but it all works because of the compelling force that is Hanks talking to Wilson and doing his best to remain sane. For our sake, he excels at keeping the viewer attentive while making moments such as "I have made fire" into enduring character moments.
6. Philadelphia (1993)
Following up Silence of the Lambs, director Jonathan Demme turned in one of the most acclaimed and noticeable LGBT films of the past 25 years. Earning his first Oscar win, Hanks delivers a great performance as a man stricken with AIDS who becomes discriminated against upon this revelation. With a great cast and script, the film is itself a compelling study into tolerance and understanding of gay culture. From an acting standpoint, it was one of Hanks' first major roles that reflected him as more than just a goofy comedy actor. He lost weight but kept the sympathy as he portrayed the man with every ounce of dignity in his failing frame. It is heart wrenching and a very much deserved Oscar win.
7. A League of Their Own (1992)
It was the return of Hanks and Big director Penny Marshall for an ode to the women's baseball movement. With an impressive mixture of female performers, Hanks served as the coach with good intentions. It was both a loving ode to a subculture from history as well as an enjoyable sports film. All of the magic that Marshall brought to Big is back on display here, showing off an impressive pro-feminist stance that isn't often seen. If nothing else, it is just a really fun baseball movie that has a great cast and attitude about itself - ranking among the best in this particular sports movie subgenre.
8. Forrest Gump (1994)
Next to Toy Story the following year, there's little chance that people will forget about Forrest Gump. It is a film that focuses on a dimwitted man who lives an extraordinary life throughout America's rich history. Even if you don't like the film, there's too much iconography on display to forget Hanks' accent or his particular wardrobe choices. It earned the actor his second Oscar and also became, to date, his only lead role in a Best Picture winner. It is a role that is both comedic and tragic in ways that don't get overshadowed by the still impressive special effects. You'll likely be quoting him for awhile after seeing this, or at least trying to figure out where you can buy boxed of chocolates.
9. Apollo 13 (1995)
Continuing his legacy of bringing unique and great American history to life in the 90's is this one of a kind story of astronauts. While few films tackle outer space from a nonfictional standpoint, NASA-nut Hanks brought to life a compelling piece of history that wasn't only technically impressive, but also reflected the American patriotism that astronauts used to bring nationally. It is a story ripe with peril in between its awe-inspiring moments. It may remain among the more underrated of Hanks' major films, but it is also just because few films have tackled outer space with as much dedication and authenticity as this one did.
10. Charlie Wilson's War (2007)
It is quite something to see Hanks team up with legendary director Mike Nichols of The Graduate fame. With a script by Aaron Sorkin, this political drama is rich with wit and personality as well as compelling story. It is a film that mostly skids by on personality and excels thanks to a supporting cast that includes Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julia Roberts. It may not rank among Nichols' best work, but that doesn't mean that it still is a pretty entertaining political drama that reflects Hanks doing what he does best: being charming, even in the face of conflict.