Thursday, October 27, 2016

Theory Thursday: Tom Hanks Deserved an Oscar Nomination for "Cloud Atlas"

Scene from Cloud Atlas
Welcome to a weekly column called Theory Thursdays, which will be released every Thursday and discuss my "controversial opinion" related to something relative to the week of release. Sometimes it will be birthdays while others is current events or a new film release. Whatever the case may be, this is a personal defense for why I disagree with the general opinion and hope to convince you of the same. While I don't expect you to be on my side, I do hope for a rational argument. After all, film is a subjective medium and this is merely just a theory that can be proven either way. 

Subject: Inferno opens in theaters this Friday.
Theory: Tom Hanks deserved an Oscar nomination for Cloud Atlas.

There is one simple truth: Tom Hanks is one of the most beloved living actors whose career is still viable. While some films may do better than others, the promise of a new Hanks movie is generally met with the same optimistic fanfare. With the third film in The Da Vinci Code trilogy coming out this week, it only seemed right to explore the one strange reality that has taken over his career. He has not been nominated for an Oscar since Cast Away. If one wishes to put a year to it, that was 16 years ago. It would be fine if there was the suggestion that Hanks' career has taken a nosedive in the nearly two decades since, but it's far from accurate. There are films like Catch Me If You Can, Captain Phillips, and last year's Bridge of Spies that should've filled out his nomination bracket beautifully. Instead, we're stuck with the dilemma of if Hanks will ever get another Oscar nomination despite being one of the most enjoyable working actors.

I crib this with another confession: I don't think that 2016 should be the year that he changes his Oscar-nomination record. Inferno doesn't sound that great. A Hologram for the King already has the narrative of failure written on it. Sully is a film with generally favorable reception, but definitely feels like Hanks was on, for lack of a better word, autopilot. I do hope that he does have another shot before too long, but I don't know when. So instead of stating the obvious films that he should've received something for, I will share my opinion on one film that definitely deserves some reconsideration. It is one that came out with divisive reviews and managed to escape Oscar conversations entirely despite being arguably one of the most innovative movies of the decade: Cloud Atlas.

To be fair, it would be extremely difficult to classify what performance by Hanks from Cloud Atlas would be up for consideration. To summarize, the film is a mix of intersecting stories across several centuries where actors play various roles regardless of race or sometimes gender. It's one that was met with accusations of being racist. Those saying this more than missed the deeper context. It was a film whose DNA needed actors under prosthetic make-up to give off the impression of unity in a way that escapes casting similar-looking people. It was an international success but a domestic bomb. On these grounds, it makes sense why the film failed to come up big. However, history will likely judge it differently, even if one could argue that it's got its share of flaws.

I was more critical of the film at the time. I felt that the rapid editing was a technique that did the film a disservice. I guess the truth is that I didn't understand its intentions. Four years after the fact, I have come to terms with the structure and find that it is a film likely to grow with time. It is an epic unlike any other, and it has some of the most inspiring cinematography of any genre film from recent years. The Wachowski Siblings with help from Tom Tykwer brought their all in a way that definitely takes patience and trust to understand what the deeper intents are. It is a film that fully embraces cinema as an art form, and I think like some art it takes awhile for audiences to come around to.

To be fair, Hanks is one of many things that I would have nominated for the film. Among the list is definitely Best Editing and Best Original Score. Considering that each of the stories features actors in different prominence, it would be tough to suggest one as a standout role. Even then, I choose Hanks because he has some of the meatier characters to pull from. He commits to every character with an ease that shows some of his strongest range in years. It may have some awkward stretches, but it also has an ambition that no film in 2012 had. Yes, I loved many of them more (The Master and Life of Pi specifically), but I think that had the film in its final form been released in the past few years, it would have gotten the Best Picture nomination slot that Mad Max: Fury Road filled.

While I cannot think of any major detractors to this argument, the one thing that could be said is that there are no standout performances, only standout characters. I choose to disagree, but also because I know that the Oscars have awarded actors who have played multiple roles in the past. For instance, Peter Sellers received an Oscar nomination for playing a couple of characters in Dr. Strangelove. It was a gimmick that he loved to do. He was great at it, and it's a shame that not too many actors of the past few decades have been awarded for being able to embody characters on both ends of the energy spectrum. True, it would risk having abominations like Eddie Murphy in Norbit get nominated, but it would level the playing field for actors who do more than commit to one role.

I think that a nomination would be encouraging for Hollywood. While I don't condone intentional blackface, I do think that reflecting actors in a variety of roles will make performance its own art again. Cloud Atlas was a delight in part because of this. Maybe it was too high concept to lead to many clones, but it only shows how special and singular the overall film is. Had Hanks lead the nominations in Best Supporting Actor, I feel like it would've sent a message that not only could Hanks be surprising in modern films, but also that actors could be more than one note characters. This may be a simple critique, but I think that it could leverage with the right moves. Cloud Atlas, in fairness, could've landed a few more acting nominations. However, 2012 is such an overwhelmingly strong year that I'm not entirely offended (save for the overrated Silver Linings Playbook). 

In closing, I definitely think that Hanks is somehow becoming an underrated actor. I think that it has kept him hungry to try ambitious roles, but it also has caused a certain frustration with fans. Speaking as Meryl "eye roll" Streep continues to get Oscar nominations for subpar work like Into the Woods and August: Osage County, I have to wonder why there's a bias that exists that doesn't impact actors who continue to surprise with an effective consistency. I am confident that Inferno will not be that change of pace. In fact, it may be hist worst in quite a few years given recent reviews. However, I still think that he deserves more credit than he gets, and that's saying quite a bit.

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