Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Ranking of the Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg Collaborations (Updated)

Left to right: Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks
Note: Updated with a ranking for The Post, originally published 10/19/15

There are few actor-director collaborations throughout history that spark enthusiasm and anticipation almost every time out. In the 1940's, the promise of James Stewart and Frank Capra meant a new Americana classic. In the 1970's, the promise of Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese meant a new gritty New York drama. Over the past 15 years, there have been few names as ubiquitous with this anticipation than Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg; the two giants of 80's and 90's cinema that surprisingly compliment each other by creating a blend of action and drama that is unsurpassed. With this past weekend's Bridge of Spies, they marked their fourth collaboration together, and it was pretty great. Have you seen them all? Here's a ranking of the four films from best to worst, including why they work.

1. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

To date, it is impossible to top the magnificence that is the opening 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan. Not since The Longest Day has the Battle of Normandy so excellently recreated and so horrifying to witness. It is Spielberg at his best as a director, and the attention to detail puts it over the top. If judged solely for the opening, this film would still beat out most everything else he's done - save for Schindler's List. Thankfully, the rest of the film is just as emotionally wrenching, powerful, and immersive as they come. It's the first of the Hanks/Spielberg collaborations, and it's easy to see why they work so well together. Hanks is equally captivating as the leader who takes us into harm's way in order to maintain the American Way. You're not likely to find a more powerful World War II film from the 90's and possibly ever.

2. Bridge of Spies (2015)

Yes, the latest from Hanks and Spielberg is also their best in almost 20 years. Even if the film isn't nearly as exciting visually as Saving Private Ryan, it creates one of Hanks' most charismatic performances in years and does so with humor and magic akin to the best of Frank Capra. It's a Red Scare film that explores the complexities of Communism while also providing something deeper. It's a film about understanding through negotiations. It's also one that thanks to its editing and cyclical visual cues is one of Spielberg's most confident dramas in his entire career. It may not seem like the most exciting subject matter, but it definitely continues to prove why he's still considered one of the greatest directors of the past 50 years and not just a has been. 

3. Catch Me If You Can (2002)

The second collaboration between Hanks and Spielberg is likely better remembered for having one of Leonardo DiCaprio's best performances as well as an impeccable opening credits sequence. However, it's hard to forget about the cat in the cat and mouse game: Tom Hanks, as an agent out to capture DiCaprio's eccentric thief. If nothing else, it's one of the most enjoyable films in Spielberg's entire filmography and probably among his funniest. Before Bridge of Spies, this journey into American history proved to have all of the excitement that the director would continue to show over the next decade. It also has a really killer knock-knock joke that is sure to keep you laughing.

4. The Post (2017)

On its surface, the story of a newspaper may not seem like the greatest idea for a Steven Spielberg movie. However, he packs a story about The Washington Post with so many charismatic faces, and it creates one of the most interesting looks at journalistic integrity in the post-Vietnam War drama. At the center is Tom Hanks as the executive editor with a can-do spirit and a need to print the truth. It may not be his best performance, coming in second to a compelling Meryl Streep performance, but it definitely shows how he's capable of leading a room full of people to a satisfying conclusion. It's more evidence that Hanks can do anything and make it seem appealing. Who wouldn't want to work for Hanks when he has moxie this appealing? The answer is nobody.

5. The Terminal (2004)

Even among Spielberg's collective filmography, The Terminal is considered one of his worst. While I think that's an unfair assessment, I do think that it's one of his most tender and sentimental films for sure. It has all of the fun of Hanks roaming an airport, unable to leave due to legal reasons. It may not have any moment as immediately iconic as Saving Private Ryan or Bridge of Spies, but it does have plenty of heart that reflects the director's ability to be more than just a blockbuster director. This was part of his transition into more personal studies of humanity, and in that sense serves some value. If nothing else, it's among my favorites and I feel it's greatly underrated, even if it's at the bottom of this list.

Do you agree? Which one is your favorite?

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