In 1993, Tom Hanks literally made a dramatic shift to more serious projects with Philadelphia, which brought the AIDS epidemic front and center to a more mainstream audience. For his performance, Hanks won an Oscar and forever changed moviegoers perceptions of him from a comedic actor to a jack of all trades.
The following year, Forrest Gump turned into a smash hit and Hanks would win his second Best Actor trophy in a row (a feat that hadn’t been accomplished since Spencer Tracy in the late 1930s). The rest of the 1990s would see the performer headlining one prestige project after another that connected with critics and audiences alike. Apollo 13. Saving Private Ryan. The Green Mile. Cast Away. In addition, he starred in a pair of hit rom coms with Meg Ryan – Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail.
The last decade or so for Hanks could be described as spotty at best. After a mostly well-received turn in Sam Mendes’ Prohibition era pic Road to Perdition (where he cast against type as a hitman), there was Steven Spielberg’s The Terminal, which failed to make a major impression with audiences. The actor’s biggest financial successes were with adaptations of Dan Brown novels, 2006’s The Da Vinci Code and 2009’s Angels and Demons. Neither pictures were particularly beloved by critics. Of course, there was also the animated smash hit Toy Story 3 in 2010. And a supporting turn in Catch Me If You Can, another collabo with Spielberg that turned out well. However, there were disappointments as well. 2004’s Coen Bros remake The Ladykillers was a box office disappointment. 2007’s Charlie Wilson’s War was expected to be an Oscar player, but wasn’t. His directorial effort Larry Crowne costarring Julia Roberts didn’t resonate with audiences or critics. And last year’s Cloud Atlas was a financial dud domestically.
Two decades after Hanks achieved double Oscar glory, 2013 will be seen as a return to form. October’s Captain Phillips (the tale of the 2009 Somali hijacking incident) earned the actor his best reviews in years. The project (from director Paul Greengrass) gives Hanks his greatest chance for an Oscar nod in the last 13 years. He hasn’t been recognized by the Academy since 2000’s Cast Away. Audiences responded well to Phillips, too. It’s earned $102 million domestically at press time.
Captain Phillips would probably be enough to earn Hanks a spot in this blog series, but there’s another feature coming this month that should only add to his solid year. John Lee Hancock’s Saving Mr. Banks casts Hanks (recently named America’s most trusted person in America) as iconic studio head Walt Disney. The film focuses on the making of 1964’s Mary Poppins and stars Emma Thompson as author P.L. Travers. Attention is already focused on Hanks receiving a Best Supporting Actor nod for his turn as Disney. If that happens, the performer may well be a double nominee as this year’s ceremony. Banks also seems likely to be a commercial hit.
While the last few years have been a mixed bag commercially and critically for Mr. Trustworthy, audiences and critics (and probably Oscar voters) entrusted Hanks at a level in 2013 not seen in a while. Hanks has no projects lined up for release in 2014, though expect Toy Story 4 and The Lost Symbol (another Dan Brown adaptation) in the future.
Part three of my six-part series on performers who had a profound impact in the movies in 2013 continues tomorrow with an actress who gave a performance that was literally out of this world.