From 'Big' to 'Captain Phillips,' TOH! Ranks Tom Hanks' Ten Best Performances

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by TOH!
December 19, 2013 3:25 PM
6 Comments
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10. Catch Me If You Can (2002)
By playing Carl Hanratty, the FBI agent who chases Leonardo DiCaprio in and around Steven Spielberg’s underappreciated and effervescent caper film, Hanks joined the ranks of Jack Nicholson (in “Reds,” 1981) and George Clooney (in “Syriana,” 2005) – established, bona-fide movie stars who’ve taken a supporting role and stolen a movie. While Nicholson was nominated by the Academy, and Clooney won, Hanks was overlooked for what may be his best work ever (“Captain Phillips,” perhaps, aside): As Hanratty, he offered up a dead-on portrayal of world-weariness, innate charity, and droll, dry self-awareness, as well as providing the perfect counterweight to the daredevil con man played by DiCaprio.  - John Anderson

9. Road to Perdition (2002)
Michael Sullivan, the conflicted hit man of Sam Mendes’ Prohibition-era gangster piece, marked Hanks’ first real shift away from good guys roles and into something vastly more complicated. Watching it now, he seems like what he is -- an actor on unfamiliar territory -- though he proffers a convincing stolidness as a ruthlessly efficient killer, forced by circumstance to turn on the only family he’s known. Besides being an actorly landmark, “Road to Perdition” is among those films that suggest Hanks does his more interesting work with facial hair (including the smear of mustache that bisects Michael Sullivan’s face). There’s the beard in “Captain Phillips,” the beard in “Cast Away,” even – God help us – the goatee in “The Ladykillers.” This does not, we hasten to add, include his mustachioed Walt Disney in “Saving Mr. Banks.”  - John Anderson

8. A League of Their Own (1992)
When Hanks is liberated from having to carry a movie as a likable leading man, he unleashes his best freewheeling comedy performances. In Penny Marshall's "A League of Their Own" he's the ornery old-school male coach stuck managing a gaggle of girl baseball players. He arrives skeptical and distant, and of course, can't stop getting involved in helping them win. His classic line: "There's no crying in baseball!"  - Anne Thompson

7. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

"When was the last time you felt good about anything?" Tom Hanks wonders as he leads a group of US soldiers through the miasma of Normandy and across enemy lines in Steven Spielberg's Oscar-robbed "Saving Private Ryan." As Captain Miller, Hanks delivers a performance both brave and vulnerable in equal measures-- he's strong because he has to be, but afraid because the reality of war is intractable, and there is no more going back. -Ryan Lattanzio

6. Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
One our most guiltless romantic comedy pleasures, the late Nora Ephron's 1993 "Sleepless in Seattle" defined Hanks as a soulful romantic lead. He has the gentle, self-effacing chops to play devoted dad and widower Sam opposite Meg Ryan's neurotic reporter in Baltimore. His on-air confession asking for a new wife is one of many scenes where Hanks unveils his knack for marrying wit with bittersweet tenderness. And while the film really belongs to Ryan (like Hanks, one of the great comic actors of the 90s), the final scene where these two soured souls fall into one another's arms atop the Empire State Building makes you wish it was you who was saving Mr. Hanks.  - Ryan Lattanzio

5. Big (1988)
What distinguishes "Big" from its child-in-an-adult's-body successors ("13 Going on 30," "Freaky Friday") is Hanks' ingenious turn as Josh Baskin, the boy who's granted his wish "to be big." Hanks, who studied Marshall's footage of young Josh (David Moscow) playing with friends, proves a gifted physical comedian. He nails not only the slapstick of ill-fitting pants and the footloose joy of "Chopsticks" on a larger-than-life keyboard, but also the subtler, sometimes frightening experience, shared by all adolescents, of finding yourself in a body that seems not quite your own. In this sense, Hanks' performance is more than a funny impression of teenage awkwardness -- it is, in a film premised on a fantasy, a sympathetic and remarkably unmannered rendering of the real delight and pain that accompanies growing up.  - Matt Brennan

4. Toy Story trilogy (1995 - 2010)
It's tough to imagine anyone but Hanks voicing chipper floppy cowboy action figure Sheriff Woody in the classic Pixar "Toy Story" series. He's a tireless organizer and cheerleader, always rallying his troops and in love with his boy. "You are a toy!" he screams in frustration to cocky spaceman Buzz Lightyear, who replies, "You are a sad strange little man." Indeed.  - Anne Thompson

3. Cast Away (2000)
Hanks gives a mesmerizing one-man performance in Robert Zemeckis’ survival epic, which scored the actor an Oscar nomination. Hanks stars as FedEx exec Chuck Noland, who emerges from a waterbound plane crash to find himself swept ashore on a deserted island, with only a volley ball, dubbed Wilson, to keep him company. It’s the rare actor who can keep an audience spellbound, solo, for two hours. Hanks also undergoes an impressive physical transformation, from the slightly doughy everyman we’re familiar with to a wild-haired and wiry island inhabitant. With Helen Hunt as Noland’s resilient fiancée, caught between two men -- one at home, and one seemingly raised from the grave.  - Beth Hanna

2. Philadelphia (1993)
Hanks won his first of two consecutive Oscars (the second was for “Forrest Gump”) in Jonathan Demme’s tearjerker about a gay man with AIDS fired from his law firm, and the homophobic lawyer (Denzel Washington) who is the only one bold enough to take on his discrimination case. Hanks brings an outrage and won’t-take-no-shit decency to the role that melds perfectly with his trademark relatability, while playing out the increasingly vicious stages of the disease. The film has since become famous as one of the first mainstream Hollywood entries to deal frankly with the reality of AIDS, homophobia, and homosexuality.  - Beth Hanna

1. Captain Phillips (2013)
As the titular skipper of the Maersk Alabama, boarded by a cadre of Somali pirates off the east coast of Africa, Hanks evokes workaday heroism, all the more potent for being run through with terror. Beard shaded with gray, voice colored by blue-collar New England, he shrinks at the report of bullets and calmly negotiates with the hijackers' main interlocutor (Barkhad Abdi), managing the state of play with the immediacy of a man who does not yet know his fate. It's a no-nonsense performance, well suited to Greengrass' ragged set pieces. But by the time the denouement arrives, and Hanks unwinds two hours of tension in a single, devastating scene -- the finest of his career -- it becomes clear that he, as much as Greengrass, wound the tension in the first place. It's a moment, a performance, with Hanks' whole soul behind it, and the payoff is tremendous.  - Matt Brennan







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6 Comments

  • Daniel | December 21, 2013 7:57 PMReply

    Good choices but how the hell is Forrest Gump not mentioned? I'd argue to say that that's his best performance. Pretty stupid to overlook that one, especially since he won an Oscar for it as well.

  • JAB | December 19, 2013 6:25 PMReply

    I personally would've rated his performance as Jim Lovell in "Apollo 13" among his Top 10. His enigmatic Capt. Miller from "Saving Private Ryan" certainly belongs here, but I agree his work in "Captain Phillips" may be his best.
    Apparently that heart wrenching last scene of his wasn't exactly written like that on the page. Hanks & Greengrass decided to tweak it a bit.

  • Brian Whisenant | December 19, 2013 5:43 PMReply

    As entertaining as his Gump might be to some I do not and have never thought it to be a great performance. Especially when you put it up against Captain Phillips and Philadrlphia. Even Big and Toy Story.

  • Austin | December 19, 2013 4:21 PMReply

    How in the world is Forrest Gump not in the top 3?

  • Mark | December 20, 2013 6:15 PM

    Beats the shit out of me. It's not even in their top 10. I guess they're trying to be edgy by not including it. Pretty ridiculous.

    "No sir we are not related."

  • James S. | December 19, 2013 3:56 PMReply

    Thank you, Matt Brennan! I agree that the last few minutes of Captain Phillips contain Hanks' single greatest moment on film. It's my choice for best performance of the year, and one that I think will be given even greater consideration in the years to come.

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