5. Apollo 13
For me, Apollo 13 is up there with Shawshank Redemption. It’s that TBS or TNT movie that gets replayed a million times, and you watch it a million times. I can’t say how often I’ve watched the end and thought, “Will they come out of blackout?” I know the damn capsule is safe. I know Tom Hanks is alive, yet I still wait as the first crackle of audio comes through to Mission Control. Hanks as Jim Lovell is the calm at the center of the storm, as his capsule swings widely out of control. When he says, “Gentleman, it’s been a pleasure flying with you”, my first reaction is, “No. It’s been a pleasure flying with you Mr. Hanks.”
Quick history lesson, back in the 90’s there was a virus called HIV/AIDS. This virus still exists today, and needs just as much time and concerted effort. Nevertheless, today there are treatments and there is hope. Back in the 90’s, HIV/AIDS was a death sentence. It was probably the most taboo subject that could be put into a film. By this point, Hanks had carved a nice little niche for himself in movies like, A League of their Own and Sleepless in Seattle. He didn’t need to take the leap that Philadelphia demanded, that is, him playing a lawyer who contracts HIV/AIDS. Nevertheless, Hanks did what great actors do, he took a chance. In retrospect, teaming Hanks with Denzel Washington could only be a win. Nevertheless, at the time, it pushed the consciousness of HIV/AIDS deeper into the American psyche. Hanks’s greatest and most touching moments are the ones where he’s withering away. It’s where he’s demonstrating the terrible effect the virus has on the body, but not on the heart. Philadelphia is really the movie that made Tom Hanks into the best actor in Hollywood. It would also lead to his first Academy Award for Best Actor, and to his most famous role.
3. Forrest Gump
Surprised it’s not #1? I had to throw a few curveballs. So many quotes, so little time. “Mama, what’s my destiny?” “I RAN!” “Life is like a box of chocolate.” “I’m not a smart man, but I know what love is.” “I GOTTA FIND BUBBA!” “Lieutenant Dan.” “Hello. My name is Forrest. Forrest Gump.” Jenny didn’t deserve him, and they were not “two peas in a pod” (Don’t fight me on this). Honestly, as simple as those catchphrases have become to imitate, it’s a hard role. For Hanks, the role of Forrest Gump could have easily slid into a caricature (Some would argue that the character is now a caricature, but that’s because it’s been copied by just about everyone who thinks they’re remotely funny). It’s up to Hanks to find the depth in the simple. Hanks envelops and develops the mannerisms, the sly facial expressions, the innocent grin. It’s the role that made Hanks into this generation’s Jimmy Stewart. An actor so adept at playing the every man, the ordinary bloke on the street who does amazing things, that it imbues us with hope of what is possible for us. It also netted him his second consecutive Best Actor award. Him and Spencer Tracy are still the only actors to ever win the Best Actor award in back-to-back years.
2. Toy Story 3
Yes, the movie where Hanks only provides a voice is his second best movie, and it is kind of cheating on my part because I’m counting the whole series. The Toy Story trilogy is currently, until they come out with a Toy Story 4, the greatest trilogy in film history next to The Lord of the Rings and Back to the Future (Don’t fight me on this). It’s the reoccurring Jimmy Stewart character, except in a dated 1950’s cowboy toy image. A little background, Tom Hanks agreed to star in the first Toy Story in 1993. Pixar was in its infancy, Apple and Steve Jobs were trying to pump money as possible into it, Disney didn’t really believe in it, the animation technology was unyielding, and the script had to be redone twice. Every indication coming out of the original movie was that it would be an epic failure. Still, Hanks remained in the role of Woody. At the time, Hanks was working on Philadelphia, and Toy Story was arguably Hanks’s second biggest risk of his career. After the success of Toy Story, the series peaked with Toy Story 3. Hanks’s greatest contribution is creating a character that is impossible to hate, even when he’s wrong. He is so often able to demonstrate the complete and utter devotion he has toward Andy. I had some pretty crummy toys growing-up, and to this day I dearly wish I had Woody by my side (Or Tom Hanks for that matter).
Every single time I see Castaway I appreciate it more-and-more. It’s probably the most misunderstood film of Tom Hanks’s filmography, and of his Golden Era (1992-2002). A lot of people really don’t get the ending. “How?” I really don’t know why or how, but there are two types of people: Some who get the ending, and some who are idiots (Don’t fight me on this). Next to Philadelphia, there’s probably no role that has been more physically taxing on Hanks than Castaway. It took 2 years to film. Hanks had to grow out his hair, his beard (Probably the ugliest beard in film history), and shed 50 pounds. For about 80% of the film, he’s the only person on screen. You could imagine Hanks hearing people criticize him for essentially playing “just a guy” in his previous film roles. Here, he carries the film. He also gave us another quote to add to our pop culture lexicon, “Wiiillllssssoooooon! Wilson!” Believe it or not, this was also the last Academy Award nomination Hanks received (Don’t get me into him not being nominated for Road to Perdition, Captain Philips, Saving Mr. Banks, and Bridge of Spies….Don’t fight me on this). Still, Castaway was probably the height of Tom Hanks’s powers as an actor. He was probably never better, and may never be. Nevertheless, knowing Tom Hanks, there’s always better.
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Photo credit: Timeout