Tom Hanks is one of the most celebrated actors of our day. He’s had a long and critically acclaimed career with many notable parts and lots of awards under his belt. For this post, I’ve been asked to mention my five favorite of his films.
(Incidentally, this is #9 in a series of 47 posts about movies, with topics selected by my friend, each given to me after the previous one is written. For more information, check out #1 here.)
So here they are, in the order of their release:
A League of Their Own (1992) – Directed by Penny Marshall
Starring Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan
This film almost didn’t make the cut (see below), and frankly, I don’t remember it terribly well. But I remember enjoying it as an intelligent comedy about a reasonably original topic. In spite of being top billed, Hanks isn’t the central character, but he does a good job as the damaged and disenchanted coach to an all-girls baseball team during World War II. The film lives up to its ambitions to be both an honest character-study and a look at a slice of American history, while never forgetting to be funny.
Apollo 13 (1995) – Directed by Ron Howard
Starring Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell
One of my favorite movies ever. An aspect of this film that I really enjoy is the “ensemble” nature of it. Tom Hanks’ Jim Lovell is the lead character, but he’s really just one of hundreds of people who are working really hard to figure out how to save himself and the other two astronauts whose lives are endangered by the Apollo 13 accident. To that end, Hanks delivers only one of many good performances, with Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, Kevin Bacon, Kathleen Quinlan, and Bill Paxton all coming through as well. I also really enjoy all the scenes in Mission Control, with the little personality bits that come through all the people working there. Yet the movie never gets lost in the chaos of all these characters; the story is clear and cohesive. It’s a solid piece of work.
Toy Story 2 (1999) – Directed by John Lasseter, Co-Directed by Lee Unkrich and Ash Brannon
Starring the Voice of Tom Hanks as Woody
The Toy Story series is one of the best animated franchises of all time, if not the very best, and Toy Story 2 is my favorite of the lot. It is in many ways the perfect sequel, completely retaining the style, energy and spirit of the original, but not being satisfied with just rehashing it. The story is fresh and original, and takes the world and concepts and pushes them further in a way that is genuinely satisfying. Hanks’ voice perfectly complements the technical work in bringing Woody to life, and making him one of cinema’s best animated characters.
Catch Me If You Can (2002) – Directed by Steven Spielberg
Co-starring Tom Hanks as Carl Hanratty
This is another great film and a great role for Tom Hanks. Again, he’s not the lead, but rather the antagonist to charming conman Frank Abnagale, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Hank’s FBI agent Carl Hanratty is a great character, though. He starts as an uptight, unlikable, easily mocked legalist, but eventually reveals himself as someone who is a beacon of hope for Abnagale, that there be a way out of the mess that his life has turned into. The audience’s perceptions of him adjusts over the film in the same way that Abnagale’s does, and so Hanratty becomes something of a fixed point in the story of DiCaprio’s character essentially growing up. It’s a great part in a great film directed by a great director.
Bridge of Spies (2015) – Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Tom Hanks as James B. Donovan
The most recent movie on this list, and the only one to come out since I started this blog. You can read my full response here but in short, Bridge of Spies was a compelling espionage drama that managed to avoid both the sort of high-stakes melodrama and the contrived action that most spy movies are full of. Tom Hanks plays lawyer James Donovan who is first given the unenviable task or defending a presumed national traitor, and then has the even more complex responsibility of negotiating the trade of his former defendant for another political prisoner. Hanks’ character demonstrates his conviction to do the right thing in a way that is honest, compelling and completely without sentimentality.
Runners-up: I almost had That Thing You Do on this list, which is actually directed by Tom Hanks, and features him in a supporting role. It’s a fun movie and has one of my favorite scenes (when the band first hears their song playing on the radio) but in the end I decided that A League of Their Own was more substantial a movie, even if I didn’t remember it as well. Also considered seriously here were Captain Phillips, Big, You’ve Got Mail (though I don’t really remember that movie so well either), the other Toy Story movies, and Splash, which is where I first became familiar with Tom Hanks (although I’d seen him on TV in Bosom Buddies before!)
Rejected: All of the runners-up of course. But the more easily dismissed films included Forest Gump (on my list of overrated movies), Philadelphia, Cast Away, The Polar Express, The Da Vinci Code, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Sleepless in Seattle, Dragnet, The Green Mile and Punchline.
Full Disclosure: I have never seen Saving Private Ryan, The Ladykillers, The Terminal, Saving Mr. Banks, Charlie Wilson’s War, Road to Perdition, The Bonfire of the Vanities, Turner & Hooch or Joe versus the Volcano, and some others. I watched part of Bachelor Party on cable years ago, but I have tried to put that as far out of my mind as possible.
Bonus: The absolute worst Tom Hanks movie I have ever seen was Angels & Demons, the sequel to the lame-brain The Da Vinci Code. It’s by far one of the stupidest, most inept, most inane, and somewhat offensive things I have ever seen come from talent like Tom Hanks and Ron Howard. To be avoided at all costs.