Saving Mr. Hanks

Poor Tom Hanks. Once dubbed “the most likable guy in Hollywood,” his star is sullied by so-called Oscar snubs this year — or so the Tinseltown media are buzzing. A Los Angeles Times headline last week asked: “Is the academy over Tom Hanks?”

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Tom Hanks falls for a mermaid in “Splash” — another Everyman’s fantasy.

Save your hankies. From Saving Private Ryan to Saving Mr. Banks to (spoiler alert) getting saved by the SEALs in Captain Phillips, the charming, Southern-flavored (though he’s from California) Hanks has enjoyed a charmed career. Getting his start as a comic actor, with those signature deer-in-headlights, goofball gazes, he made a splash in Splash (1984), made it bigger in Big (1988), and then started to shed his comic veneer with Punchline that same year. His character in that film was a stand-up comedian down on his luck looking for his big break. When he reveals his tears-of-a-clown side in a famous meltdown onstage, Hanks exposed himself as a multifaceted, “serious” actor.

It didn’t take him long to command iconic roles (and million-dollar salaries): He is the astronaut who utters “Houston, we have a problem” in Apollo 13 — heroic not because he flew to the moon but because he survived as his dream to do so died. He’s the good soldier on a hellish mission to extract from the battlefield the last surviving son of one family in World War II in Saving Private Ryan, representing the best of our best, even in a killing field. He’s a 9/11 victim in 2011’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close — and not just any victim, but one of those photographed jumping from one of the twin towers. Although his role is small, he looms large as a spiritual guide to those left to grieve and suffer.

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A waif of a Hanks in “Philadelphia.” Take that, McConaughey.

And even though he’s not nominated as best actor this year, he has already plumbed some of the territory the best actor nominees are being recognized for. In 1993, Hanks starred in one of the first mainstream movies to shed light on the HIV/AIDS epidemic (Philadelphia) — and shed about 30 pounds to do it. (To achieve his own dramatic weight loss as an AIDS patient 20 years later for the Oscar-nominated Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey admits he consulted Hanks — while also eating little more than daily spoonfuls of pudding.)

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WILSON!

Hanks also pulled a De Niro (re: Raging Bull, a 1980 Best Picture Oscar winner) by gaining 55 pounds for Cast Away (2000) and then losing it again during filming. Besides providing catharsis for yo-yo dieters and workaholics alike in that movie, he caught the wave of Americans’ growing love affair with soccer. Not to mention spoonfuls of sugar and Type 2 diabetes.

perdition-splshHe did a sort of prequel to The Wolf of Wall Street exposing Wall Street’s festering greed in 1990’s The Bonfire of the Vanities. I guess his Road to Perdition (2002), in which he plays a hitman whose son witnesses what he does for a living, is maybe the closest thing to Bruce Dern’s delusional dad on a road trip with his son in Nebraska. Or maybe Toy Story — they were both named “Woody.”

That Thing You Do! — which Hanks wrote, directed and starred in — has the retro vibe of American Hustle, although he’s pretty much one of the suits. As for hairpieces to compete with Christian Bale’s, pick any one of his looks from his six roles in 2012’s Cloud Atlas. All bad hair days.

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Hanks plays a karmic, cosmic chameleon in “Cloud Atlas.” And his savage, fake language seems trickier than his New England accent as Captain Phillips, or any of his faux Southern twangs.

And the 12 Years a Slave guy? Well, Hanks can’t compete, but he had some tender moments in 1999’s The Green Mile with his prisoner, that mountain of a man Michael Clarke Duncan. Together, they helped us believe in miracles.

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A glimpse of salvation in “The Green Mile.”

So it’s been there, done that for Hanks. Do you think he CARES whether the Academy no longer loves him?

Poor Hanks. So omnipresent yet so underrated.

Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter recently noted that, with this year’s Captain Phillips, Hanks has starred in seven films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar over the years:

Forrest Gump (1994)

Apollo 13 (1995)

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

The Green Mile (1999)

Toy Story 3 (2010)

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

Captain Phillips (2013)

Of those, only Forrest Gump nabbed the Best Picture Oscar. Gump. Forrest Gump. And for only two was he singled out by the Academy for his performance with an acting nomination (Saving Private Ryan, Gump).

It’s not as if Hanks hasn’t been duly recognized by the Academy — he remains one of the few actors to win back-to-back acting Oscars, for 1993’s Philadelphia and 1994’s Gump (beating John Travolta in Pulp Fiction?!?) — but maybe the golden boy has lost some of his golden touch.

0_61_hanks_tomIt could be age-ism — the hefty role of Captain Phillips shows the realistic heft (shirtless) of a nearly 60-year-old middle-of-the-road Everyman. And now that he has joined the ranks of the nearly 26 millions diabetic Americans (7 million of whom don’t know it), you can’t say he doesn’t stay relevant.

In 1998’s You’ve Got Mail (the digital upgrade of 1993’s treacly Sleepless in Seattle), he first opened the can of worms on obsessive hours spent at the computer and online affairs, a precursor to Joaquin Phoenix’s Her fixation.

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The warm-and-fuzzy “You’ve Got Mail.”

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When it comes to roles, you never know what you’re gonna get with Hanks. But it’s likely to feel good.

As gooey love stories go, chocolate lover Forrest Gump was Hanks’ most iconic figure of all. That square of very little brain but big heart stood up for everything American: the plinth of motherhood, battle-scarred vets, persecuted dolts, AIDS victims so callously mowed down, and such fads-turned-fabric of our lives as fitness running (New Balance, made in America), smiley-face memes and the Apple computer. How could he top that marquee role with his fingers in everything? Perhaps only by playing Walt Disney, the magic king himself, in Saving Mr. Banks.

We all love Tom Hanks. Screenwriters, moviegoers, his acting peers, marriage advocates — he has one of the longest Hollywood marriages going, and to the same, original person. True story: While out promoting Saving Mr. Banks on Ellen last year he talked about wife Rita Wilson, saying: “I’m not one to suck up to an audience, but the only thing we really argue about is who loves each other more.”

Awwwwwwwww, darling. He’s still just a little boy in a big person’s body.

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BREATHE, Tom. Breathe.

In Captain Phillips, he takes on real-world piracy — terrorism, again — but he pays wondrous homage not only to the by-the-book union workers but (again) those brave men in uniform. His greatest acting moment — another Oscar-worthy meltdown, I’d say — comes when he demonstrates a type of post-traumatic stress in present tense (emphasis on TENSE). And it’s his interplay with his nurse caretaker that finally has me, anyway, looking for my hankie.

That’s when you realize that Hanks has been nothing but wingman all these years to the people he plays.

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Woody meets … Walt Disney?

Hollywood reporters have it all wrong, confusing the message with the messenger. Hanks would be the first to say it’s about story. But it’s never been about him.

The Navy SEALs, in fact, seem to have slipped into the position of Hollywood darlings lately, what with all of these salutes based on memoirs from these formerly shadowy figures: 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty and Act of Valor, and this year’s Oscar contender Lone Survivor dramatizing a debacle of a mission in Afghanistan (up for Sound Mixing).

Flaws and failures are fertile fodder for films and those who create them. So by passing over Hanks … well, I’d like to thank the Academy.

You probably did the guy a favor.