Friday, August 1, 2014

Twice a Best Actor Bloggers Roundtable: Tom Hanks


I can’t believe it, but we are almost to the end of this series.  It’s been such a joy to take part in this with these awesome bloggers, and I really hope they’ve had fun exploring Oscar’s double dips, and I hope that you have had fun reading what we’ve had to say. 

Today we are discussing Tom Hanks.  I have to say, these results shocked me.  As a panel, we’ve been all over the place, and this is no different.  I expected a different result, I’ll be honest.

Well, you’ll see for yourself.

First, our panel!

Alex from And So It Begins
Andrew from The Films the Thing
Drew from A Fistful of Films
Mario from Two Dollar Cinema
Shane from Film Actually



ALEX:
The Performance
Tom Hanks’ work as Andrew Beckett is one of my favorite screen performances in all of film. It’s brutal, devastating and authentic. A man motivated by a ticking clock, guided by passion to do the right thing. That scene when Hanks is standing outside of Denzel Washington’s law office is as haunting an image as you’re likely to find. He’s so lost and alone, without a clue what to do. There’s so much beauty in his sadness.

The Field
Hanks was up against four incredible performances, including Laurence Fishburne’s terrifying work as Ike Turner, Liam Nesson’s conflicted turn as Oskar Schindler, and Daniel Day-Lewis, fearless as ever as Gerry Conlon. I’d still give it to Hanks, but wow, what a field.
My Grade: A+

ANDREW:
The Academy has a soft-spot for “important” movies. But it seems more often than not these films find favor not necessarily because they are actually well-made films but because they tackle weighty issues that need to be addressed. Think Gentlemen’s Agreement with Anti-Semitism or Crash with Racism. Philadelphia, which was released in 1993 at the height of AIDS awareness, was the first major film from the studios with a cast of well-known actors that actually took on homophobia and AIDS. Tom Hanks was justly rewarded for his “brave” performance as Andrew Beckett, a gay lawyer that is wrongfully fired from his job when his law firm finds that he is suffering from the illness, but the film seems more concerned with getting its message across than actually creating a fully-formed character for Hanks to play. His character is so non-descript that he almost becomes more of a symbol than an actual human being. For most of the film, he silently sits in a courtroom while Denzel Washington does all the acting. This silence begins to personify him as a saint and martyr, pushing the audience further away but, because of his situation, we’re made to believe that we still care. When he’s finally given an opportunity to grant insight into his character, it becomes almost dreamlike and abstract involving Maria Callas and an aria (did Terrence McNally write this?) further alienating and canonizing. At the time, it must have been surprising to see Hanks, normally known for his skills as a comedic actor, taking on such a dramatic role. But instead of this symbolic win, during a surprisingly strong year, the Academy should have awarded one of the other four men in this category who gave life to actual flesh and blood characters.
My Grade: C

DREW:
I know that I’m in the minority here, but I just don’t appreciate this performance at all.  I’ve said this about Hanks before (and I’ll be saying it again when we get to the next performance), but his Oscar wins reek of gimmick.  There is absolutely no substance in these performances, which is a shame because the characters, or at least their situations, had substance. 

Hanks just fails to convey this.

Andrew Beckett was a very ripe character.  He was a successful gay man dying of AIDS who was unjustly fired by his firm and sought out justice, and got it!  This should be an actor’s showcase.  Sadly, it was, for all the wrong reasons.  What Hanks does with this beautiful character is load him down with clichés and gimmicks and then expects us just to fall in love with the idea of this man, without really building anything substantial.  In the end, it never really feels real.  I never felt like I even knew who Andrew Beckett really was.  I knew his circumstances, and I knew his plight…but I didn’t know him.  He had no arc, no real detail.  He was a blank canvas with a gimmick and an Oscar moment, but nothing more.

And that Oscar moment was gross.  Yup, I’m talking about that excruciating Opera scene where Hanks reaches levels of ridiculous I just couldn’t believe would be emitted in this film.  The scene itself should have been stirring and emotionally reaching but Hanks just didn’t get it and it comes off mediocre and uncomfortable to watch.

The fact that Denzel Washington not only had the better character, but also the better arc and performance in the same film is telling.

It’s also a shame that Hanks won in a year where the Best Actor slate was so incredibly solid.  Neeson is really good, and Day-Lewis delivers an electric (at times overboard) performance, but really; Laurence Fishburne was sensational, so full of life and energy and sold it all fluidly, and Anthony Hopkins gives, not only the best performance of his career, but one of the ten best performances of all time!
My Grade: F

JOSH:
Hanks won his first Best Actor Oscar for playing Andrew Beckett, a gay man who sues a law firm for being fired after he is diagnosed with AIDS. Roles like this tend to go over well with Academy voters (just ask Matthew McConaughey), but Hanks does give an effective performance. The script allows him some moments to shine, especially in the opera scene and in the courtroom ones. Overall, it's a very good performance, but I wouldn't nominate him for it.

Did Hanks deserve to win?

I'd rank Hanks at the bottom of the nominees. Anthony Hopkins should've been rewarded for his magnificent performance in The Remains of the Day, but Liam Neeson's work in Schindler's List was also worthy.
My Grade: A-

MARIO:
Who I was rooting for:  The only role I had seen at the time was Liam Neeson in Schindler’s List. And even after seeing Philadelphia, that still might get my vote.
The role: Hanks plays Andrew Beckett, wrongly terminated from a high-powered law firm for having AIDS.
Watch for:  The physical transformation Hanks goes through as Andrew’s health rapidly declines.
Yay:  The way Hanks leaves Joe Miller’s (Denzel) office after initially asking him for representation. He’s quiet, he understands, but there’s so much hate in his eyes, it’s incredible.
Boo:  It gets a little ridiculous there at the end of the trial. I mean, maybe someone could notice that Beckett not looking well. Oh, and that opera scene? Well…
Summary:  Seeing this for the first time, it seems as if Hanks was just getting his footing as a master of his craft. Actually, I think it’s less the performance and more the overly-dramatic direction of this film. Hanks plays Beckett a resilient man, fighting for justice to the end with just the right amount of softness. He’s warm, he’s disarming, but he’s also incredibly confident and determined to stand up for himself, in the face of sexual discrimination. Maybe all these years later the drastic physical transformation he undergoes seems ho-hum (he’s done it a few times since), but I found it to be the most memorable part of the performance.
My Grade:  A-

SHANE:
When I look back on Tom Hanks’ Oscar win for the Capra-esque ‘Philadelphia’ it seems like a preordained inevitability. The film’s subject matter (AIDS) was highly topical at the time and Hanks’ “aw-shucks” personal was a perfect fit for the role. It’s really a feat of excellent casting, as he immediately gets you on his side. It’s something that a more abrasive performer (Jack Nicholson for example) would struggle to pull off.

The performance does reveal some minor weaknesses in Hanks’ technique though. Specifically, he tends to fade away when he’s not the central focus. Especially when Denzel takes charge, I completely lose all interest in him, which should not be the case. He’s put in the background a lot in ‘Philadelphia’ and unfortunately he doesn't feel as “present” in those scenes.

Yet the fact remains (in my best Denzel voice), when Hanks is given the spotlight, he’s immediately engaging. That warm face and voice just draws you in.

In terms of the Oscar field, this was a super lineup. I would actually place Hanks at #5 and then it's a toss-up in my eyes. Can I call it a 4-way tie?
My Grade: B+


ALEX:
The Performance
As a whole, I like Forrest Gump well enough. Which is to say: I’m not nearly as much of a fan of it as some, but I do appreciate its sentiment. Now, based solely on its performances, the film is a masterpiece. Forrest Gump is Hanks’ show, but he’s helped considerably by the respective talents of Robin Wright, Gary Sinise, Sally Field and Mykelti Williamson. Plus, that scene when Forrest finds out he’s a father remains one of Hanks’ finest moments. With one look and a few short words, an entire character is put into perspective.

The Field
Not to take anything away from Hanks, but John Travolta in Pulp Fiction would’ve had my vote.
My Grade: A

ANDREW:
With his child-like innocence and armed with a series of instantly quotable catchphrases (boxes of chocolates have never been the same since), it’s easy to see how Hanks as Forrest Gump, in the insanely popular film of the same name, could have charmed Academy voters and audiences alike. But popularity isn’t necessary a mark of greatness and Hanks’ Gump, while likable, is little more than a plot device to guide us through decades of American history. He’s the audience’s stand-in for the story being told, a pawn in this epic tale spanning continents, wars, and presidents. His simplicity becomes a blank canvas on which the audience is able to project its own feelings and ideas without having time to realize that the actor himself hasn’t really done that work at all. Aside from some humorous line-deliveries (which are actually funnier because of their placement in the script than in the way Hanks actually delivers them), nothing Hanks does make the performance feel authentic or really all that memorable. Not to say that the film itself doesn’t have its charms, but if you replaced Hanks with any other actor, the film would still have the desired effect. Of the other nominees that year, Hanks seems too big not to have won and I’m not all that impressed with the work of the other men nominated alongside him. Although you could make a case for Morgan Freeman in Shawshank (another crowd-pleaser) or, an actor that was originally offered the part of Forrest Gump (and could have easily won if he had), John Travolta in Pulp Fiction.
My Grade: C

DREW:
I’m one of those horrible people who doesn’t love Forrest Gump.  I know that I am horrible because all of my friends tell me so.  Apparently, this movie is the greatest movie of all time, and my distain for it (it isn’t really distain, just pure disinterest) is uncalled for and completely wrong.

Whatever.

I have a very similar issue with this performance that I do with the one he gave in Philadelphia.  He just doesn’t do anything.  He’s lazy.  He rests so comfortably on the gimmick of this character and it’s a shame because an actor with a shred of conviction could have gotten something more out of this.  Or could they have?  Maybe it’s just the character that is rather damning.  I mean, this is about as stereotypical, clichéd, baity, gimmicky nonsense as they come.  My issue with Forrest Gump will always be the absolute lack of any restraint or subtlety.  It’s like everyone involved in this movie got together and said “what wins Oscars” and someone said “war” and then someone said “mental handicaps” and then someone said “alcoholic mothers” and then someone said “drug addicted floozy’s” and then someone said “let’s throw all of them in the same movie and win everything” and it worked.

But sadly, it really doesn’t.  I mean, it’s entertaining because it has practically everything in it…but it’s not good; at all.

Anyways, back to Hanks, who sleeps his way through this entire film only to reach the tail end and realize he has to do some sort of acting and so, when he finds out about his son, he has that moment…that single moment where you can actually feel like this is a performance, a real character…but it’s far too little too late for me.

But that one moment gets him a grade slightly better than an F.

I don’t know, maybe he should have gone full retard…

Of the nominees, Paul Newman should have won in a walk.  Freeman was good, but Robbins was better (in the same film) and Travolta is good but in retrospect nothing really special, especially in that ensemble which is so stellar.  I found Hawthorne to be a revelation in The Madness of King George and would have loved to see him rewarded.
My Grade: D

JOSH:
Hanks won his second Best Actor Oscar for playing Forrest Gump, a slow but sweet Southerner who lives through many historic events from the 1950s to the 1970s. Like his role in Philadelphia, this screams Oscar, and Hanks makes the most of the Academy-friendly material. Hanks is amusing, endearing, and touching, and he does a solid job of playing a mentally challenged man. That said, he isn't able to do anything very meaningful with the character, apart from the scene where he meets his son.

Did Hanks deserve to win?

Again, I'd put Hanks at the bottom of the nominees. Particularly deserving were Paul Newman's layered naturalism in Nobody's Fool and Nigel Hawthorne's outlandish turn in The Madness of King George.
My Grade: B

MARIO:
Who I was rooting for:  Okay, maybe for a minute I was pulling for John Travolta…but between you and me, Gump is one of my favorite characters ever. Hanks for the win, please.
The role:  Hanks plays Forrest. Forrest Gump.
Watch for:  When Forrest recalls his life’s adventures for Jenny.  You were.
Yay:  For me choosing a lone moment in this film to cheer for is like choosing which one my kids I like more. Maybe I’ll go with He got a daddy named Forrest, too?
Boo: I basically just chose a favorite kid.
I’m just so biased with this one, I don’t really know what to say. I truly feel there isn’t a misstep here, as Hanks gives Forrest, who could potentially be a laughing-stock, the perfect level of innocence, humanity and believability. Gump isn’t that bright, but he’s a good person, willing to do anything for his friends and family. But through Hanks, Gump isn’t quite the simpleton many take him for. He’s a complicated guy, trying to keep it together and do the right thing when the world around him is a never-ending shit storm. He is routinely taken advantage of, yet he never feels like a sucker. For me, this is a magical performance. Maybe I’m the simpleton?
My Grade: A+

SHANE:
After winning for ‘Philadelphia’, Tom Hanks was back on that Oscar stage a year later for the cultural phenomenon that is ‘Forrest Gump’. Time hasn’t been kind to the film and Hanks’ performance though, as the love seems to have faded among discerning cinephiles. But you know what? I don’t care. Watching Tom Hanks play Forrest Gump remains one of my most enjoyable cinematic experiences. It's not only because the character is so lovable either. It’s also the way he deftly handles the unwitting comedy of the role. Of course I tear up on cue during the sentimental moments but it’s the humour that’s my favourite part.

One could argue that he briefly slips into “Tom Hanks mode” sometimes, but for the most part I completely believed that I was watching Forrest Gump and not the actor. For such a demanding role (body language, speech) that’s a high compliment indeed.

In comparison to the other nominees that year, I think Tom Hanks holds up well. It’s an iconic set of performances though, so I would have a hard time choosing between Hanks, Freeman and Travolta. By default then, I’d be a typical Academy member and just go with the consensus. Hanks gets my vote.
My Grade: A-

FINAL SCORE
There is a number assigned to each letter grade that helps us give a score to each performance. The highest number (and A+) would be 20 points. An F would warrant 0 points (a D gives you 5). So these are the scores for each performance as well as a collective score (which will be used at the end to rank each individual actor).

Tom Hanks received a total of 75 points for his performance in Philadelphia.
Tom Hanks received a total of 80 points for his performance in Forrest Gump.

This is a collective total of 155 points.

As a point of reference, the highest collective score you can attain is 240.

And here is a bit of cool stats, we finally have two performances that garnered the same amount of votes...and they also share a similar trait.  Yup, both Hank's Forrest Gump and Hoffman's Rain Man have 80 points.  I'll leave you to finding the other similarity.

So this closes our discussion of Tom Hanks. Next week is the end of our series, where we discuss Spencer Tracy, the very first actor to win TWO Lead Acting Oscars, and back to back at that!

Again, as always, a special thanks to the five incredible bloggers who agreed to attack this project with me! It wouldn't be the same without any of you!

26 comments:

  1. An F? An effing F? I'm calling shenanigans. I mean, hating Hanks is a punishable offense in this country, no?

    Good work as always, gentlemen.

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    1. An effing F is right! UGH, I loathe that performance. LOL, at least I gave him a D for Forrest Gump! But I don't hate Hanks, I just prefer him when he tackles comedy (he's kind of hilarious) and if he had won Oscars for Big or That Thing You Do or A League of Their Own or even last year's Captain Phillips (easily his greatest performance to date), I would have given him A's

      I just can't with this though...like...no.

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  2. I liked his role in Philadelphia as I think it was one of his best roles though I really think the Best Actor award should've gone to David Thewlis for Naked despite not being nominated.

    I have a soft spot for Forrest Gump though I really think the Oscar for that film should've gone to John Travolta for Pulp Fiction.

    I too prefer Hanks in comedy. Especially Bachelor Party which I think is his funniest role of his career.

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    1. I agree that his role in Philadelphia was a good one, but he didn't do anything with it...or I should say he didn't do anything interesting with it, and what he did with it was cringe worthy (in my eyes).

      I understand that, especially with regards to el Gump, I'm in the minority.

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  3. Great job again, guys. Call me a sucker, but I love everything about Forrest Gump, especially Hanks. Not as big on Philadelphia, but I've only seen it once and it was years ago.

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    1. LOL, I'd never call you a sucker!

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  4. I want to start off by staying that I really do like Tom Hanks although it might not sound like it by the time I'm done. He can be a fine insightful actor, his work in Big has everything these two performances are missing and I've heard only positive comment on his performance in Captain Phillips which I have yet to see.

    His performance in Philadelphia is okay and has its moments, when he's out on the sidewalk probably the strongest, but many more weak ones, the opera scene makes me cringe just thinking about it. A large part of the problem is the stiff talk piece he's stuck in. Demme is so busy cramming stilted dialogue down our throats and talking at us that it keeps the audience at a distance. It limits Hanks ability to connect to us and Denzel keeps getting in the way of his story making it more about him. I was never moved by him the way I think a winning performance should. I think the timeliness of the issue and the fact that this was the first big budget film on the subject contributed to his win more than anything. It's a shame that once awarded the academy more or less turned away from the issue ignoring totally a far better performance than Hanks's a few years on, Eric Roberts beautiful work in It's My Party. My vote would have gone to Laurence Fishburne although I've never seen Schindler's List.

    On to Forrest Gump a movie that is wildly divisive. For me I loath it and found it excruciating to watch. I thought Hanks's performance was a blank falling back on tics and gimmicks. At the time I was completely in the minority as people would gush to me about how wonderful the film was and how great Hanks was and I wondered if we'd seen the same movie. I was bored to death. I kept watching hoping it would get better but it never did, I couldn't believe when he was nominated for it and incredulous when he won. My vote that year would have gone to Nigel Hawthorne for his amazing work in The Madness of King George.

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    1. I agree almost entirely with your second paragraph!

      I also love that you're a fan of Hawthorne's work!

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  5. I have to lean closer to an A for Hanks' work in Philadelphia. I find the opera scene to be devastatingly powerful and the film itself is such as well. I would go so far as to agree with Drew, though, that Denzel Washington had the better character and performance. But an F for Hanks? Not even close.

    With Forrest Gump, I would go B. It's a performance, and character, that I feel has aged. If you had asked me in 1994, I would go A+ all the way. Now I feel as though it has become a mockery of itself.

    Hanks deserved both Oscars considering the field both years. The only one close in '94 was Travolta.

    Good discussions, guys. I enjoyed reading it.

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    1. Thanks for reading and joining the discussion Kevin! I know that my reaction to Hanks' Oscar wins is in the minority. He's a beloved actor who has carved out quote the career and fan base. I don't hate him as an actor, but I have always taken issue with these two Oscar wins.

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  6. Hanks one-two punch never fails to fascinate me on first glance and then seem so obvious the more I think of it because people do, indeed, love him even as I'm apathetic. In 1993 he's facing the fact that he's going up against two of my favourite non-winning performances in the category and two other fairly good turns and giving a performance I'm not even sure is his film's best. In 1994 he's broader, but it works more with the aspects of him I like but ultimately never enough to make me passionate about although it's a performance I find actively hard to dislike.

    But even though I'm generally in the "don't care" camp on Hanks, I can appreciate his work in both and the inevitability of his Oscar wins, too.

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    1. I agree that his Oscar wins were obvious in retrospect, which is another reason that I kind of hate these wins. They're lazy. He won on a gimmick, not really on a performance, since ultimately he didn't do much in either film.

      I'm curious, what are the two performances in 93 you consider two of the best non-winning performances?

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  7. Anthony Hopkins and Daniel Day Lewis.

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    1. Completely agree with you on Hopkins! He's in my top ten male performances of all time.

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  8. Ha, I knew this discussion would be interesting. ;) I don't even think I've given a C, but these are two relatively forgettable Oscar-winning performances in the scheme of things.

    That tie between Hanks and Hoffman is kind of perfect.

    YES! Hopkins and Newman all the way!

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    1. They really are. I mean...they are performances that rest on the character and the gimmick and not the actual...performance. But I'm kind of glad it's been so divisive!

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  9. I saw both films. They are good...big whoop di do. The first film got in because it dealt with AIDS-well, that's a shoo-in. Hanks acceptance speech was an over the top mess and I wish a cane would have come out and yanked him off. he was an idiot. Neeson was amazing in his performance and should have won hands down. That second flick...don't get me started. It's an OK film but why all the bloody hype? I just don't get it. The media made all the fuss about having Tom Hank's character with people from history and made it sound new forgetting Woody Allen did it years before. Shawshank Redemption is, by far, the better film but the average person didn't even know how to pronounce the title. This is a great film and Robbins deserved the Oscar...Hell anyone did. They could have dug up the corpse of Spencer Tracy (sorry) and have his bones in a film and he would act better than Tom Hanks for that Oscar.

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    1. I love all of this comment and wish that I had said it myself.

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  10. I kind of didn't like Tom Hanks double Oscar won (not F, a Twilight performance is F, but Tom Hanks not). Both Philadelphia and Forest Gump didn't work for me.

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    1. I'm always harsher on Oscar bait because, for me, if you're attempting to win an Oscar you better pull it off. For me, Philadelphia was an embarrassment, and Forrest Gump was...close.

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  11. It's funny because I fully supported his win for Forrest Gump at first. But in retrospect, I think his two Oscars should've been for Big and Captain Phillips (not nominated). His Oscar for Philadelphia, I would've given to Liam Neeson or the un-nominated Robin Williams for Mrs. Doubtfire. Like I said, he does deserve two Oscars, but possibly for different performances.

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    1. He's not an icon I wholly support. I think I'd only actually nominate him twice (for That Thing You Do and for Captain Phillips) and I only really love two other performances (Big and A League of Their Own) but I understand why he's beloved. Charm for days.

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    2. Yeah. I actually have my own theory that one of the main reasons Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close got nominated for Best Picture is because he, and Sandra Bullock, are in it and are well-liked. Brings me to my peeve with the Academy's "preferential buddy system."

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    3. They certainly have a buddy system!

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    4. Imagine if the Academy gave voters a rule where they can't put their friends on their ballots. I wonder if the outcome on Nomination Day would ever turn out differently.

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    5. That would be a very hard rule to enforce, but a fun one to watch unfold.

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