When he hosted “Saturday Night Live” for the ninth time last October, Tom Hanks delivered his monologue as “America’s Dad.” The sketches David S. Pumpkins and “Black Jeopardy” may have gotten more press, but the monologue fit Hanks like a glove. Clad in a fuzzy sweater, offering us words of encouragement (and money), Hanks pulled it off brilliantly because he truly is what we look for in the ideal parent — warm, trustworthy, and fair. And, like so many lovable dads, we’re in danger of taking Hanks for granted.
Hanks has long been one of our most reliable and beloved icons, the kind of Hollywood star you don’t see much of anymore. He’s a versatile actor, well-regarded by his peers as one of the nicest people in the business, and always seems to be having a great time. And he’s fairly reliable at the box office — while “Sully” came armed with the pedigree of Clint Eastwood directing and Hanks starring, it was, at the end of the day, a story everyone thought they already knew about the “Miracle on the Hudson” plane landing. Yet it raked in more than $230 million worldwide and put Hanks back in the awards conversation.
And yet, those awards have yet to materialize. Passed over for a SAG Award nomination, Hanks also failed to show up on the less competitive Golden Globes list — particularly surprising considering that the separate drama/comedy categories should have given him even more of a chance. No one questions that Hanks was terrific in playing Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. So why isn’t he a lock for an Oscar nomination?
Beginning with his first Oscar nomination in 1989 for “Big,” Hanks spent the 90s a regular on the awards circuit, racking up four more nominations between 1994 and 2001. He famously won back-to-back Oscars in 1994 for “Philadelphia” and 1995 for “Forrest Gump.” But his last nod was in 2001 for “Castaway.” That’s more than 15 years of great performances that have failed to score with voters, including “Catch Me if You Can,” “The Terminal,” and “Charlie Wilson’s War.”
Things got truly ridiculous in 2013 when the question wasn’t whether Hanks would get nominated, but how many times. He had a standout supporting role as Walt Disney in “Saving Mr. Banks” and a stunning lead turn in “Captain Phillips.” As the season went on, “Banks” seemed to fall away in voters’ eyes, but surely he would score a nod for “Phillips,” a role that earned him a Golden Globe, BAFTA, and SAG Award nomination. Yet on the morning of nominations, Hanks was left empty-handed. While I hate to use the term “snub” because it implies one person belongs on a list over another, make no mistake: the last 10 minutes of “Captain Phillips” features some of the best acting ever seen on film, and Hanks was snubbed.
Part of the problem this year could just be competition, plain and simple. There are a lot of remarkable actors jockeying for just five spots. It’s also entirely likely that Hanks has been so good for so long, we’re just used to it. We expect greatness from Hanks, and he always delivers. “Sully” is also a fairly subdued performance — there is no cathartic breakdown like at the end of “Captain Phillips,” no starving himself to a skeletal form like “Castaway.” But that just makes it all the more impressive that Hanks commands our attention for the full movie.
There is much to be said about showy performances versus understated ones, and I’m a fan of both. But in “Sully,” Hanks does some of his best work, truly embodying the heart and soul of something you don’t see on screen much: a decent man. Soft-spoken and reserved, Sullenberger is uncomfortable being labeled a hero and you feel his reticence in every look and awkward pause Hanks conveys. It’s a testament to him that you are able to forget you’re looking at one of the most famous faces in the world and really believe you’re watching Sullenberger.
Let’s be clear: nobody is asking you to feel sorry for Tom Hanks, least of all Tom Hanks. He already has two Academy Awards and a resume full of masterpieces that most actors would kill for. But that doesn’t mean great work shouldn’t be acknowledged, and Hanks should certainly be recognized.
If not, there’s always the Emmy Awards. Who wouldn’t vote for David S. Pumpkins?