Tom Hanks has the attributes of an actorly everyman. The lovable mug, the puppy-dog eyes, the ability to bring audiences to their knees with a tear-jerker soliloquy.
In short, he's likable to the point of being almost without edge.
That comes with the territory for an actor whose string of successful films have made him Tinsel-town's top dog in terms of all-time box-office totals. Looks can be deceiving, of course. When you take a trip through Hanks's rich filmography, there's plenty of depth to go with his fluff.
His latest role in Cloud Atlas is a whopper that sees the 56-year-old inhabit six characters. The mind-warping epic from The Matrix directors Andy and Lana Wachowski and Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer opens Friday amid some of the highest expectations this year.
Perhaps it will be Hanks's performances that makes the film tick. It wouldn't be the first time he has pulled such a feat.
Here's his best work to date.
1. Philadelphia (1993). Hanks turned the corner on his comedy career with his role in Philadelphia, one of the first films by a major studio and starring a proven box office draw to tackle the issue of AIDS. Hanks - impossibly good as a successful lawyer who has been unjustly fired because of the disease - gives a master class in acting. Fittingly, he earned an Oscar statuette for his work.
2. Forrest Gump (1994). Hanks won his second consecutive lead actor Oscar - and earned his second straight standing ovation during the Academy Awards telecast - for his memorable turn in Forrest Gump. The crowd-pleasing film beat both Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption for best picture honours in 1995, which was controversial, but no one could argue with Hanks's performance as the man-child who learns all sorts of life lessons.
3. Cast Away (2000). I recently re-watched Cast Away after years away from it, and was pleasantly surprised (after not liking it initially) by how much Hanks brought to the table; it remains a characteristically well-rounded role for the actor, if not one of his most acclaimed. I never thought he was truly convincing as a plane crash survivor stranded on a remote island, but the passage of time helped me realize the error of my ways. Hanks knocked it out of the park.
4. Big (1988). Warm-hearted films are difficult to get right, mostly because the line that divides cute from heartfelt tends to sway in the direction of cute. Big struck the perfect balance. Not only was it a breakout film for director Penny Marshall, it promoted Hanks to the top rung as well. His performance as a child trapped in an adult's body was finely crafted and deftly comic, earning Hanks the first of his five Oscar nominations.
5. Apollo 13 (1995). There's so much going on in Ron Howard's glossy epic that Hanks almost blends into to the background. However, once you hear him utter the tagline, "Houston, we have a problem," which he delivers with the pitch-perfect mix of caution and concern, all is right in the world of big-budget block-busters. Apollo 13 remains one of his more nuanced, overlooked performances.
6. Saving Private Ryan (1998). A brutal, real-life depiction of war and the men who fight it was an Oscar-winning showcase for all involved, especially cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and director Steven Spielberg. Hanks was similarly great as the captain who leads his charges into certain death, and would have won another Oscar if not for the presence of fellow nominee Roberto Benigni, who would have taken down Godzilla with his turn in Life is Beautiful.
7. Charlie Wilson's War (2007). One of Hanks's meatier roles nearly slipped by without a trace, buried almost to death between two of his worst acting efforts, 2006's The Da Vinci Code and 2009's Angels & Demons. Thankfully, this Mike Nichols gem about U.S. Congressman Charlie Wilson (played to the lascivious hilt by Hanks), who helps raise funds to arm the Mujahideen during the Soviet Union's war against Afghanistan, is a thing of sarcastic beauty.
8. A League of Their Own (1992). There's no crying in baseball, and there's no stopping this lovable film about the first all-female professional league when it gets rolling. Hanks goes all out as Rockford Peaches manager Jimmy Dugan, a former major leaguer who lost his gig and his battle with booze, only to wind up stuck with Madonna, Geena Davis and Rosie O'Donnell. It all ends in a neatly tied bow, but Hanks provides endless amounts of comedic relief.
9. Road to Perdition (2002). A total of six Oscar nominations were bestowed upon this gritty crime drama, but this expertly crafted movie had a somewhat polarizing effect on audiences. Some loved the lack of dialogue in the film, while others disliked how director Sam Mendes (fresh off his Oscar win for American Beauty) handled the graphic-novel source material. Hanks, however, earned high praise for playing a ruthless hitman with cold-blooded efficiency.
10. Toy Story (1995); Toy Story 2 (1999); Toy Story 3 (2010). The role of Woody, a constantly exasperated pull-string cowboy doll who serves as the unofficial boss of a roomful of toys, could be Hanks's signature job to date. It easily qualifies as one of his most beloved, and even though he lends only his voice to the role, his delivery was never in doubt - the role, according to director John Las-seter, was written specifically with Hanks in mind.
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