Essays · Movies

Performer of the Year (2013): Tom Hanks

Every year, Film School Rejects names a Performer of the Year. For 2013, that honor goes to Tom Hanks. Here’s why.
Tom Hanks Captain Phillips
By  · Published on December 17th, 2013

When it came time to pick our 2013 Performer of the Year it would have been easy enough to use last year’s entry as a template and simply give it to Matthew McConaughey again. His tremendous 2012 rolled seamlessly into an equally fantastic 2013 with a stand-out lead performance in Dallas Buyers Club, an equally impressive supporting role in Mud, and a scene-stealing turn in The Wolf of Wall Street. The acclaim is likely to continue through 2014 with Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and HBO’s True Detective series both ready to thrill fans and critics alike.

But we’re not in the business of being easy, so we decided to go a bit more obscure with our pick.

Our 2013 Performer of the Year is a five-time Academy Award nominee and two-time winner whose films have grossed over $8.5 billion worldwide, and his name is Tom Hanks. (I don’t actually know what “obscure” means.)

Hanks had two films released this year, Captain Phillips and Saving Mr. Banks, and after more than a decade out of Oscar’s limelight he’s back in a big way. Not only is he winning accolades for his performances, but he’s also seen his first live-action film to pass the $100 million mark at the box-office in over four years (eleven years if you ignore Dan Brown adaptations). The number one reason we’ve chosen him, though, is that regardless of awards or box office, Hanks’ performance in the final ten minutes of Captain Phillips is as good as acting gets and without a doubt represents the best in onscreen acting this year. Yes, it’s that good.

Before we get to his two actual 2013 releases, let’s zip back to the beginning of the year. Cloud Atlas was released late in 2012, but one of the reasons it deserves mention here is that Hanks played more distinct roles in this one film than many actors manage over several years. Like others in the cast he donned extensive make-up, played around with accents, and brought to life some of the most vile characters of his career, but more importantly, it was his support that helped get the film financed. It was never going to be a blockbuster, but he showed faith in the material (David Mitchell’s “unfilmable” novel) and filmmakers (The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer) resulting in a film that grew beyond the sum of its parts to become a big, messy, ambitious ball of heart and wonder that delighted fans worldwide.

Granted, it wasn’t a lot of fans at first, but as the film bled into 2013 and eventually hit Blu-ray/DVD more people have come to love what the film strives for even when it misses the target. Hanks isn’t a lead in the film, but while he does a fine and fun job with his various supporting roles, the biggest takeaway from it is acknowledging that his influence helped make the movie a reality. For many fans of the book, and even for many of us who never read it, Cloud Atlas was one of last year’s most surprising and rewarding cinematic gifts.

Shifting into this year, Captain Phillips didn’t sail into theaters until October, but it’s already passed the $200m mark worldwide and garnered a fair amount of acclaim to boot. The film benefits from having Hanks in the title role obviously, but it also gains from being based on a true story and having Paul Greengrass at the helm. (See what I did there? “At the helm?” That pun wouldn’t have worked for any other American film this year starring Hanks and based on a true story.) Hanks does strong work here as a man who’s taken hostage along with his crew before being separated and held captive on his own. He proves himself more than capable of anchoring a dramatic action thriller, but as good as he is throughout it’s in the final ten minutes that he reminds us why we’ve held him in such high regard all these years.

Possible spoiler for those who haven’t seen it yet or heard the true story: Phillips has kept it together throughout most of the ordeal, he’s saved lives, he’s tried and failed to escape, and he’s not entirely sure he’s going to make it out alive. He does though, and where a lesser film would show him happily reunited with family we see him immediately afterwards being examined by a medic. He’s dinged up a bit, but he’s safe, and it’s here where Phillips finally lets the shock, emotion, and fear pour from his body. After all that’s transpired, it’s this scene that has viewers holding their breath, clenching their armrests, and in many cases crying right along with the captain. (Hell, I’m getting teary just thinking about it.) The movie and Hanks have been wonderfully entertaining throughout, but this scene is powerhouse acting, a master class in conveying the spectrum of emotions in just a few near dialogue-free minutes devoid of external cues or props. It’s all Hanks.

But even with the power of that performance, it’s Saving Mr. Banks that has the most awards potential. That in and of itself isn’t a reason to recognize something obviously, but it highlights the level of material that Hanks is attaching himself to these days. He plays Walt Disney in the (somewhat) true story of Disney’s attempts to convince the author of “Mary Poppins” to let them adapt the book into a movie. Emma Thompson stars in the showier role of author P.L. Travers, but Hanks’ Disney grounds the film in necessary ways.

Travers travels halfway around the world, but her emotional journey is the crux of the film’s story. By contrast, Hanks is us, the world, wanting to see Mary Poppins bring joy to millions of kids by coming to the big screen and not understanding what Travers’ senseless trepidations are. (Well, B.J. Novak is us… Hanks is a more polite version of us.) Disney’s efforts are motivated equally by his love for his daughters and his business acumen, and Hanks sells both halves equally. You could say he offers the everyman’s common sense as the man at the helm of one of the world’s biggest entertainment empires. Yes, there were a lot of helms this year.

2013 has graced viewers with a multitude of great performances including a few that have realigned our perceptions of the performers in question. We could easily have chosen more than one Performer of the Year. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o both devastated us in 12 Years a Slave. Joaquin Phoenix revealed his heart was as big as his talent in Her. Brie Larson burst out of her rut of comedic supporting roles to deliver the year’s best performance by an actress with her turn in Short Term 12.

But we had to choose one. So, standing above the others with both a crowd-pleasing mustache and a devastating single scene is Tom Hanks, FSR’s 2013 Performer of the Year.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.