On Oscar night I’ll have my rooting interests— Crouching Tiger, Ang Lee, Laura Linney, Benicio Del Toro—but, as with last year’s World Series, I’ll mostly be rooting against. In baseball I’m ABY (Anybody but the Yankees), and when it comes to this year’s Academy Awards, I’m ABH (Anybody but Hanks).
I can already hear the complaints. How can you root against Tom Hanks? He’s such a nice guy! And he was so good in that movie. Being alone on that island and talking to that volleyball and losing all that weight? Have you ever tried to lose weight? It’s tough! That’s good acting!
First—and less important—Hanks wasn’t really right for Cast Away. He makes a very good light comedian, a very good everyman, but in straight dramas he tends to play slightly sad men with little emotional range. The essence of Forrest Gump, remember, was a rock-solid simplicity that never changed; the essence of Capt. John Miller in Saving Private Ryan was an impenetrability that his troops constantly wondered over. Chuck Noland cannot be so simple or impenetrable. Cast Away is a brave movie because for 45 minutes it discards one of the main precepts of drama: the interaction between two characters. It’s just Noland and nature, or more accurately, Noland and Noland—the tearing away of the social Noland revealing the bare, existential Noland. Hanks can’t pull this off. He’s great as the social Noland (“I have created fire!”) but can’t come near to portraying the depths of human aloneness necessary for the existential Noland. Shouldn’t he have gone a little crazier on the island? Started talking to God? Believed himself to be God? Instead, he simply becomes stupefied. He’s just Forrest Gump sitting on a park bench with no one to talk to.
So what, right? The Academy is famous for rewarding mediocre performances.
Unfortunately, we’re on the verge of an unprecedented moment here. Tom Hanks already has two Best Actor statuettes, and no actor has ever won three. None. Not Marlon Brando (two), Spencer Tracy (two), Jimmy Stewart (one), or Henry Fonda (one—as he lay at death’s door). Not Robert De Niro (one) or Jack Nicholson (two). A third Best Actor statuette is sort of like a third presidential term before FDR: uncharted territory.
So if he wins for Cast Away, the Academy will in essence be saying that Tom Hanks, the Turner & Hooch guy, is—in terms of statuette count anyway—the greatest actor in the history of American film. It would be as if Calvin Coolidge had been our only third-term president.
At least the Academy has shown a decided aversion to awarding that third Best Actor statuette. Fredric March, Marlon Brando, Dustin Hoffman, even Tom Hanks (for Saving Private Ryan) were all nominated once after picking up Best Actor statuette No. 2; all went home alone. Hell, Spencer Tracy was nominated six times after winning his second award and never managed to snag the third.
Yet. Hanks is well-liked, he is almost all of Cast Away, and—worse—he alters his body radically during the course of the film, which members of the Academy generally confuse with good acting.
So what can be done to prevent this tragedy? Well, if you know a member of the Academy, start talking up Pollock. Wasn’t Ed Harris amazing? Wow! You don’t see performances like that often. (If they ask, quickly dismiss Russell Crowe, Geoffrey Rush, and Javier Bardem; we don’t need to split the anti-Hanks vote.) Then, for good measure, invite them over for a mini-Tom Hanks film festival. Say, Bachelor Party, The Money Pit, and Volunteers. I’d throw in Bonfire of the Vanities or You’ve Got Mail, but cruelty has its limits.