by Gary Susman
There's something reassuring about the quiet heroism of Tom Hanks' characters. For an actor in his 60s, he's still modestly saving the world (and the box office) with his big-screen output. Over the years, we've come to trust the actor so much, and he tends to deliver. Especially with these all-time films.
Here's where Hanks -- playing a 12-year-old trapped in a grown-up's body -- began his transition from goofy comic lead (in movies like "Splash") to soulful Everyman. There's plenty of fun, silly antics (the giant piano dance is always a delight), but most of the film's action -- the bewildering joys and heartaches of maturity -- simply plays across the actor's face.
'Forrest Gump' (1994)
Hanks won his first Oscar for playing a gay attorney dying of AIDS in 1993's "Philadelphia." He won his second for doing a complete 180 after that film, playing a slow-witted Southerner on a historic journey through the 20th century. The character could easily have become an offensive cartoon, but Hanks transformed him into another heroic Everyman. For Gump, Hanks is one of a handful of stars to win twice in a row.
'Apollo 13' (1995)
It's a miracle that this movie was such a nail-biting masterpiece of action and suspense. Not only is it based on a well-known historical incident, but its center is another reassuring Hanks performance. Credit Ron Howard's all-rockets-firing direction and Hanks' calm, intelligent turn as resourceful astronaut Jim Lovell.
'Toy Story' (1995)
All three of the "Toy Story" movies have been terrific, but this is the one where Hanks' Woody learns and grows the most. Like a number of Hanks heroes, the toy cowboy starts as a smug jerk who discovers his humanity when he's forced to put someone else's needs ahead of his own.
'Saving Private Ryan' (1998)
Steven Spielberg's filmmaking pyrotechnics have, understandably, earned the most praise for making this the most mercilessly realistic war movie ever made. But the soul of the film is still Hanks' heartbreaking turn as Captain Miller.
'Cast Away' (2000)
Hanks is the whole show here, since much of the film consists of watching him alone on a desert island, trying for long, wordless stretches of the movie's running time to survive and ultimately escape. The actor famously pulled a De Niro, gaining 50 pounds to play the pre-crash Chuck Noland, then taking a year off in mid-shoot to get gaunt again to play the long-stranded Chuck, but the effectiveness of his turn doesn't come from Method acting. Really, who else but Hanks could make you cry over a lost volleyball?
'Captain Phillips' (2013)
Hanks shines as another captain, this one drawn from a real-life pirate tale. Like his "Private Ryan" Captain Miller, Phillips is calm, resourceful, willing to do anything for his men, and capable of seeing the humanity in his enemies. The performance is another sign that, even as Hanks' acting becomes more minimalist, it's deepening with age. The film's heartbreaking final minutes, where Phillips succumbs to both shock and relief, is an all-timer for Hanks -- and for filmmaking.