Tom Hanks

This week brings another obvious Oscar contender into the race, the Paul Greengrass-directed Captain Phillips, which stars Tom Hanks in one of his best on screen performances. But there’s a long road to award season, and the film has a number of hurdles to clear before it becomes a serious contender.

But before that, right now it’s hard to say what to make of the Best Actor race. There’s a lot of performances that just haven’t screened, and we don’t know what the temperature is for them. Right now it seems like Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave is the closest thing to a lock, but there’s a lot that can work for or against many of the names in contention, including Matthew McConaughey in The Dallas Buyers Club and Tom Hanks in Phillips.

The first hurdle facing Captain Phillips and Hanks is Gravity. This last weekend, that film opened to record October numbers, and is playing strong in daily release. As it skews older it’s looking at a possible $30 Million plus weekend. Captain Phillips is unlikely to top that. A second place finish is nothing to sneeze at, but if the two are competing for the same dollar, and Gravity is the buzz film of the moment, Phillips becomes an also-ran.

Of course box office doesn’t always matter, and Hanks gives a hell of a performance, but this is Greengrass working in commercial mode, it’s a straight-ahead thriller that plays on the tensions of a real world situation and is anchored by a movie star. As much as the system doesn’t make blockbusters for adults any more, this is definitely something that shouldn’t be a hard sell. So if it doesn’t open and if it’s crushed in the wake of Gravity, it could leave a bad taste in voters mouths. It’s one thing to campaign for an underdog or important film, it’s another to put a lot of stake in a failure.

The other big hurdle for Hanks is two-fold. What if Saving Mr. Banks is good, and what if Saving Mr. Banks is bad? Both spell trouble for Phillips, especially if there’s no argument that Hanks is the lead in both. Maybe if he’s the supporting character in Banks, (or they could argue that) it’s possible he could get a double nomination, but he could be competing against his own performance for a slot. Hanks and his people and the studios may agree to push him harder for one over the other, but that’s hard to say right now and studios rarely collude on the Oscars. He could cancel himself out. The other problem could be if Banks is bad. There’s a theory that a more recent bad performance or bad movie can cost a performer an Oscar. Norbit, which starred Eddie Murphy, was released just as he was up for Dreamgirls, which was his best work in decades, but some thought the Norbit billboard, which had a nerdy Murphy crushed by an obese Murphy in drag, reminded voters of Murphy’s squandered potential.

That said, Hanks gives a great performance, and it’s definitely in the conversation, but this weekend may sort out his chances. It’s still early, and there’s a lot of time to go.

What do you think is Tom Hanks’s best performance?