Those With an Oscar's Thumb

I watched Splash recently which I never saw all the way through when I was younger. I can't say it's my favorite Tom Hanks movie. In the "Making Of" segment--which was better than many "Making Of" segments*--Tom Hanks mentions how he had just come off Bosom Buddies. He was more or less an unknown TV actor, and he delivered his lines รก la Bosom Buddies--going for the laughs--since that was where his skills lay. That is, until Ron Howard instructed him that John Candy would take care of the comedy, thank you very much, all Tom Hanks had to do was love the girl. The result is a somewhat uneven Tom Hanks' performance. He is still good, he just doesn't have that smooth combination of comedy, romance and decency that he achieves later in You've Got Mail (and in Sleepless in Seattle, but I don't much like Sleepless).

What struck me, despite my ho-hum reaction to the film, is that I don't think Tom Hanks has ever picked a dud. I haven't liked (or seen) all of his movies, but he seems to have an instinctual ability for picking films that end up being big hits. I don't just mean The Da VinciCode, which is practically slated for big hit-dom, but movies like Splash and Big. Even films like The Terminal and Castaway have a solid, kind-of-film-you'd-add-to-your-resume feel to them. He doesn't have many (if any) utterly embarrassing flops.

It really impresses me because I don't think all stars have this ability--like Sandra Bullock, for instance, who I really like (and While You Were Sleeping is one of the sweetest movies ever) but who seems to end up in more or less the same kind of film every time, and it is never, really, all that successful. Hugh Jackman is another example of an actor I really like but has made some downright damaging choices--I'm talking Van Helsing rather than X-Men--and there's even actors like Sean Connery and Denzel Washington, who you'd think would be able to walk into anything they wanted (and don't). But having that "Oscar thumb" ("I can add this movie to my resume") proves to be quite the handy gift. Now, there are the occasional stars like Julie Andrews and Ian McKellan and Morgan Freeman who give any movie they are in gravitas simply because they are in it. But most stars' careers are affected (however temporarily) by the quality (ballast) of the movies they choose.

Other actors with Oscar thumbs:

Tobey Maguire
Christian Bale (odd films but usually reputable ones)
Ed Harris (who I think deserves an Oscar for being the industry's best supporting actor)
Bill Paxton (who has the oddest tastes but never seems to fall on his face)
Julia Roberts (who despite some not-so-good films always seems to remain undamaged by them)
Cary Elwes (oddly enough; I'm not saying he doesn't pick duds but since he always plays himself having a good time, it doesn't matter much; that is, he never picks the wrong film for his range; Keanu Reeves does but Reeves is an icon and can't be hurt by anything)
Kate Winslet

Actors without Oscar thumbs:

Leonardo DiCaprio
Ben Affleck
Brad Pitt (no real proof, I just don't think he does)
Denzel Washington (I adore Denzel Washingon; he is a fabulous actor, but his films are all over the place)
Orlando Bloom
Sean Connery (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has a lot to answer for in terms of actors' careers)
Emma Thompson (bizarrely enough; I just get this feeling that her career is a bit haphazard)
Halle Berry

*I detest--detest!--"Making Of" segments where the actors sum up the plot and then you are shown clips from the movie WHICH YOU HAVE JUST SEEN. The "Making Of" for Henry VIII was like this, and I would have thrown something at the TV if it hadn't cost so much. I've seen the movie. I don't need to hear the actors' (historically inaccurate) summaries of their characters. What I do want with "Making Of" segments is insight into the craft. The other stuff is just window dressing. Tom Hanks, by the way, usually gives a good interview.


No comments: