What makes a good actor? In my opinion it is the ability to play many varied roles in a convincing manner. Dustin Hoffman—my favorite actor–used to be my choice for the best actor in my lifetime. He certainly had the varied roles: comedy (“The Graduate”, “Tootsie”), drama (“Kramer vs. Kramer”, “All The President’s Men”), suspense (“Marathon Man”, “Straw Dogs”), offbeat (“Midnight Cowboy”, “Rain Man”), farcical (“Hook”, “Dick Tracy”). Nominated for seven Academy Awards (winning two), Hoffman truly can be considered one of the greatest actors of our time. Problem is his later efforts leave a lot to be desired (see “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” or “Last Chance Harvey”).
Tom Hanks has a similar resume when it comes to varying film roles: comedy (“Big”, “Splash”), drama (“Philadelphia”, “The Green Mile”), suspense (“The Da Vinci Code”), offbeat (“Forrest Gump”), not as much farcical unless you count the animated stuff (“Toy Story”, “Cars”). Also a winner of two Academy Awards (5 nominations) Hanks has to also be considered among the greatest actors ever. At this point, he gets my vote.
Whether it’s comedy, drama, war or voiceovers, Hanks has proven much more consistent in his acting than Hoffman through the years even though Dustin has been at it 15 or so years longer. He’s also a little more choosy with his roles. Hanks’ best are probably from the late ‘90s to the early 2000s with “Saving Private Ryan”, “Cast Away” and “Road to Perdition”, but two of his most recent “Charlie Wilson’s War” and the prequel to “The Da Vinci Code,” “Angels and Demons”, still offered good vehicles for his ability.
Others that might get consideration for best actor, including Russell Crowe, Jack Nicholson, Denzel Washington, Kevin Spacey, and Al Pacino to name a few, haven’t really embraced the breadth of different roles that both Hanks and Hoffman have. Either could be considered the best actor of our time. As great as Hoffman is, I feel that Hanks has the edge. He is simply the most muti-faceted (and consistently good) actor around.