LONDON – “Saving Mr. Banks” closed the 2013 BFI London Film Festival Sunday night and, as expected, officially entered the 2014 Oscar race. When your movie tells the true story of the sparring relationship between the Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks, no less) and author P.L. Travers (Emma “where have you been this past decade” Thompson) over the making of “Mary Poppins,” the Oscar bait signs are pretty obvious. Happily, and you can learn more in Guy Lodge’s review, the film is actually pretty entertaining with some honest dramatic moments audiences won’t expect. And yet, whether “Banks” will have a real impact on the Best Picture race might be too hard to gauge Stateside.
Before we get any further, however, let’s make one thing clear: “Saving Mr. Banks” will be nominated for Best Picture. Like “Gravity” and “12 Years A Slave,” you can bet money in Vegas that it’s in. There’s no debate there. Winning Oscar’s top prize? That’s another matter.
What “Banks” immediately has going for it is that Academy members will absolutely eat up the scenes between Travers, the Sherman brothers (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) and screenwriter Don DaGradi (an already unheralded Bradley Whitford) as they comb every line of the proposed script. Members will also love seeing a human side to Disney, one that is rarely alluded to as he’s become more of an icon over the decades. Hanks’ Disney is a guy who miscalculates, gets frustrated and has a personal passion about a project as opposed to seeing it as another cash cow (basically, he’s a well-rounded human being). Moreover, for all the film’s faults (we’ll get there), the scenes between Thompson and Hanks are not only memorable, but they are special. They don’t turn “Banks” into a top 10 critics’ pick, but they elevate it far and above its source material.
Obviously, AMPAS always likes to reward a hit when it can and “Banks” is going to be one of the biggest films during the holiday season. It’s simply one of the few movies you can take your parents to and everyone can have a good time. $100 million-plus domestic is guaranteed at this point.
Lastly, and this has not been discussed much, “Banks” will benefit from the love of Los Angeles, UK and — important — Aussie members. The film’s flashbacks take place in Australia (even though it wasn’t shot there) and there are a couple of other Down Under connections in the cast and crew that shouldn’t be spoiled. We’re not talking something as impactful as the Jacki Weaver effect (Aussie members love their Jacki), but these are the sort of nuggets that consultants count on when looking for votes in a close race.
All that being said, “Banks” has its issues. The flashback scenes, for the most part, do not work. Director John Lee Hancock just can’t figure out how to integrate them in a subtle way and Colin Farrell is either miscast or just received terrible direction as Travers’ father. Heads up Disney: you may want to have Hancock stop telling the story of how Farrell fought for the part, as he did before the film’s premiere, because it only reminds you how weak he is when it’s all over. And while I’ve heard a number of ladies say they were emotional seeing the film in Los Angeles, I saw lots of dry eyes at the London public premiere. Does that mean LA industry relate to Travers’ creative battles more? Perhaps it strikes an emotional chord with them? Something to keep an eye on for sure.
Moreover, it’s a tad harsh this early on, but Hancock is not going to earn a Best Director nomination for “Banks.” The issues I’ve already noted will just be too much for that branch to bear. Plus, it’s another incredibly competitive category this year. Hey, I know what you’re saying. “But Ben Affleck got shut out last year and ‘Argo’ still won Best Picture!” Trust me, as someone who kept predicting “Argo” when others said it couldn’t win, I know how history was made. As entertaining as “Banks” is, however, it’s not “Argo.” The quality of filmmaking is just not the same.
Let’s now take a look some of the other categories “Banks” will try to earn nominations in.
As noted, just don’t see it happening. Flashbacks are too weak.
Emma Thompson will absolutely get nominated. Hard to see her beating Blanchett or Bullock though, even if she can charm the pants off anyone anywhere and at any time.
Best Supporting Actor
Tom Hanks isn’t just in, he could actually win his third statue here. The role is not as emotionally and physically difficult as Michael Fassbender’s work in “12 Years” or Jared Leto’s turn in “Dallas Buyers Club,” but Hanks is superb and it will be even more impressive contrasting with his work in “Captain Phillips,” which should earn him a Best Actor nod. This may be the category where AMPAS spreads the love to “Banks.”
Best Original Screenplay
Wait, do we actually have a competitive original screenplay category this year? Kelly Marcel will share credit with Sue Smith, but it’s worth noting the former’s name must have been brought up four times during the introductions at the “Banks” premiere. The cast and crew see Marcel as the film’s original champion and she’ll be talked up a lot. There is also ton of good work the writers branch can reward her for. They won’t see the issues with the flashbacks as a script problem.
If it earns this nomination it can obviously win, but boy would that be a surprise.
Best Original Score
Personally, I didn’t think Thomas Newman’s score was that remarkable and was overshadowed by the original songs from “Marry Poppins” that pop up during the picture. That being said, he is an 11-time nominee. This may be no. 12.
Best Production Design
There are some really cheap-looking sets in the early Australia scenes that scream “studio lot” (and that’s not what they were going for). Michael Corenblith is a two-time nominee, but if he gets in this time around we’ll have to assume his peers found the recreation of Walt Disney’s office simply amazing.
Best Costume Design
Nothing that remarkable here. If it does earn a nod it will just show widespread support throughout the Academy.
The verdict? Obviously, we have a player. And, arguably, a Best Picture win isn’t out of bounds. Should Warner Bros. and Fox Searchlight now be worried about their own films’ chances to win the big one? Not yet. Not yet. “Banks” isn’t a party crasher, but if a lot of things fall its way it could become consensus option.