'Saving Mr. Banks' & Tom Hanks: This Year's Feel Good Oscar Spoiler?
by Joey Magidson
December 4, 2013
A year or so ago, the very idea of Saving Mr. Banks was one that inspired some jokes and no small amount of ridicule. "It's Disney saluting Disney" was a popular phrase, and I even once suggested it was potentially going to be the equivalent of watching Mickey Mouse masturbate. Well, now having seen John Lee Hancock's film, I can say that it doesn't deserve any ridicule, since it's a solidly good movie. That being said, it's got both the feel good quality and the tear jerker quality going in its favor, so I have no doubt that this is going to be a big favorite for the Academy. The question is, can it sneak up and win Best Picture? It's not the frontrunner, but it could very well prove to be a big spoiler when the awards are handed out.
Perhaps more than any other contender for Best Picture this year, Saving Mr. Banks is the one that mainstream audiences will love the most. Critics so far have been on its side as well, with the first wave of early reviews on Rotten Tomatoes rather favorable overall. With no outright pans and a few near raves (which puts my "good but not great" personal take on the material towards the low end of the positive spectrum), it has got a solid critical core from which to build on. That will tell audiences looking for something to see around Christmas that it's a flick worth seeing. This movie was always going to find a mainstream crowd and should be a box office success, but reviews of this nature can elevate it straight into the upper echelons of the Oscar race.
Furthering my previous point, what helps this movie is how it's clearly going to be the "light" contender up against the darker opponents for Best Picture. Depending on the tone we get from David O. Russell's American Hustle (which I'll be watching right about the time you read this) and Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street (along with if they're Oscar worthy or not), Saving Mr. Banks is the only light contender that can go toe to toe with the top tier hopefuls like Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, Paul Greengrass's Captain Phillips, and Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity. I may love Ben Stiller's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, but even if it can sneak into Best Picture as a lighter feel good nominee, it can't win. Saving Mr. Banks is the only one that can do that.
On the flip side however, what could keep it from taking home the big Oscar is that it winds up seeming too light in comparison to those aforementioned heavy hitters. Putting up a story of Walt Disney and author P.L. Travers sparring over the making of Mary Poppins against a true story of slavery in 12 Years a Slave and a hostage situation in Captain Phillips could make it appear too cute by half. Some pundits have pointed to Tom Hooper's The King's Speech beating out David Fincher's The Social Network as a comparison/reason why Saving Mr. Banks could win Best Picture, but it doesn't seem especially apt for it.
For one thing, this won't delight the British voting block in the same way at all, though to be fair it will certainly be appealing to them. For another, it's not as "important" from an historical standpoint as The King's Speech was. And finally, its opponents in the Best Picture race (save for Spike Jonze's Her, which is fighting for a nomination as opposed to a win) aren't too modern or hip, so older voters won't be alienated in the way that at least a few were with The Social Network. Basically, just as easily as being the lightest nominee in play for Best Picture could be a good thing, it could also be a handicap.
Let's say that all goes well for the film…where can it compete? Well, basically everywhere. Best Picture obviously, along with Best Director for Hancock, Best Actress for Emma Thompson, Best Supporting Actor for Colin Farrell or Tom Hanks (bet on Hanks though), Best Original Screenplay for Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith, plus technical nods like Best Production Design, Best Film Editing, Best Hairstyling & Makeup, and Best Original Score for Thomas Newman.
A double digit nomination total isn't completely impossible if the Academy goes head over heels for the movie. Realistically, not all of these noms will happen, but some will, and there could definitely be some wins in the future for this flick, notably for Picture, Actress for Thompson, Supporting Actor for Hanks, Original Screenplay for Marcel and Smith, and Original Score for Newman, who is 0-11 to date and could see this potential dozenth citation be the one that does the trick for him.
The movie is a pretty safe bet to appeal to the Academy, but a lot will ultimately have to do with what they think of other contenders this year. This isn't a slam dunk in any category for a win, and I'd even say the nominations themselves are somewhat dependent on what their thoughts are on the rest of the awards season slate. Frankly, the more films that disappoint, the better things look for this one, since it's an easy watch and could compel voters in a subtle yet forceful way.
I know that Saving Mr. Banks isn't exactly the most exciting Oscar contender out there, but it's a very big one, so you need to consider it in a major way. A nomination total somewhere between four and eight is pretty likely for the film, with a win or three certainly not beyond its reach. It wouldn't be the first movie I voted for if I was a member of the Academy, but as a responsible prognosticator I'm definitely moving it up in my next set of predictions, which should be coming your way in about a week, so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, especially if you love Disney, Saving Mr. Banks is one to see, regardless of the awards race. It's just a nice movie, which is something we don't get too much of during Oscar season.