Oscar 8-Ball: ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ and ‘Nebraska’

Saving Mr. Banks’ and ‘Nebraska’ are good bets for five nominations each.
By Glenn Whipp

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Total nominations: 5

Saving Mr. Banks’

(Francois Duhamel / Disney Enterprises)

You may rely on it:

A movie about the magic of moviemaking? It worked for the last two best picture winners — “The Artist” and “Argo” (though the latter had the thriller elements too, not to mention Ben Affleck’s awesome ‘70s beard) — so why not “Banks,” a warmly sentimental, behind-the-scenes story about Walt Disney’s attempt to persuade famously prickly British author P.L. Travers to sign away the screen rights to her beloved creation, Mary Poppins. Even if you’re not enthralled with all things Disney, you still have an on-screen ally in Emma Thompson’s Travers, who resists Uncle Walt’s optimism and showmanship at every turn.

Outlook good:

Thompson should land a lead actress nom, and Tom Hanks is a sure bet to win a supporting nod for his charming turn as Disney. Composer Thomas Newman’s appealing score blends well with all those great Sherman brothers “Poppins” songs that everyone (of a certain age) knows by heart. And we’d imagine that the production design by two-time nominee Michael Corenblith and set decorator Susan Benjamin should rate consideration, especially for its early ‘60s re-creation of the Happiest Place on Earth. (The staging of the “Poppins” Hollywood premiere is also delightful.)

Cannot predict now:

Director John Lee Hancock (“The Blind Side”) has never been nominated, and he might pull the heartstrings a little too vigorously to break through this year. The screenplay, credited to Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith (Marcel crafted the story you see on screen), has a better chance, though competition among writers crafting original work is brutal this year. Older academy members, still humming “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” could push it in over indie-minded movies like “Her” and “Inside Llewyn Davis.”


(Merie W. Wallace / Paramount Pictures)

Signs point to yes

Alexander Payne’s last two movies, “The Descendants” and “Sideways,” won nominations for picture and director, and though “Nebraska” likely won’t come close to approaching their commercial success, we like its chances to keep the streak alive. The film follows a middle-aged man (Will Forte) giving his father (Bruce Dern) a last shot at dignity by driving him from Montana to Nebraska, where the old man believes a $1-million sweepstakes payout awaits. Unlike “Banks,” it doesn’t wear its heart on its sleeve but it’s just as powerful. (More so for curmudgeons of the sort Dern plays here.)

As I see it, yes:

Dern has to compete with another 77-year-old actor giving a career-best performance, but it’s looking likely that there’s room enough in the crowded lead actor category for both Robert Redford and Dern. June Squibb, playing Dern’s plain-spoken wife, is equally as good and delivers the knockout punch in the movie’s big, crowd-pleasing scene. It’d be a shame if she wasn’t nominated too.

Better not tell you now:

First-time screenwriter Bob Nelson is up against such veterans as Woody Allen and the Coen brothers in the original screenplay category. But his brilliant script for “Nebraska” displays such a keen eye toward behavior, not to mention the ability to surprise in the way it reveals character. We like his chances. Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael could have easily been nominated earlier in his career (his work in George Clooney’s “The Ides of March” was particularly striking), so recognition for his revelatory work here is no sure thing. Mark Orton’s beautiful bluegrass-driven score deserves to be in the conversation too. We’re guessing though that the movie is a long shot for hair and makeup because, from all appearances, it looks like Dern lost his comb for the duration of the shoot.