Saving Mr. Banks
In the first edition of this series, writers Peter Knegt and Matthew Hammett Knott face off about various awards-season related topics... 


So I guess since is the first Oscar bitchfest -- at least the first we're publicly displaying -- we should introduce the concept of what actually it is we're attempting here.

Knott: It's pretty much there in the title -- as most of us who follow the Oscars know, the awards aren't exactly a reliable barometer of quality. Taking them too seriously only leads to disappointment. And while ignoring them is obviously an alternative, and no doubt a healthy one, for those of us who can't resist keeping watch on the race, the most satisfying approach seems to be a healthy dose of bitchiness. We're sitting on the outside while some of the most privileged and beautiful people on the planet congratulate themselves on their often mediocre cinematic achievements. Bitching is to be expected!

Knegt: Alright, so then let's just go ahead and bitch that healthy dose. It seems like we might as well start with 'Saving Mr. Banks,' which I haven't seen but you just did (and wrote about it here) and I have to say I was surprised there wasn't more bitching in your reaction.

Knott: Well it's a charming film! And it's a big studio film about a melancholy middle aged woman in a position of power and conflict -- if only there were more studio films like that. Plus Emma Thompson really seizes the opportunity with both hands -- I know that Meryl Streep was said to be courted for the role, but I'm kind of glad it went to Thompson, because she is fully capable of carrying a film as she does here. I am, however, quite prepared to bitch, but I reserve my disdain for Disney and their choice of John Lee Hancock as director in particular. Together, they have created as insipid a film as they could have with this material. And it doesn't quite live up to the description I gave it, in that it is not really interested in exploring P.L. Travers and her mindset. The fact that Mary Poppins is a serious book inspired by her relationship with her father is interesting, but it could have been told so much more subtly and succinctly. The film doesn't touch upon her bisexuality at all, for example. As HitFix's Guy Lodge put it, he's just portrayed as a lonely spinster with daddy issues.

"12 Years a Slave."
Fox Searchlight "12 Years a Slave."

Knegt: I mean, I'd honestly have been pretty (pleasantly) surprised if she had been portrayed as much more than that, in large part because of the director and studio this is coming from.  I'm curious enough though -- based on the positive portion of your opinion, at least -- to still mildly be looking forward to seeing it. If only to watch Thompson finally have something significant to work with after like two decades of basically just playing Professor Sybill Trelawney or Nanny McPhee over and over again. And I also am curious about the resurgence of another actor who hasn't done anything that interesting since the 1990s, Tom Hanks.  Who I was sure I'd never be able to watch on screen again after "Larry Crowne." But then came "Captain Phillips," which I thought he was seriously great in. So now I'm eager to see how he does playing Mr. Disney in this -- especially since you said in your piece you thought he could even win Oscar #3 for it.

Knott: Yes, and I didn't find many people to agree with me after the screening, but I can really see a narrative emerging in which he wins. It's partly because of how weak the field is. Not performance-wise necessarily, just in terms of an actor who demands to be rewarded in this category. Michael Fassbender is obviously impressive in "12 Years a Slave", but it just doesn't feel like a performance that the academy will leap to acclaim. That's because a) he's a bit of a Hollywood outsider, b) we've seen victories for villainous roles recently for Javier Bardem and Christoph Waltz, which shouldn't make a difference, but might and c) there are several other opportunities for them to honor the actors from "12 Years", notably Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita N'Yongo. And if Hanks has a banner year with two nominations, which looks very likely, "Saving Mr Banks" will become the obvious place to reward him. I can't see him winning Best Actor over Ejiofor. But given how beloved he is in Hollywood, I don't think the Academy would balk at giving him a third Oscar. He's no Hilary Swank!

Knegt: I totally think they would give him a third. Especially if it's in supporting and given the fact that he hasn't won in so long. I mean, they liked him enough to give him two best actor trophies in a row 20 years ago, why not a third now? But I'm still inclined to most easily envision Fassbender winning at this point, though granted I haven't seen "Mr. Banks."  I just wonder if Fassbender actually has the better shot over Ejiofer (who could lose to Dern, McConaughey or Redford -- that category is stacked) and N'Yongo (who could lose to Oprah.. And I for one can't wait for the Oprah vs. Lupita narrative). It's also been a few years since the hat trick of villains winning in this category (Bardem, Waltz and Ledger), so maybe that won't be such an issue.  Oh, and can we please never mention Hilary Swank again within the bitchfest? Every time I even think of her my inner awards bitch explodes with the wrath of ten Annette Benings.