This year’s Academy Award nominees were announced on Thursday. Two high-profile movies got almost completely snubbed, but they’re still worthy of your consideration.
Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson both failed to receive acting nods for “Saving Mr. Banks,” which only got a single nomination, for Thomas Newman’s musical score. No matter; this is a completely captivating making-of story about how P.L. Travers’ beloved Mary Poppins books came to be a beloved movie produced by Walt Disney.
Uncle Walt tried to get the film rights for two decades, finally convincing the author to come to Burbank studios in 1961 to oversee the making of the movie. We’re treated to scenes that will make fans of Disney’s “Mary Poppins” absolutely giddy, as songwriting brothers Richard and Robert Sherman (Jason Schwartman and B.J. Novak) become increasingly exasperated by Travers, whose reactions are almost always along the lines of, “No, no. Goodness, no.”
The Burbank scenes are intercut with flashbacks to Travers’ childhood in Australia, which formed the basis of much of her writing. “Saving Mr. Banks” isn’t as much fun to watch as “Mary Poppins”; you won’t see any nannies blowing away in the wind or other such fanciful images. But the new film has a strong emotional pull. It’s ultimately haunted by two fathers. We see Travers’ father (Colin Farrell) drink himself to death, and we see Mary Poppins “saving” Jane and Michael Banks’ father (David Tomlinson). Travers resisted Disney’s whimsical approach, but it’s hard to argue against the restorative power of his art. Like Mary Poppins, he could turn bread and water into tea and cakes.
Once considered a likely Best Picture contender, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” failed to earn a single Oscar nomination. It was the most widely popular of a series of recent films (along with “Fruitvale Station” and “12 Years a Slave”) that seemed to be seeking a more open discussion of race relations – a possible legacy of the Obama presidency.
“The Butler” stars Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, who starts working as a White House butler when Eisenhower is president and retires during the Reagan administration. The movie is also the story of Cecil’s eldest son, Louis (David Oyelowo), who grows up to be a fiery Civil Rights activist – much to the chagrin of his more conservative father.
The movie features some distracting performances by Robin Williams as Eisenhower and John Cusack as Nixon. But the celebrity cameos pay off with what has got to be the year’s wittiest casting choice: Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan.
Page 2 of 2 - Despite the lack of Oscar love, “The Butler” is a sweeping history lesson that will go down as one of 2013’s most moving and important dramas.
“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” is now available on Blu-ray and DVD. “Saving Mr. Banks” is playing this weekend at the Augusta Historic Theatre, 523 State St. Show time is 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $6.