At present, the Tom Hanks Oscar vehicle getting the most buzz is Saving Mr. Banks, an apparent dual biopic of Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) and some underachieving schmo named Walt Disney (Hanks). Having premiered at the recent London Film Festival, Banks, one of the season’s last expected awards players, is netting some glowing reviews, despite such red flags as its insta-baity industry back-patting; the direction of wholesome and Red State-y maestro John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side); and the peddling of an Americans-tame-the-stuffy-Brit narrative. Admittedly, I haven’t seen Saving Mr. Banks, and it may well be as winning as Escape From Tomorrow is overconfident, but let’s hope it doesn’t overshadow Hanks’s other contender, Captain Phillips, a film that, regardless of missteps, deserves to appear in a handful of categories.
Firstly, to clear the air and set the record straight, in regard to those commenters who stopped by my Captain Phillips review and accused me of not seeing the film or literally wrote “fuck you,” I think I clearly stated that there are a lot of virtues to this gamble of a movie, which I did indeed catch on opening night of the New York Film Festival. In its treatment of race and foreign relations, Captain Phillips sits on a knife’s edge and teeters back and forth, leaning toward, yet largely avoiding, the offensive traps of its subject matter. At this point, I honestly don’t expect perfect films to make it into the Best Picture race, but that hardly sums up my reasoning for endorsing this movie’s probable nomination. Looking over the field of contenders, Captain Phillips is currently the vanguard choice, more so than the half-heartedly sobering 12 Years a Slave, the repellent and falsely daring Dallas Buyers Club, and the failed attempt at humanization that was Fruitvale Station. For all its ostensible, hoo-ra Yankee heroism, Phillips consistently evolves in depth and empathy, revealing nuances that transcend Hollywood’s oft-vanilla depictions of understanding.
Never is this more apparent than in Hanks’s astonishing acting during the film’s final two scenes, which, much thanks to him, achieve a near-indescribable level of haunting human trauma. Sitting blindfolded, his flabbergasted shock at the sound of Phillips’s captors’ assassinations is tear-inducing in its soul-rocking naturalism, and his almost catatonic progression through the incident’s aftermath (“That’s not my blood,” he wimpers with great wealth of meaning) is reason enough to place him among this year’s Best Actor contenders. Even if it’s the Massachusetts accent that locks him in, he’ll be landing a nod for one of the best performances of his life. And it wouldn’t be surprising to see Hanks joined by Barkhad Abdi, whose breakout turn as Somali pirate leader Abduwali Muse is getting him a lot of Supporting Actor attention. Abdi, a 28-year-old first-timer, is plenty deserving of recognition, and this year’s extraordinary abunadance of black hopefuls can only work in his favor. Most of all, it would be gratifying to see a new and unlikely face in this category, as it’s notoriously been one of Oscar’s least discerning or exciting (just glance at last year’s lineup).
Many are betting that Paul Greengrass will land a Director nomination, and it would certainly make sense to see him among shoo-ins like Steve McQueen and Alfonso Cuarón. He netted Academy favor with his nod for United 93, and of all of his subsequent work, Captain Phillips is most reflective of that 9/11 drama. What seems more certain, though, is the film’s appearance in the craft categories. Even if we were still dealing with a five-wide Best Picture field, and Captain Phillips were left out of it, Christopher Rouse, an Oscar winner for his work on The Bourne Ultimatum, would still be in for his Editing, which may well clinch him another trophy. Former nominee Barry Ackroyd (The Hurt Locker) may also be in for his Cinematography, though that’s a steeper hill to climb given all of the year’s handsomely-lensed contenders. In the aural department, Henry Jackman’s Original Score may stand a chance, but you’re more likely to see this movie pop up in both Sound fields, seeing how deftly Greengrass tends to weave the noise and action of his taut thrillers. As for Billy Ray’s Adapted Screenplay, Captain Phillips plays like a film that found its strength along the way rather than in the beginning stages, and certain stretches of exposition are glaringly unforgivable. It’s Hanks and the Greengrass crew that keep this thing from sinking.
Surest bets: Best Picture; Best Actor, Tom Hanks; Best Supporting Actor, Barkhad Abdi; Best Film Editing; Best Sound Effects Editing; Best Sound Mixing.
Possibilities: Best Director, Paul Greengrass; Best Cinematography; Best Adapted Screenplay.
Shouldn’t be Overlooked: None.