January has traditionally been my time for catching up on films, especially the more mainstream Oscar contenders (as opposed to the indie / arts flicks I tend to catch at Real Art Ways). This week I caught two Saving Mr. Banks (Disney's very meta film about the making of Mary Poppins, with Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks) and Inside Llewyn Davis (The Coen Brothers Greenwich Village / folk music homage).
Before I did into the pics, a shout out to the supporting players. Specifically, Bradley Whitford (still indelibly marked and beloved in my memory for his role on The West Wing) and Ethan Phillips (a little less indelibly marked but none the less beloved as the heavily made-up alien Neelix from Star Trek: Voyager). It was really sweet (and only a tiny bit distracting) to see both of them on the big screen.
So first - Saving Mr. Banks. Like many of the films Tom Hanks has attached himself to over the years, the film felt a little too predictable, a little too designed to tug on the heart strings. But only a little - I still found myself deeply moved and appreciative of the 60s setting (kind of like Mad Men, West Coast edition), the integration of a beloved film of my childhood (which I have not seen in many years). Emma Thompson has been a bit of a personal crush for me, so it was hard to see her as crusty and cold. I appreciated the behind the scenes view of 60's film-making, and I thought the flashbacks to the Hoff family were quite effective.
Inside Llewyn Davis is a much more difficult film. I'm a folkie from way back, familiar with and have seen Dave Van Ronk* perform years back, have run into that sort of "dyed in the wool" authentic folk attitude, the musician too pissed off, too bent on being authentic or hitting every note exactly like the canonical recording of a piece to actually connect with an audience, etc. So it all felt very familiar in a cranky old folkie kind of way. There was a lot of dark humor in there (Llewyn trying to stash his box of LPs under a coffeetable and running into his hosts own box of LPs made me guffaw). I though Justin Timberlake's performance was great - well cast, subtly performed. And all of the performances (especially those of Oscar Isaac, as Llewyn) were spot-on.
There was some nostalgia here - days when a folkie would actually get signed by a label and have management (however inept or clueless). And also some things that never change ("I don't see a lot of money here....."). And the closing, with Llewyn curled up in an alley and a Dylan doppelganger on stage, was perfect.It was not the feel good movie that Saving Mr. Banks was, but it will stay with me.
So - both films get positive votes from me!