Oscars 2015: The Grand Budapest Hotel


**** UPDATED: Anderson was just awarded Best Original Screenplay at the Writers Guild Awards, so his chances have improved since I first wrote this.

The Film: The Grand Budapest Hotel

What’s It About? As the owner of a once-luxurious Alpine hotel relates its history to a visiting writer, he describes his youth as a lobby boy at the Grand Budapest, where he was the protégé of the hotel’s concierge, Monsieur Gustave. Gustave runs the five-star establishment with panache and an iron fist, while also offering his services as a lover to the older, wealthy women guests.

Number of Oscar Nominations: 9

Will It Win? Although it has nine nominations, I predict that Wes Anderson’s film will win only one Oscar: Best Production Design. Adam Stockhausen and Anna Pinnock (also nominated for Into the Woods) did an amazing job. There hasn’t been a hotel this detailed in cinema since The Shining. The production design has already won at the BAFTAs and the Art Directors Guild. You can see how the team transformed an old department store into a luxury Eastern Eurpean hotel here.

It certainly deserves to win more than that (it has a wonderful script, lovely music, and is directed and edited with panache), but there is simply too much strong competition, and Wes Anderson’s film, as delightful as it is, will be overshadowed by Birdman and Boyhood. The makeup job on Tilda Swinton is brilliant, but the transformation of Steve Carell in Foxcatcher will win by a nose (see what I did there?)

Composer Alexander Desplat has the misfortune of competing against himself in the Music category, and in any event, the score for The Theory of Everything will win.

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Anderson’s funny, frivolous screenplay might just get him an Oscar, but I think that Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is going to win (in a fairer universe, the cinema gods would bestow all their bounty jointly upon Linklater and Anderson).

The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of my favourite films of 2014.

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Unlike the other films in the Best Picture category, Wes Anderson’s film seems to want to please nobody except itself. It is the cinematic equivalent of one of Mendl’s beautiful confections:  beautifully constructed, sweet as sugar, gorgeous to look at, and delightfully inconsequential. Selma is an important film. American Sniper wants to be important. The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game are earnest biographies of brilliant, misunderstood men. Boyhood is about one family but wants to be about every family. Birdman and Whiplash are both about the dark edges of creativity. But The Grand Budapest Hotel is just, well, beautiful.

Anderson’s film is that rarest of things: a movie that looks like it was lots of fun to make which is also lots of fun to watch. Is it because he uses a stock company of actors and crew who all love him that Anderson is able to get away with these frivolous, whimsical, charming stories? Is it because the atmosphere on set is so much fun that everyone enjoys themselves and just ups their game? Perhaps.

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Comedy, the saying goes, is hard, but Anderson seems to make it seem easy. He might be a fussy director with a penchant for formal composition and massive attention to detail, but that’s where the comparison with Stanley Kubrick ends. There are no heavy metaphysical themes. He simply wants you to have a good time at the movies. His critics find him too whimsical (which is odd to me: since when is whimsy a bad thing?) His films have the ridiculous logic of the Marx Brothers or a screwball comedy. (The Grand Budapest Hotel is as much a Ruritanian farce as Duck Soup).

Adrien Brody and Willem Dafoe stayed on the set even on the days when they weren’t filming, as they wanted to stay in touch with the creative process. For his role as a convict, Harvey Keitel kept his usual Method approach: he and the other actors playing his cellmates moved into an old prison for a few days and work-shopped their back-stories. And Ralph Fiennes spent a lot of time improvising and thinking about the early life of M. Gustave.

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Whatever the reasons, the result is magical. The Grand Budapest Hotel may just be the most enjoyable film of the year. In case you have not seen it (although it’s almost a year old at this point), I won’t spoil it by saying too much about what happens. Inspired by the work of Stefan Zweig, it’s set in Central Europe between the wars, a place and time wholly innocent, untouched by the carnage of the Great War, and blissfully unaware of the horrors to come. Among the many pleasures of its zany plot are a priceless painting, a disputed will, young lovers, old ladies, a prison escape, a secret society, murder, and Ralph Fiennes.

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Fiennes is not an actor who you would think has a capacity for comedy (even his role in In Bruges requires him to behave like a thuggish gangster who just happens to be in a comedy). Usually seen in weightier fare, he taps into a much lighter and frivolous side as M. Gustave, the vain, snippy, charming, civilized concierge at The Grand Budapest Hotel. The film is an ensemble piece but Fiennes is the star; his performance sets the tone for the whole film, and he’s wonderful. As is the film’s breakout star, Tony Revolori. If nothing else, Anderson deserves kudos for casting him.

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Verdict: Four and a half crippled shoeshine boys out of Five

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