As we come closer to the Academy Awards on February 22nd, we’ll be posting short profiles of each Best Picture nominee, attempting, in our own ways, to not only sum up what the movie is about, but why we believe it scored one of the eight coveted nominations, and why it could possibly take home the big prize come Oscar night. Enjoy!
For his first ever Best Picture nomination, Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel is a good choice. It’s a film that takes all of Anderson’s previous directorial accomplishments (high comedy performances, immaculate production design, whimsy out the wazoo) and crams them together to create a treat as delectable as a Mendl’s pastry. Oh, for the universe where this could be considered a Best Picture frontrunner. But for this film to even be here at all, is a grand accomplishment indeed.
Wes Anderson certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Many of his critics complain that he is stuck on aesthetics and not able to access heart or emotion, his characters speak in a flat monotone, etc etc. The tough thing is that a lot of people get stuck on his unique style of framing and design that the fixation on this stops them from seeing the humor and heart that is inherent in most (if not all) of Anderson’s films. He’s for sure a director full of whimsy who creates universes that can only exist in film. He’s one of the more adventurous auteurs working in the industry today, and he may well get an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay on Sunday.
But enough about me shilling and praising this movie! If you haven’t seen it yet, Grand Budapest is a story within a story within a story within a present-day framing device.
It’s honestly not that confusing.
We primarily follow the story of Gustave H., the primary concierge at the, you guessed it, Grand Budapest Hotel. Gustave is played by Ralph Fiennes in what is probably the funniest performance of the year, and in a different year, Fiennes would likely have received a Best Actor nomination. Alas. The film tracks his relationship with lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori), as they get involved in an all-out farce involving the murder of an old woman (Tilda Swinton), a priceless painting, a high-speed ski chase, fingers being sliced off, and lots of delicious pastries, tattooed prisoners, and subtle/not-subtle Nazi under/overtones. It’s pretty fun, as you can tell.
I won’t just give you a plot synopsis because that wouldn’t do the movie any justice. It’s a masterwork of production design and how to truly take advantage of the film medium. Anderson is so damn detailed that each of the four timelines of the film are shot in completely different aspect ratios, which is CRAZY, but also great. His films are like little pop-up books, contemporary fairytales, bedtime stories for adults, whatever you want to call them. They’re a departure from the rest of the Best Picture nominees because Grand Budapest is just a joy to watch. Can you say you watched Boyhood and say afterwards “Yeah, I had a lot of FUN watching that movie? Oh, these tears running down my cheeks? No, these are tears of fun, you see!”
This isn’t a slight against the other nominees, obviously. It’s just a relief to see a lighter film that still has a ton of merit included in the proceedings. A film that is funny, emotionally heartfelt, filled with rich performances, and gorgeous to look at, that doesn’t make itself out to be an Important Film (looking at you, Imitation Game).
So no, Grand Budapest Hotel is not the “Best Picture” of 2014. But it is the one nominee where you might actually be smiling at the end. And that’s the best in my book.
I didn’t notice the bit about aspect ratios! Very good note. It gives the viewer a visual landmark in case they forget they’re watching frame narratives.
Spike Lee did the same aspect ratio trick in “Crooklyn,” making the magical world of the grandmother’s house and the humdrum world of the streets visually different. I can’t wait to rewatch “Grand Budapest” with this in mind.