The Grand Budapest Hotel is up for nine awards at this year’s Academy Awards, the joint most nominations alongside Birdman, and yet it’s seen as something of a surprise package amongst the Best Picture candidates. The surprise is mainly due to the fact that it was released almost a year ago – just after last year’s awards, in fact – which goes against the usual studio policy of releasing their award contenders in the months immediately preceding the awards season.
This film also doesn’t fit the standard mould of an award contender. They are usually powerful human interest stories, biopics, beautifully shot artistic films or feature powerful acting performances, this film is its own wonderfully unique creation and cannot be considered what has become known as “Oscar Bait”. It is wholly different to many contenders down the years, and that makes it all the more interesting.
Seasoned fans of Wes Anderson, of course, won’t be surprised by Grand Budapest’s style, unique look, or sense of humour, it has got his signature woven throughout, and it’s a pleasant surprise to see some major recognition of him as a director from the likes of BAFTA and the Academy this year. He has, on a number of occasions been acknowledged in nomination terms for his screenwriting ability, but this is the first nod towards his directorial ability, and that is a welcome acknowledgement, which will have gone down well with his many fans and many in the industry.
Grand Budapest Hotel is a coming-of-age crime caper – not uncommon themes for Anderson – narrated years after the fact by current hotel manager and former bellboy Zero, played in his later years by F. Murray Abraham, and by the perennially straight faced Tony Revolori as a youngster. The story, set in 1932 in the fictional European country of Zubrowka, follows an adventure of the titular hotel’s legendary concierge Monsieur Gustave, excellently portrayed by Ralph Fiennes, and his helper Zero. Gustave is bequeathed a priceless piece of art in a will by a wealthy dowager, known as Mme D. (Tilda Swinton), instead of her son Dmitri (Adrien Brody). When the authorities suspect Gustave over her mysterious death, Gustave goes on the run from both them and Dmitri and so the adventure begins, with Gustave hiding out and Zero trying everything he can to clear his new and unlikely friend’s name, alongside his girlfriend (Saiorse Ronan) and a cast of many others.
At around 100 minutes long, the story needs to move swiftly and so it does, with the delightful rapidity synonymous with a Wes Anderson script, with quips and dialogue firing out at a breathless pace. Despite the pace of the action, at no point does it lose its momentum or, more importantly, its charm or heart, and that is arguably, the enduring appeal of Wes Anderson. Few directors have the ability to tell a story as well or with such unique feel as Anderson. All of his films carry such a wonderfully unique style of cinematography, part set piece, part miniature, and with every second of every film carefully thought out, imagined and executed, everything is exactly where it needs to be, every actor on his mark, every angle of every shot thought out beforehand, and his crafting of his scripts is done in much the same way. Watching a Wes Anderson film is like a night at the theatre, fully immersed in an atmosphere, all the while watching something carefully laid out for your entertainment.
Grand Budapest Hotel gains its greatest recognition as a technical achievement with nominations for cinematography, directing and writing whereas it is overlooked in the acting categories, and that is understandable. If ever there was a film whereby the ensemble cast is more important than any individual performance than this is it, there are of course, notably important leading roles, such as that of Ralph Fiennes, who plays his role with the dignity and comic timing that makes everything around him tick, but it’s in the assembly of such great acting talent in the wider cast that makes this film so enjoyable to watch. At times, it’s a who’s who of Hollywood talent, with returns for former Anderson collaborators Edward Norton and Bill Murray, as well as roles for Owen Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe and Harvey Keitel to name a few.
In the end, this film isn’t going to win the Best Picture award, as I mentioned earlier it’s just not a usual Academy contender, and it’s probably not the best film in all honesty. However, gaining a nomination in the Best Picture category is achievement enough for this film, which isn’t to say it doesn’t deserve to win awards, and it will probably win something at the ceremony; it is a strong contender in at least Best Original Screenplay and maybe Best Cinematography, so not winning Best Picture isn’t going to be a defining factor in whether this film was a success. In Academy politics, there are just other films that have more momentum behind them, as well as there being films that achieve more or deal with more important themes or have stronger acting performances and for those reasons it’s probably a fair decision.
If it isn’t to really threaten the main contenders, then what does Wes Anderson achieve with the making of this film? In my opinion, he achieves the creation of his best film to date. When considered alongside his previous film, Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson seems to be a filmmaker operating at the top of his game, a filmmaker who has defined and honed his style to the point of complete creative confidence in his work. Ultimately, he may never win the biggest awards, that is yet to be seen, but he’ll no doubt continue writing and directing innovative, interesting, quirky films and a unique talent like Wes Anderson, working freely at the top of his game is a great benefit to the film industry and film fans alike.