Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Movie – The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

The Grand Budapest Hotel allowed writer/director Wes Anderson to finally break through and receive Best Picture and Best Director Oscar nominations.  Oh sure, he had received nominations before, but it was almost always in the Best Original Screenplay category, so the Academy was saying, “We like your stories, but the movies aren’t mainstream enough for us.”  You can debate how mainstream The Grand Budapest Hotel is, but one thing is for sure, it’s definitely Anderson’s most popular film.  In addition to tying Birdman for the most Oscar nominations this year with nine, it has also achieved the biggest box office of any film Anderson has done.  And it’s the only true comedy among the eight Best Picture nominees.

Once again Anderson convinces a boatload of familiar faces to take small roles in one of his movies.  This film may have the most Oscar nominees on screen since The Player (1992).  I counted 14, with three of them having won an Oscar.  There may be more that I missed.

The film opens with a story within a story within a story.  A girl visits a statue of a writer.  We then see the writer as an older man (Tom Wilkinson – nominee 1) recounting a story from the 1960s when he was younger.  The younger writer (Jude Law – nominee 2) writes of hearing a story from a Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham – nominee 3, winner 1).  That story is of a teenage boy named Zero (newcomer Tony Revolori) becoming the Lobby Boy at the Grand Budapest Hotel in the 1930s under Concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes – nominee 4).  The hotel is in the tiny “Republic of Zubrowka” (think Liechtenstein, but further east).

And it’s possible that there is yet another story layer since we are told that Zero is the younger version of Mr. Moustafa, yet the two are of different races, and Abraham is far too elderly to be only 30-35 years older than Zero.  This leads to an interpretation that everything we are seeing is not true, but yet another story made up by Mr. Moustafa.…or Wes Anderson just felt like hiring the two actors for their respective roles, didn’t care about being consistent in regards to race or age, and the casting means nothing. 

Gustave caters to all the guests, but especially to the rich, older widows.  One (played by Tilda Swinton is excellent old age makeup – nominee 5, winner 2) dies and leaves Gustave with a painting.  He was expecting far more for his “services” (wink wink nudge nudge).  Despite this, her family refuses to let him have it, so with Zero’s help he steals it.  This brings him much attention from a lawyer (Jeff Goldblum – nominee 6) who is the executor of the dowager’s estate, the dowager’s son (Adrien Brody – nominee 7, winner 3), the son’s enforcer (Willem Dafoe – nominee 8), the dowager’s servants (Mathieu Almaric and Lea Seydoux), and a border guard/national policeman (Edward Norton – nominee 9).

All of this is so far just the first part of the film.  There’s an arrest and an escape (including prisoner Harvey Keitel – nominee 10).  There is a love story for Zero with a young candy maker (Saoirse Ronan – nominee 11) who has a birthmark in the shape of Mexico.  Why in the shape of Mexico?  Why not.  And lets not forget about the cabal of concierges (Bill Murray – nominee 12, Bob Balaban – nominee 13, Fisher Stevens, and others), as well as the 1960s concierge played by Jason Schwartzman and the 1930s replacement concierge played by Owen Wilson (nominee 14).

The story also includes how Mr. Moustafa ended up as the owner of the Grand Budapest Hotel, and the fate of M. Gustave.

There are a lot of laughs, not the least of which is from Ralph Fiennes’ performance as Gustave.  He’s simultaneously the height of courtesy, charm, and good manners…and a foul mouthed, vindictive gigolo.  To say he makes an impression on the young Zero would be an understatement.

Fiennes not receiving a Best Actor nomination surprised some, but comedic performances rarely ever get nominated, and even then it’s usually in the Supporting categories (i.e. winner Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda).  Hell, Fiennes could easily have been nominated as a Best Supporting Actor for In Bruges, but it was also a comedic role.  He has been nominated twice for serious (with a capital “S”) dramas Schindler’s List (1994) and The English Patient (1996).

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a great change of pace amongst the movies that usually get nominated.  If things like Mexico shaped birthmarks, secret societies of concierges, or the obvious differences between young and old Zero would bother you then this is probably not the kind of film for you.  On the other hand, if you are amused by those things then you definitely need to see this movie.  I am one of the latter and I highly recommend it.

Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


  1. You forgot Fisher Stevens is another nominee (#15) and winner (#4) for Best Documentary.

    1. Thanks for the info. I didn't check him when I was writing this. I guess I should have.

  2. I enjoyed the hell out of this movie start to finish. I'd watch it again in a heartbeat if given the opportunity.

    1. Too bad you've got to watch every single Oscar nominee before you can go back around and rewatch movies again. :-)

  3. Hundreds of precious little moments but not much beyond extravagant artifice to sink your teeth into.