Race to the Oscars: Checking Into The Grand Budapest Hotel

The fourth (damn, I’ve just been cranking these out, huh) in a series taking stock of the contenders and frontrunners of the 87th Academy Awards

Disclosure time: I’ve never seen a Wes Anderson film.

Much of my filmgoing experience in the 2000s (my teenage years) was filled with big ticket blockbusters, films with predominately black casts, and the occasional Oscar winner. Wes Anderson’s highly imaginative visual works were simply not on my radar. In fact, I didn’t really know who Wes Anderson was when Tina Fey and Amy Poehler joked about him at this year’s Golden Globes (as you can imagine, the joke went over my head).

Clearly I was missing out. The Grand Budapest Hotel, this year’s most nominated film alongside Birdman, was a delight in every possible way. The Oscar season is typically filled with very serious prestige dramas, so it’s great to see a comedy of equal caliber not only in contention, but leading the race. Grand Budapest is wacky, charming, surprisingly moving, and most important of all, truly fun. And in race filled with lots of darkness, fun is welcomed.

The Grand Budapest Hotel recounts a lobby boy named Zero’s adventures with Monsieur Gustave H., the concierge of the sprawling Grand Budapest Hotel, located in a fictional European country during the short peace between the two World Wars. Gustave is a ridiculous man, essentially using his hotel as a front to feed the sexual appetites of various rich old ladies. One of those ladies, Madame D, dies and leaves Gustave a priceless (and utterly random) painting in her will. When he is arrested and jailed for her murder, he and the lobby boy must prove his innocence in a series of quirky mad dashes through hotels, prisons, and even a snowy hilltop church.

If that all sounds absolutely ridiculous, that’s because it is. But Wes Anderson isn’t concerned with that. As is his modus operandi, he only cares about the meticulously crafting of Grand Budapest’s universe and ensuring our complete engagement. His film is a mechanical tapestry of visual flourish, constantly moving but never losing focus of its vibrant, old-fashioned world of monarchical regalia. It’s a wild, absurd ride we’re taken on, but all of the colorful pomp never distracts from what the film is at heart: a really great buddy-caper comedy.

A buddy-caper comedy as a true blue Oscar contender? Yes, and Wes Anderson should be commended for that feat. As should the film’s two buddies, Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revoloni. It’s a shame that neither could break into this year’s incredibly packed acting categories, because both are truly great. Gustave is ridiculous, but Fiennes is so committed to the character’s zesty, humor-filled civility that you almost wish you could help him escape a weakly-secured prison. Fortunately for us, that duty belongs to Revoloni. At his young age, it should’ve appeared more difficult to keep up with an actor of Fiennes’s caliber, but he more than holds his own. It is wonderful to see their characters grow together and develop a genuine friendship that provides an undercurrent of pathos, especially surprising for this stylized a work.

For a visually complicated, excellently crafted buddy-caper comedy, The Grand Budapest Hotel is most impressive because of its heart. Sure, it’s very funny and beautifully made, but it taps into discussions, about the effects of war, the appreciation of forgotten ages, and the sacrifices made for love, that are deeply moving. It can be hard for less technically complicated films to explore such ideas. For Grand Budapest to do so is a triumph worthy of golden recognition.

After seeing The Grand Budapest Hotel, it is quite difficult to mount a defense against it as a Best Picture contender. With a Golden Globe win under its belt and a re-ignition of buzz (the film was released early last year), seeing Wes Anderson take the stage at the end of the night is one of two real possibilities. The other is Boyhood, which has been touted as a front-runner all season. I still haven’t that film yet, but it’s safe to say that Best Picture is a two-horse race at the moment for me.

Next up: sitting down with season frontrunner Boyhood, unpacking American Sniper’s “controversy”, Selma, and maybe we can fit Whiplash in here? Thanks for following on this crazy journey, and please leave your thoughts and Oscar predictions in the comments section.

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