Reviewing the Films of 2014, Part II: The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Grand Budapest Hotel
As mentioned in my previous 2014 film review for The Lego Movie, there are very few films coming out this year that had me more thoroughly stoked than the new offering from Wes Anderson, a delightfully off-kilter confection called The Grand Budapest Hotel. Having seen the film, I am slightly let down, but only slightly. The film was extremely creative, highly entertaining, and featured perhaps the greatest comic performance of the inimitable Ralph Fiennes' career thus far. It also had an awesome soundtrack, and some of the cameos were incredibly amusing. However, there were some issues as well. But first, a bit about the movie itself.
The first thing to know when watching any Wes Anderson movie is that you WILL be watching a "Wes Anderson movie." In other words, you CANNOT mistake his films for anybody else's. This is both a blessing and a curse, as it is comfortable and familiar for those initiated into his films but oftentimes incredibly off-putting to others. His films, almost without exception, are incredibly staged--they are theatrical to the point of watching a live-action picture card or diorama. This extends to the acting and the incredibly (almost cartoonishly) over-the-top sets, costumes and music. In this film, for example, one need only glance at Adrien Brody and Willem Dafoe's characters to know they are vile villains--there is no equivocating or pussyfooting around in any aspect of their clear untrustworthiness. That said, Anderson's actors do a fine job playing along with his vision, and while the acting is usually over-the-top (or vastly underplayed), it fits perfectly the feel of the movie; in this film, Fiennes' portrayal of M. Gustave perfectly walked the fine line between hammy overacting and serious dramatic chops that defines the very best of comedic performances, and if he is not even in the running for Best Actor during the next Oscar race it will be a near-criminal snub. Gustave is the head concierge for a famed hotel in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka during the early part of the twentieth century. His chief Lobby Boy, Zero, is played by relative newcomer Tony Revolori, who does a fine job in a relatively difficult role; it is the much older Zero (an earnest F. Murray Abraham) who narrates the story to an amusing and somewhat underused writer played by Jude Law. The story primarily centers upon the inheritance of an old woman who had been a regular guest at the hotel (and who, under tons of makeup, is a barely recognizable Tilda Swinton); her will was literally a heap of scraps and notes (the scene wherein her executor Kovacs [Jeff Goldblum] presents the will was actually rather amusing), and her evil son Dmitri (Brody) exploits this uncertainty to viciously eliminate any competing claims to her estate. His partner in these actions is a shady hitman called Joplin (Dafoe), who is so evil he even kills pets; though I felt sorry for the cat, one of my favorite moments comes during the scene when Dmitri is threatening Kovacs in his office--Joplin had been standing quietly by holding and petting a cat, which he suddenly tosses aside, at which point Kovacs incredulously asks, "Did he just throw my cat out the window?" Goldblum's reaction at that moment was priceless, and the scene was a great example of the gallows humor that runs throughout the film. It should also be noted, perhaps, that Alexandre Desplat's score was also a wonderful tone-setter for the film, and that the music overall makes this film an excellent argument for the Best Use of Music in Film Oscar. The comedic nature of the cameos also provides arguments for Best Cameo/ Bit Player, perhaps none more so than Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman.
Now, for all the film did right, there were a few issues. One, the film is SO over-the-top that I felt it to be a bit inferior to some of Anderson's other films; this one is still better in most ways than The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and arguably more entertaining than The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited, but I definitely feel that it is a step down from Anderson's previous film, Moonrise Kingdom. Also, Tenenbaums and Darjeeling are better films, if less generally amusing. I'd also rate Rushmore and Fantastic Mr. Fox higher. There are also elements that felt jarring (a brief shot at the end of the aforementioned scene with the cat, for example), and the whole Order of the Crossed Keys bit, while a setup for some amusing cameos, seemed rather unnecessary or, at least, poorly incorporated (the promotional video starring Bill Murray as himself was more interesting than the way the subplot actually played out in the movie). Overall, though, a flawed Wes Anderson film is still a fine film, and as noted before I was plenty entertained.
The Grand Budapest Hotel: 8/10 Oscar-worthy for Best Director (Wes Anderson), Actor (Ralph Fiennes), Original Screenplay (Wes Anderson), Cinematography, Production Design, Original Score (Alexandre Desplat), Makeup, Film Editing, Sound Mixing and Sound Effects Editing. Nominated for Best Picture, Director (Wes Anderson), Original Screenplay (Wes Anderson), Cinematography, Production Design, Costume Design, Makeup, Film Editing and Original Score (Alexandre Desplat).
Will Purchase? Hells yeah! I will likely get this on Black Friday, maybe sooner; it is an ABSOLUTE essential.
While I was a bit disappointed by Wes Anderson's newest offering, it nonetheless made for a great cinema experience (the fact that it was my first time at the Cinebistro, a very cool theatre/ restaurant, made it an all-the-more memorable experience). Sadly, this may be the last 2014 movie I get to see for a while; I hope I'm wrong about that, but we'll see. In the meantime, feel free to share your own thoughts about this and other recent releases, and happy viewing!