by Noah Sunshine
Oscar bait—it’s a designation for larger-than-life films (think 2012’s Lincoln or perhaps even this year’s Imitation Game) that draw from history’s finest or bleeding-edge technology to convince the Academy a film is truly wonderful—even if it ends up forgettable a year or two later. In this season of the Academy Awards, I’m pleased to see two films that defy that designation as they gun for Best Picture this February. I’ve already reviewed one, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman, but Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel might as well be its spiritual antithesis.
If you had seen the trailer before starting The Grand Budapest Hotel, you might think you were watching the wrong movie; Anderson film alum Jason Schwartzman’s cameo as a lazy concierge is a (pretty intentional) letdown. Only as the story unfolds through a film-length flashback does the whimsy and strained plausibility characteristic of the director begins its assault: pastels abound. The colors come straight out of a cake shop, from the pale and paler pink exterior of the eponymous hotel to the impossibly velvety uniforms of the hotel staff, with clean lines that give the illusion of a cartoon or storybook. Action that is just as hare-brained only adds to the effect, though it will turn off those that aren’t fans of the outlandish.
Leaving the film there makes it sound like a prime choice for an outing with young children, but Ralph Fiennes, in an unparalleled performance as the deft and quirky M. Gustave, spits so much wit at a feverish pace that adults will have trouble keeping up with the subtle and not-so-subtle absurdity. I’m truly disappointed by his absence among Best Actor nominees, because his smart and unwavering delivery makes for an impressive character—if a bit less empathetic than some. The character doesn’t leave much for the audience to access, only to watch and be amazed by. Fiennes is nothing like the broken and bemusing Keaton from Birdman, which may hurt the film’s Oscar campaign overall, but still places him above headliners like Bradley Cooper and his brutish soldier (Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper).
The Grand Budapest Hotel was an exciting surprise in a season of biopics (The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Selma, and Unbroken, which missed the Best Picture nod altogether) that may have flown under the radar for most, but didn’t escape the adoring eyes of critics. It sits at a staggering 8.1/10 on IMDb, cracking the top 250 movies of all time according to the site—that’s neck-and-neck with Birdman, Boyhood, and a few other Oscars favorites of the year. If Best Picture doesn’t work out, there are always 8 other nominations for it to fall back on.
If I had to pick a frontrunner for this year’s Academy Awards, I would be torn; my love for The Grand Budapest Hotel and Birdman are known, but hugely ambitious films such as Linklater’s Boyhood (actually following a boy through his childhood, in film) have that novelty that may get the better of the rest. That doesn’t change, though, that The Grand Budapest Hotel is a visually and thematically stunning entry on the ballot that’s worth the watch whether it wins or not. It is available on all major movie streaming services, as well as for free (with subscription) on HBO GO.
Senior Noah Sunshine is a contributing writer. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.