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Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel & The Complete Wes Anderson

The Grand Budapest Hotel

From the highly stylized mind of Wes Anderson comes his newest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel.  In many ways the usual signs of an Anderson movie are there, while in others it seems he is trying to expand his horizons and reach for something a little more historical and political.

Since plot isn't the most important part of any Wes Anderson movie, I'll only briefly mention it.  The movie is about Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), a concierge at a lavish hotel in a fake Eastern European hotel in 1932.  He takes a new young lobby boy, Zero (Tony Revolori), under his wing.  As the film progresses, personal complications, capers, and fascist politics come into the scene.

I've come to know Wes Anderson so well that I just smile at all the usual touches-the symmetrical cinematography, the tracking shots packed with jokes, and the beautiful miniatures.  The hotel itself is simply a wonder to behold-both in the main story in 1932 and as a decrepit communist-era shell in the 1960s.  I also absolutely loved Ralph Fiennes in the title role.  He's mostly known for his weighty dramatic roles (Schindler's List, The English Patient), here Wes Anderson's clever dialogue fits him like a glove. In this movie, there's a deep note of melancholy, of a beautiful and delicate era lost, that pervades the film.  Without giving any spoilers away, there's also a lot more outright sadness that we usually see in Anderson's movies. The way he's putting historical significance onto his trademark style kind of reminds me of what Tarantino has attempted in Inglorious Bastards and Django Unchained.

I love what Anderson is attempting to do here, and for the most part it works.   There are times when the movie gets a little too caper-y, and I would actually have liked to spend more time getting to know the hotel and its denizens.  These are small quibbles, though, in a movie I'd gladly watch again, and that gives so many smiles, laughs, and melancholy moments.

Grade: A-/B+ (With Anderson, I always need to let them sink in a bit)

The Complete Wes Anderson

I am proud to be a completist of Wes Anderson, having seen all 8 of his movies.  Here they are, ranked.  The top 3 I just absolutely love.

1. Rushmore (1998).  Anderson will have to make a pretty amazing movie to ever topple this one.  Anderson's breakout movie, it's the hilarious story of Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), a one-of-a-kind prep school kid in love with a teacher and put on probation.  It's full of visual gags, brilliant cinematography, and real emotion.  Bonus points for what may be the best Bill Murray performance ever, and that's saying something.

2. Moonrise Kingdom (2012). An absolute charmer about first love filled with humor, beauty, and melancholy.  The cast is terrific and the sets even more evocative and beautiful than usual. I also love the use of the Benjamin Britten music throughout.

3. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). This is Anderson's most sprawling movie, with a cast of at least 6 main characters. It takes obvious references from the writings of J.D. Salinger as it chronicles a family of dysfunctional prodigies in a stylized (of course) New York. Whatever it loses in depth of individual characters it makes up for in the relationships between the family members.  It's also anchored by two wonderful performances by Gene Hackman and Anjelica Huston as the estranged parents of the Tenenbaum clan.

4. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014).  See above.

5. The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). All done in stop motion animation with a tremendous group of voice-over actors.  Clooney and Streep work perfectly as the central Fox pair.  Charming and clever, yet it feels a little more minor to me than other Wes Anderson films.

6. Bottle Rocket (1996). Anderson's debut, a crime caper of bumbling characters, as his signature style is just beginning to form.  The humor and wacky characters are there, but it's not as symmetrical and stylized as the later films.  A fun caper comedy, which also serves as the debut of the very funny Owen Wilson.

7. The Darjeeling Limited (2007). These last two films are in the period where I fell out of love with Anderson a bit. From what I remember, Darjeeling was a pleasant enough experience to watch, but both the humor and emotion felt a little forced.

8. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). The only Anderson I actively disliked.  Everything his most derisive critics say about him seem true about this movie- it struck me as facile, twee, and tiresome. That said, some people I respect really love this movie, so maybe it's time for a revisit.

1 comment:

  1. Just saw Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes this evening. Was struck by certain elements that apparently influenced Grand Budapest Hotel (train, pseudo-Nazis, etc.) Any other insights on Wes Anderson's debts to Hitchcock?