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The Grand Budapest Hotel

by Leonard Maltin
March 7, 2014 12:05 AM
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Ralph Fiennes-GBH-485
Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Here is the first great movie of 2014—and not a moment too soon. I run hot and cold on Wes Anderson’s work, but this film captivated me completely. It may have something to do with the time period and setting (Eastern Europe between the two world wars), but I think it has as much to do with Anderson’s inspired filmmaking.

In each of his pictures he creates a world all its own. Here, that world is thoroughly invented down to the tiniest detail, although it has its roots in the reality of luxe living in the 1920s, as the well-to-do knew it. The main character is Monsieur Gustave H, a suave, confident concierge at the impossibly elegant Grand Budapest Hotel in Zubrowka. He is accustomed to treating his guests with the utmost deference and seeing to their every need, be it social or sexual, which is why he is revered. M. Gustave takes on a young protégé (newcomer Tony Revolori) as his lobby boy and aide-de-camp, which comes in handy as the usually unflappable concierge finds himself in trouble with the law.

Anderson clearly spent time watching vintage Lubitsch films to capture the essence of period elegance and charm, but even that master of sophisticated comedy never made a caper film in which dialogue is delivered at machine-gun speed and non-sequiturs rule the day.

Tony Revolori-GBH-485
Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Ralph Fiennes gives a heroically hilarious performance as M. Gustave, a nimble-witted fellow who, for all his polish, is quite plain-spoken when the occasion demands. This is flawless acting that—dare I say it—would be worthy of an Academy Award if anyone remembers it nine months from now. He is surrounded by other skillful actors at the top of their game, including F. Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe, Mathieu Amalric, and Wes Anderson regulars Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and Bill Murray.

What’s more, the film is breathtaking to behold. Told in a series of flashbacks, the vintage scenes are even shot in the 1:37 ratio we associate with movies of that period. Cinematographer Robert Yeoman, who’s worked on all of Anderson’s films, production designer Adam Stockhausen, and costume designer Milena Canonero deserve particular kudos for bringing the director’s unique vision to life. No one else working in films today would dare use miniatures, matte paintings, or stop-motion animation in such a witty and original way. Sometimes, Anderson’s devotion to detail can overwhelm his screenplay, as I feel it did in Moonrise Kingdom, but this film feels completely organic, a perfect synthesis of concept and execution. (Anderson shares story credit with Hugo Guinness, and acknowledges his debt to Viennese writer and man-of-the-world Stefan Zweig.)

Adrien Brody-Willem Dafoe-GBH-485
Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

As usual, composer Alexandre Desplat contributes a lively and surprising score, which is capped off by a balalaika orchestra over the closing credits. Be sure not to leave the theater until they’re over; if you do, you’ll be cheating yourself. This is a movie you’ll want to savor, from start to finish.

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  • Jarod | July 5, 2014 3:12 AMReply

    Without comparing the two, this is the best movie I have seen since There Will Be Blood.

  • Carl LaFong | March 31, 2014 5:13 PMReply

    [...Be sure not to leave the theater until they’re over; if you do, you’ll be cheating yourself.]

    Oh no!! I left the theatre as the end credits were rolling. (I had no choice, my bladder was bursting.) What did I miss???

  • Daveylo | March 11, 2014 6:09 PMReply

    I've no doubt this would be an Oscar contender if it had been released later in the year. Fiennes is simply superb in the film. I don't think you have to love Anderson (though I do) to enjoy this movie. Anderson has said that he likes being out of the awards fray. This one should be playing in the theater for a while. It helps that it is a comedy--though it gets sadder near the end.

  • mike schlesinger | March 28, 2014 7:15 PM

    I think it'll certainly be up for all sorts of below-the-line nominations, especially in these CGI-dominant times, and a screenplay nom is also likely. Too early to predicts wins, of course.

  • Norm | March 7, 2014 6:30 PMReply

    I'm already there...

  • Jason | March 7, 2014 5:24 PMReply

    and of course only getting limited release here in the U.S.....great, a film I actually WANT to see.

  • mike schlesinger | March 7, 2014 10:18 PM

    Jason, it's getting what is known as a platform release: opening in just a few theatres and then gradually widening out to hundreds. I'm sure within a few weeks it'll be playing, as the saying goes, at a theatre near you.

  • J.C. Vaughn | March 7, 2014 3:53 PMReply

    Great review! Thanks, Leonard!

  • Jeffrey | March 7, 2014 12:40 AMReply

    This is the first review I have read of this film that raises the specter of Oscar contention. Granted, most reviews so far have been positive, but the one that goes the extra mile and suggests award potential is from, of all critics..... Leonard Maltin. This is fairly surprising.

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