As we await the annual Academy Awards, we also await the inevitability of another questionable winner gracing the stage. The question always becomes, what factors make a subjective movie viewing experience Oscar-worthy? The movie watching experience obviously must resonate with the viewer in some significant way. One cannot assume the Academy is comprised of experts who have no political or personal inclinations to nominate certain films (this would involve essentially assuming the Academy exists in some kind of magical, post-everything, cinematic vacuum), though a nominated movie should, among other things, include a dynamic plotline, immersive acting, and high production value.
Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel offers all of this and more. As a big fan of the classic Wes Anderson style of directing, I will generally automatically recommend a film like Grand Budapest, which expectedly executes this style perfectly. In the movie making industry, where often so much value is placed on putting things on screen that will draw out the masses, it is hard not to admire Anderson’s unwavering dedication to his artistic visions that find their way into theaters time and time again, with movies such as Moonrise Kingdom, Royal Tenenbaums, and of course, The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, Grand Budapest did well among movie critics. While the Anderson style is clearly there, what defines this particular movie is the manner in which Anderson and his crew use influences such as the history and culture of eastern Europe and the writings of Stefan Zweig (the Austrian author that Anderson’s Oscar-nominated screenplay is inspired by).
The film is a comedy, and it doesn’t fail to include a plethora of hidden jokes and references. Anderson’s comical and overly-romanticized portrayal of eastern European culture is inexplicably brilliant. Set in the 1930s, the film takes place in the fictional Balkan country of Zubrowka. Tattered by war, economic burden, and communism among other things, the audience is touched by a feeling of a cultural longing for a long lost golden age, a kind of reflection of Europe even today. As a former native German, I can attest to the fact that the cultural sentiment definitely finds it’s way into the motion picture. In fact, producer Jeremy Dawson mentioned himself that many people of European origin have praised the portrayal of their world in the film.
The movie gives off an impression of complete authenticity. Effortlessly, it dismisses any idea of being just another big facade. This is undeniably due, in part, to the production process that The Grand Budapest Hotel underwent. Anderson and his talented team leave behind the common modern use of green screens, big studio blocks, and one-dimensional sets to go on an intercontinental journey. The bulk of the principal photography was done in Germany and the Czech Republic, allowing the creators to be inspired by their surroundings and influence their portrayal of the culture. This dedication and artistry is evident in the photography and has been justly recognized, as the director of photography Robert Yeoman has been nominated for Best Cinematography. However, this aesthetic appreciation goes beyond the stunning visuals.
By studying the history, visiting the places, and meeting the people, Anderson was able to craft a film that hits all the right notes. Most of the backdrops, costumes, and props are completely real, from the view out of the hotel window down to the very pastries baked in the fictional bakery “Mendl’s” (which were baked by a woman who ran a local pastry shop near the production set in Europe.)
The visuals are in themselves all pieces of art. The contrast between the story’s original hotel from the 1930s, whose grandeur make it comparable to a wedding cake, and the post-war communist hotel from the 1960s, which makes it look more akin to a gray, flat topped prison, serves as just one example of this notion. While the characters are playful and over the top, the set of this movie is always a character in itself.
A common consideration is that a creation is considered good art when it elicits a strong emotional response from the audience. The Grand Budapest Hotel, through the film crew’s detailed and loving execution of Wes Anderson’s vision, definitely succeeds in this regard. In turn, I believe the movie deserves the Oscars it was nominated for.