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For Your Consideration: 'The Grand Budapest Hotel'

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The Grand Budapest Hotel, directed by Wes Anderson
In my list of the best things seen and heard and read last year, The Grand Budapest Hotel was noted as "one of the best films of the year." It seems likely now, to me and to the readers who have taken the Ionarts Oscar Poll so far, that Wes Anderson's latest feature will win the Academy Award for Best Picture, edging out Richard Linklater's Boyhood. This is an odd situation, to be sure, when two directors like Anderson and Linklater, both visionary outsiders for so long, are neck and neck for such a mainstream honor. These two movies seem likely to split a large number of the awards this year, but how it falls out may determine the winner of your Oscar pool. For Boyhood, my money is on Patricia Arquette for Best Supporting Actress and Linklater for Best Director, the latter in recognition of the movie's unprecedented filming process.

Grand Budapest Hotel could take Best Picture, plus Film Editing (Barney Pilling), Costume Design (Milena Canonero), Make-Up and Hairstyling (Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier, possibly for Tilda Swinton's fossilized heiress alone), Original Score (Alexandre Desplat, heavy on the balalaika and with Vivaldi's lute concerto thrown in for good measure), Production Design (Adam Stockhausen and Anna Pinnock), and Original Screenplay (Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness). Anderson's last feature, Moonrise Kingdom, was even better than this film, and it was left with no Academy Award two years ago, increasing the likelihood of a retroactive righting of that mistake this year.

The story covers a lot of territory in the remote mountaintop resort of Zubrowka, a fictional republic that stands in for Eastern Europe, passing from Austro-Hungarian Empire to independence to Soviet police state. Layers of the story peel away deliciously, like the famous pastries that feature prominently, but while the film's pink and otherwise candy-bright color palette may initially leave a sugary taste, there is a bitter edge to the story, inspired as it was by the cosmopolitan Austrian writer Stefan Zweig. The writer, played at different ages by Jude Law and Tom Wilkinson, remembers a story told to him during a stay at the legendary hotel, involving the eccentric concierge of the establishment, M. Gustave, played with excessive squirts of cologne by Ralph Fiennes. The story comes from the current owner of the hotel, played with melancholy relish by F. Murray Abraham, but it happened to him when he was just a young lobby boy (Tony Revolori) under M. Gustave. How the latter became the former is a long story.

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Fiennes towers alone in the central role, created for but then abandoned by Johnny Depp (probably to the film's betterment), but this is an ensemble cast. Much of the fun comes in seeing scores of Anderson favorites, including kids from Moonrise Kingdom, appear and disappear: Mathieu Amalric as a shifty butler, Adrien Brody as a mustache-twirling villain, Willem Dafoe as a knuckle-dragging hit man, Jeff Goldblum as a mysterious lawyer, Harvey Keitel as the muscle-twitching leader of an absurd jailbreak, Edward Norton as a courtly fascist officer, and Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, and several others as a team of string-pulling concierge-desk factotums. Anderson does all of this with his trademarked home-made, down-to-the-last-detail look, including the use of miniature sets and stop-motion animation that glows with sentimental old-fashionedness. In the best Anderson style, this movie clings to high culture in a way that is not pretentious, indeed that even pokes fun at itself. As M. Gustave himself puts it at one point: "You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that's what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant... oh, fuck it."

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