In early 2020, I counted down my top 20 films of the previous decade, and Wes Anderson’s 2014 The Grand Budapest Hotel showed up at #17. In that post, I mentioned that I owed Moonrise Kingdom another viewing, but hadn’t gotten around to it in time.
If I were redoing that list today, Moonrise Kingdom would definitely be on it, and pretty high up. But The Grand Budapest Hotel wouldn’t lose any ground. In fact, I’d likely move it higher as well. Subsequent viewings have only cemented it as one of Anderson’s most accomplished and enjoyable films.
A madcap comedy with a distinct melancholy streak, Grand Budapest follows the exploits of M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), the beloved concierge of the titular hotel, in the fictional country of Zubrowka during the pre-war 30s.
Against all odds, the film became Anderson’s most successful to date, earning $173 million worldwide and landing nine Oscar nominations (it won four). It is frequently cited for its beautiful cinematography, art direction and score.
In a shocking oversight, even for a body notoriously dismissive of comedy, the Academy failed to recognize Fiennes with a Best Actor nod. His work in this movie is sublime, arguably better than anything else he’s ever done.
Also wonderful is Tony Revolori, in his film debut, as the lobby boy Zero. As an older man, Zero recounts his apprenticeship under M. Gustave and his romance with a pretty young baker, Agatha (Saoirse Ronan). He tells his story to an author (Jude Law) whose grave is visited by a fan in the movie’s opening scene. The movie has a Russian doll structure, reaching further and further into the past.
Grand Budapest is Anderson’s funniest film, packed from start to finish with high and low comedy. But it is also deeply sad, not just because of the doomed friendship and love affair it chronicles, but because of the nostalgic ache it captures from its very first frame.
We are served up remembrances of remembrances, with each telling more fanciful and romantic than the last. This is a movie about the things we lose over time, and the ways we choose to immortalize them.
Time marches on, adventures become legends, and thank heavens for the storytellers who help us remember.