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It’s really a shame that mankind at its worst
Is seen more conspicuously than its best,
Like children who cry getting tended and cursed
By those who decide children all are a pest,
While one quiet child can’t hope to reverse
The hostile impressions ingrained by the rest.

There still are some saints that can shine over sin,
Their kindnesses somehow worth more in our eyes.
But how can we drown out the negative din
If so few are willing to re-humanize?
It doesn’t much matter who’ll lose and who’ll win
If basic civility meets its demise.

MPA rating:  R (for profanity, a couple violent scenes, and a few explicit paintings)

“Better late than never” will be my catchphrase for the next several weeks, since school and life in general have put me so far behind my desired posting schedule. Heck, I’m only ¾ of the way through last year’s Blindspots. But here at last I am continuing the list with Wes Anderson’s most decorated film, the ornately madcap farce The Grand Budapest Hotel.

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I’m still not sure what my opinion of Wes Anderson is in general. I’ve seen Rushmore, Isle of Dogs, and Fantastic Mr. Fox before, and I can’t say I loved or hated any of them. I enjoy his eccentric and fastidious production design to a certain extent but mainly as unique oddities, admiring his work from the outside but never feeling drawn in by the world of the story. The Grand Budapest Hotel probably comes the closest to achieving that, thanks to the well-drawn characters and how Anderson’s ever-present drollery gives way to pathos by the end. It’s an odd set-up, the plot being portrayed as a reading of a recollection of a conversation of a memory, jumping back in time with each story layer, but the way it breeds a sense of bygone nostalgia is rather remarkable.

Although this movie mainly won Oscars in non-acting categories (Best Production Design, Score, Costume Design, Makeup), one area in which Anderson’s films excel is casting. The Grand Budapest Hotel is chock full of recognizable stars, sometimes as mere cameos, including frequent collaborators like Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, and Willem Dafoe. Foremost in the cast is Ralph Fiennes as the titular hotel’s esteemed concierge Monsieur Gustave H., and his portrayal of the demanding dandy is surprisingly layered as he takes under his wing the hotel’s new lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori, a.k.a. Flash Thompson in the MCU Spider-Man films). Revolori gives a marvelous debut performance opposite Fiennes, and their relationship grows sweeter and more poignant with time. What at first seems like an alpine comedy of manners takes turns morphing into a murder mystery, a prison break film, and a black comedy, somehow surviving these tonal shifts due to Anderson’s unmistakable stamp of ownership.

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At times it felt as if Wes Anderson the auteur was tossing in elements he had always wanted to film, such as the extended jailbreak sequence, which goes on too long but seemed like it was fun to implement. At another point, there’s an artfully shot scene of a man being stalked through dark interiors which felt directly inspired by Hitchcock. I do wish that Anderson had excised some of the more mature elements, since they seemed contrary to the film’s overall old-world charm and refreshing eloquence of speech. Yet there is much to enjoy and commend about The Grand Budapest Hotel, from the expansive ensemble to the picturesque locations and cleverly articulate script to Gustave’s gospel of refined gentility and moments of unexpected humor that warrant a chuckle if not a laugh out loud. As with the director’s style in general, the fragmented narrative may not be to everyone’s taste, but I would say The Grand Budapest Hotel is Wes Anderson at his best.

Best line: (Mr. Moustafa, of Gustave H.) “There are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity… He was one of them. What more is there to say?”

Rank:  List Runner-Up

© 2021 S.G. Liput
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