This piece was originally written for The Georgetown Voice. Read it there, and check out the latest issue!
In the case of Wes Anderson, perhaps we should alter the truism “It’s an honor just to be nominated,” to something like “It’s a relief to see him nominated.”
After receiving two Oscar nominations for screenplays, Anderson has graduated to the realm in which he belongs. This year, he received nominations for Best Director and Best Picture for his latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Anderson’s quirky auteurism may not go down smoothly for every audience member, but his superb body of work suggests that these nominations were inevitable. From early hits like Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums to more recent projects like Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson’s films have maintained a steady dose of fervent eccentricity. Whether his characters are lovelorn teens or awkward boy scouts or concierges on the run, Anderson has never failed in highlighting their hopeful decency.
In terms of his work with the camera, The Grand Budapest Hotel may be Anderson’s best. Up until now, I would have presented Fantastic Mr. Fox as Anderson’s most impressive work, largely because he employs innovative stop-motion animation without sacrificing his trademark bouncy dialogue. The Grand Budapest Hotel, of course, does not utilize stop motion technology. Where it does thrive, however, is in its frenzied combination of narrative girth and visual compactness. Ralph Fiennes and the rest of the cast do impressive work with Anderson’s bubbly script, but the camera is the biggest star.
The movie crisscrosses fictionalized European climes, covering more ground than any of Anderson’s previous work. In hotel lobbies and on snowy mountainsides alike, he miniaturizes landscapes, capturing the peculiar souls that inhabit them. In a way, Anderson succeeds in wrapping his imagined Europe into a tiny little set, a stationary backdrop on which his players can tiptoe and conspire. Anderson’s playhouse of a world looks like it might collapse with a gusting winter wind, but his characters loom large on top of it.
All this being said, Anderson probably won’t win. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman and Richard Linklater’s Boyhood have deservedly dominated the awards season to this point, and it’s hard to imagine another filmmaker snatching Best Director outside of this pair. In the Best Picture race, The Grand Budapest Hotel stands in as a praiseworthy afterthought.
But none of that matters.
Alfred Hitchcock once said, “A good film is when the price of the dinner, the theatre admission, and the babysitter were worth it.” Awards season captivates us with the allure of excellence reaffirmed and stardom ensured, but the chaos of competition often clouds our judgment of what makes movies and moviegoing so important and joyous. This remains a business based on entertainment—achievement in winning over audiences rather than in being deemed “better” or “best” compared to completely separate cinematic works.
Who can say if Birdman or Boyhood is inherently better than Anderson’s idiosyncratic adventure? Who needs to? All of these films, along with their fellow nominees, remain entertaining throughout their run time. They produce laughs, melancholy, and meaningful introspection. Linklater, Iñárritu, and Anderson have all crafted inventive film experiences, with no thoughts of beating out their fellow directors.
If it sounds like I aim to do away with awards shows, I apologize. We should, without question, celebrate the extraordinary achievements of those who create and carry out superb films. We should not, though, allow the lack of a trophy to mar the work of directors like Anderson.
Orson Welles—who I am told knew a thing or two about cinematic achievement—posited, “A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet.” Anderson’s verse may be unconventional and bizarre, but it has produced too many good films to ignore. By any definition, by Welles’ or Hitchcock’s or the Academy’s, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a good movie with a great director.
Anderson has been making winning films for two decades now, even if his trophy case says otherwise.