The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
One of the most inventive films of the year comes from the ever-creative Wes Anderson in the form of a celebration of everything that was great about interwar Europe: lavish hotels and resorts functioning as sanatoriums, a predilection for fine arts and architecture, and cultivated living. Anderson's story is a great example of a story within a story; it's elegantly laid out, presented and told, with its inherent insignificance (being constructed in every sense of the word) presented with all the significance possible, i.e. through clever storytelling and instantly fascinating characters.
The time is, as previously mentioned, the interwar period, and the place is a generic fictional Central European town, probably bordering Germany. What's great about the historical relevance Anderson gives his film is that while the political situation and the war threat is palpable and undoubtedly looming in the wings, it is also presented as essentially meaningless – a fact which is perfectly illustrated by our protagonist Monsieur Gustave's annoyed reaction when his train is "stopped in a barley field" by the occupying forces.
Anderson's story, as is often the case with his stories, is about lives fully lived by peculiar characters. In other words, there's no implicit meaning behind it all; the film is about characters and relations, the lives they live and the wonders and experience they draw from it. As such, the film is life-affirming and inspirational more than it is enlightening, but Anderson's real achievement is in his wide and complete utilization of the film medium and all its evocative stylistic possibilities. Because above anything else, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a stylistic and artistic triumph. It tickles you and sucks you in like a great painting; it seduces you like a wondrous piece of music. And although Anderson may seem like one of the purest and most artsy filmmakers of today, he certainly knows what he's doing and which buttons to push. Not only does he seduce us with his palette, he also beguiles us with star power by populating his film with an array of wonderful players. Let's not dwell on the fact that most of them essentially make cameo appearances, meaning that many of the supporting characters here are caricatures – at least Anderson puts them to the logical forefront and lets them decorate his film with the same unassuming elegance as the rest of his retro-inspired visuals. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a wonderful film, even if it's completely hung-up on its own wonderfulness.