During the lead up to this year’s Oscars on February 22nd I will be covering a lot of the nominees for the upcoming Academy Awards. This will not be your usual Oscar primer, but in fact more of a “catching up to speed” series. I will be dissecting a few films in each instalment. I will be going over what the nominees are, and what chances it stands to win. In the last instalment HERE I covered the Live Action Shorts and the Animated Shorts. This time I will be talking about “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “Two Days One Night” and “Still Alice”.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” was directed by Wes Anderson, released on March 28th and produced by American Empirical Pictures. The film has nine nominations.

  • Best Picture- Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven M. Rales and Jeremy Dawson
  • Best Director- Wes Anderson
  • Best Original Screenplay- Wes Anderson and Hugh Guinness
  • Best Cinematography- Robert D. Yeoman
  • Best Editing- Barney Pilling
  • Best Production Design- Adam Stockhausen and Anna Pinnock
  • Best Costume Design- Milena Canonero
  • Best Hair and Makeup- Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier
  • Best Original Score- Alexandre Desplat

Wes Anderson has always had a flair for the flamboyant and grandiose. On “The Grand Budapest Hotel” he took the insanity of “The Royal Tenenbaums”, the imagination of “The Life Aquatic” and rapid-fire narcissism of “Rushmore” all while adding a touch of period piece realism that was in “Moonrise Kingdom”. This is all to say Anderson was firing on all cylinders and had plenty of his usual friends helping out like Adrian Brody, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman and Jeff Goldblum that all make a trademark Anderson picture. That killer cast paired with a glorious Ralph Finnes is a recipe for success. This film works because everyone involved buys in to what was trying to be accomplished. The black humor is played perfectly straight, the generation shifting narration is easy to follow and the cast, no matter how despicable they may act are always on our side. Some people consider this film to be Anderson’s best work, I personally have a hard time agreeing with that as his best films differ by person based on what ones they have the biggest emotional connections to. That said what makes this film so damn amazing is the production design, the cinematography and the editing. Although this film was seen as an early front runner for Best Picture it will most likely lose out to “Boyhood” or “Birdman” which is gaining plenty of steam in its own right. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” will have to settle for the nonexistent bronze prize, something that Anderson should take solace in since comedies (especially though of this nature) are rarely, if ever even nominated. As for Anderson’s direction, even though he managed to harness such a huge world together to make such a cohesive story he will also have to settle third place behind Richard Linklater and Alejandro González Iñárritu. 

With such great one liners like “Keep your hands off my lobby boy” and “You’re looking so well, darling, you really are… they’ve done a marvellous job. I don’t know what sort of cream they’ve put on you down at the morgue, but… I want some.” this script was bound to keep people in stitches all throughout. Anderson and Guinness weave a complex tale of love, lust and the pursuit of a painting masterfully with no line of dialogue wasted. Plus having fourteen (15 if you include George Clooney’s cameo) Oscar nominated actors appear in your film you are bound to have some success with great line readings. Everything is over the top and hammed up and the only regret is that it isn’t done even more so. Screenplay Oscars usually go to the most creative or the one where the Academy feels bad about not being able to crown it in the Best Picture category, something that “The Grand Budapest Hotel” has in spades. It will most likely win Best Original Screenplay but if “Boyhood” or “Birdman” decides to go on a sweep, look for them to steal away this award.

As great as Anderson is for making a vision and having a distinctive style, it is easy to give him all the credit, when in fact, every single live action film Anderson has made was shot by the same person, Robert D. Yeoman. Every long tracking shot, every perfectly centred frame, every time an actor breaks the fourth wall and looks at the camera, while being a product of an Anderson film is also because of the masterful cinematography of one man. This film is an apex of style and beauty for the team with every shot they made famous is upped ten fold here. It is actually quite surprising that this is Yeoman’s first nomination and such a shame that “Birdman” practically reinvented the wheel with how it was shot leaving “The Grand Budapest Hotel” alone in the mountains. While it was all shot great, the story flowed so smoothly because of the editing. With back and forth timelines, multiple story lines going on at once and enough characters to make Robert Altman jealous it is a minor miracle that the plot is as coherent as it is. Unfortunately with “Boyhood’s” twelve-year miracle of making the film look like it was shot all at once and the uber intensity of “American Sniper” and “Whiplash” this will fall victim to an overly strong category. 

When watching a Wes Anderson production, you are transported to a different world; one that you wish you could live in. In “The Grand Budapest Hotel” the set and costumes are all dipped in a candy coated fantasy. Everything is light pink, baby blue, scarlet red and royal purple contrasted with pure white snow and rich natural colours. The hotel uniforms are all high fashion of the 1930’s looking even nicer then the outfits the rich hotel guests are even wearing. Everything looks like dessert, something that you want to smell and taste. Anderson usually uses miniature props for establishing shots, something the viewer can easily tell it is faked, but it is made with charm and beauty that you believe it anyways. For Best Production Design, it is hard to envision another film best this scrumptious film and for Best Costume Design, they could be a frontrunner, but the Academy loves fantasy or even older period films, something that “Into the Woods” offers. 

It is a bit odd seeing this film appear in the Best Hair and Makeup category, as they don’t have an abundance of over the top makeup. Sure Saoirse Ronan has a birthmark on her face that looks like Mexico and all the men have nice slicked back hair, but there isn’t a lot to applaud other than subtleties. Unless “The Grand Budapest Hotel” goes on a tear, it would seem like the more deserving “Guardians of the Galaxy” would most likely win.  

Anderson films always have a great score to them that makes the film seem both firmly entrenched in the past while being unique and ever present in the moment. This year Alexandre Desplat is pulling double duty with his nomination for this score and for “The Imitation Game’s” music as well. The whimsy of the film is heightened even more with his playful score here. He utilizes lots of Eastern European instruments like harpsichords and organs with lots of marching drum beats. Plenty of Russian folk music was used inspirations and the effect is very authentic. The fun and memorable score should make “The Grand Budapest Hotel” a frontrunner with strong challenges from “The Theory of Everything” and “The Imitation Game”. 

“Two Days One Night” was directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, released on December 24th and distributed by Mongrel Media. The film has one nomination.

  • Best Actress- Marion Cotillard

Cotillard first came on the scene in 2007 when she starred as Edith Piaf in “La Vie En Rose” a film she won for Best Actress. Since then she appeared in mostly Hollywood fare to varying degrees of success. It seems when she returns to her French roots she enjoys the highest levels of success. With “Two Days One Night” she plays a French speaking Belgian who had to take time off from work because of depression and now that she is finally feeling well enough to go back to work her boss makes her fellow crew members at a solar panel factory vote to either accept her back or get a $1000 bonus. Since most of the crew are poor working class people they don’t want to give up such a large sum of money just for someone whom they may not feel is fit to work again. Cotillard’s Sandra must go door to door to her twelve co-workers on one weekend to convince them why they should vote for her to keep her job. In between panic attacks and trying to cope with the crushing facts of what her family will have to do if she doesn’t get her job back Sandra is constantly at her breaking point. You are watching someone battling their illness for the betterment of their family even though she is ready to lie down and die alone and sad. At one point she tries to end it all when she swallows an entire bottle of Xanax during a moment of weakness. The film is almost like “Groundhog Day”, as Sandra must give the same speech to all the employees over and over again hoping to get them to change their minds. It is basically a filmed version of the definition of insanity (doing the same things over and over again and hoping for different results). Every scene is acted to perfection; it is almost a shame that because the film is in French less people will see it. In a year when Julianne Moore wasn’t nominated Cotillard would be in a two-person race with Reese Witherspoon, but this year both will have to enjoy being second fiddle.

“Still Alice” was directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, was released on February 15th and produced by BSM Studio. The film has one nomination.

  • Best Actress- Julianne Moore

Julianne Moore has long be heralded as one of the best working actress today, someone that can handle all types of roles. She has unsurprisingly been nominated for four Oscars before this (“Boogie Nights”, “End of the Affair”, “The Hours” and “Far From Heaven”) yet surprisingly has not yet won. In “Still Alice” she plays a famed professor of linguistics who contracts early onset Alzheimer’s and slowly her brain deteriorates right in front of our eyes. We see a very intelligent person who is able to understand most things people don’t ever think about, yet suddenly she is forgetting names and places and can’t figure out why. You can see the clouds coming in over her eyes blocking out memories. For anyone who has dealt with someone losing their memory, for various reasons it can be one of the most painful experiences to watch the person you love become a shell of their former selves. When she still had some working capacity left with her brain she films a video for herself to assist her in committing suicide if things get too far-gone. When the moment comes that she can’t even remember her daughters name she finds the file and tries to go through with the deed, unfortunately simple instructions like looking at the back of her dresser become too complex and she isn’t able to go through with it. The transformation Moore does is not a small one and if you compare the first and last scenes you probably won’t even recognize it as the same person. Moore has put on an outstanding clinic for top-notch acting and is probably the easiest choice to win an Oscar out of all the nominees.