You don't arrive at the Grand Budapest Hotel without your share of Wes Anderson baggage. Odds are, if you've booked a visit to this film, you've enjoyed your past trips to the Wes Indies (I promise I'll stop this extended metaphor soon), delighting especially in Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and his most recent charmer Moonrise Kingdom. On the other hand, you could be the adventurous sort — a curious diplomat who never really got Anderson's uric-toned deadpan drudgings but can't resist browsing through the brochures of his latest European getaway. First off, neither community should worry about a bias in this review — I'm a Life Aquatic devotee, equally alienating to both sides. Second, neither community should be deterred by Andersonian expectations, be they sky high or subterranean, in planned Budapest excursions. No matter who you are, this movie will charm your dandy pants off and then some.
While GBH hangs tight to the filmmaker's recognizable style, the movie is a departure for Anderson in a number of ways. The first being plot: there is one. A doozy, too. We're accustomed to spending our Wes flicks peering into the stagnant souls of pensive man-children — or children-men (Moonrise) or fox-kits (guess) — whose journeys are confined primarily to the internal. But not long into Grand Budapest, we're on a bona fide adventure with one of the director's most attractive heroes to date: the didactic Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes mastering sympathetic comedy better than anyone could have imagined he might), who invests his heart and soul into the titular hotel, an oasis of nobility in a decaying 1930s Europe. Gustave is plucked from his sadomasochistic nirvana overseeing every cog and sprocket in the mountaintop institution and thrust into a madcap caper — reminiscent of, and not accidentally, the Hollywood comedies of the era — involving murder, framing, art theft, jailbreak, love, sex, envy, secret societies, high speed chases... believe me, I haven't given half of it away. Along the way, we rope in a courageous baker (Saoirse Ronan), a dutiful attorney (Jeff Goldblum), a hotheaded socialite (Adrien Brody) and his psychopathic henchman (Willem Dafoe), and no shortage of Anderson regulars. The director proves just as adept at the large scale as he is at the small, delivering would-be cartoon high jinks with the same tangible life that you'd find in a Billy Wilder romp or one of the better Hope/Crosby Road to movies.
Anchoring the monkey business down to a recognizable planet Earth (without sacrificing an ounce of comedy) is the throughline of Gustave's budding friendship with his lobby boy, Zero (newcomer Tony Revolori, whose performance is an unprecedented and thrilling mixture of Wes Anderson stoicism and tempered humility), the only living being who appreciates the significance of the Grand Budapest as much as Gustave does. In joining these two oddballs on their quest beyond the parameters of FDA-approved doses of zany, we appreciate it, too: the significance of holding fast to something you believe in, understand, trust, and love in a world that makes less and less sense everyday. Anderson's World War II might not be as ostensibly hard-hitting as that to which modern cinema is accustomed, but there's a chilling, somber horror story lurking beneath the surface of Grand Budapest. Behind every side-splitting laugh, cookie cutter backdrop, and otherworldly antic, there is a pulsating dread that makes it all mean something. As vivid as the worlds of Rushmore, Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Moonrise might well have been, none have had this much weight and soul.
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So it's astonishing that we're able to zip to and fro' every crevice of this haunting, misty Central Europe at top speeds, grins never waning as our hero Gustave delivers supernaturally articulate diatribes capped with physically startling profanity. So much of it is that delightfully odd, agonizingly devoted character, his unlikely camaraderie with the unflappably earnest young Zero, and his adherence to the magic that inhabits the Grand Budapest Hotel. There are few places like it on Earth, as we learn. There aren't many movies like it here either.
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The Oscar nominations came out on Thursday morning, and as of now, it's anybody's race. Some say 12 Years a Slave has it in the bag, while others think American Hustle will snatch the Best Picture trophy. There's no one way to know for sure — does the Academy weigh emotional impact? Flashy performances? The film's lasting message?
How about titles? Yes, you can tell a lot about a film by its title, and about its Oscar chances, too. We've compiled some handy data about each Best Picture nominee's title and what it says about the film's chances come time to hand out the awards. (You can also head over to BBC America to check out this fantastic infographic that predicts the Best Picture winner!)
Movies with the word "America" in their titles......to win a Best Picture Oscar: 2 (An American in Paris; American Beauty) ...to get nominated for BP, but not win: 2 (America, America; American Graffiti)
Movies whose titles refers to a crime or act of duplicity......to win a Best Picture Oscar: 2 (Mutiny on the Bounty; The Sting)...to get nominated for BP, but not win: 11 (The Racket; She Done Him Wrong; Imitation of Life; Libeled Lady; Grand Illusion; The Caine Mutiny; The Hustler; Mutiny on the Bounty; The Killing Fields; The Fugitive; Traffic)
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Movies with a main character's surname in their titles......to win a Best Picture Oscar: 10 (The Great Ziegfeld; Ben-Hur; Tom Jones; Patton; Annie Hall; Kramer vs. Kramer; Gandhi; Schindler’s List; Forrest Gump; Shakespeare in Love)...to get nominated for BP, but not win: 45 (Disraeli; Trader Horn; Arrowsmith; The House of Rothschild; Alice Adams; Captain Blood; David Copperfield; Ruggles of Red Gap; Anthony Adverse; Dodsworth; Mr. Deeds Goes to Town; The Story of Louis Pasteur; The Life of Emile Zola; The Adventures of Robin Hood; Goodbye, Mr. Chips; Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; Kitty Foyle; Citizen Kane; Here Comes Mr. Jordan; Sergeant York; Mrs. Miniver; The Magnificent Ambersons; Madame Curie; Wilson; Mildred Pierce; Johnny Belinda; Julius Caesar; Mister Roberts; The Diary of Anne Frank; Elmer Gantry; Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb; Mary Poppins; Doctor Zhivago; Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; Doctor Dolittle; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; Barry Lyndon; Prizzi’s Honor; Jerry Maguire; Good Will Hunting; Saving Private Ryan; Erin Brokovich; Capote; Michael Clayton; Lincoln)
Movies whose titles include a military rank......to win a Best Picture Oscar: o...to get nominated for BP, but not win: 6 (The Smiling Lieutenant; Captain Blood; Captains Courageous; Sergeant York; Saving Private Ryan; Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World)
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
Focus Features via Everett Collection
Movies with a city name in their titles......to win a Best Picture Oscar: 4 (Cimarron; Casablanca; An American in Paris; Chicago)...to get nominated for BP, but not win: 18 (Hollywood Revue; Shanghai Express; San Francisco; In Old Chicago; The Philadelphia Story; Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; Casablanca; Roman Holiday; Peyton Place; Judgment and Nuremberg; Chinatown; Nashville; Fargo; L.A. Confidential; Gangs of New York; Munich; Letters from Iwo Jima; Midnight in Paris)
Movies whose titles seem like they should probably have a possessive apostrophe, but don't......to win a Best Picture Oscar: 0...to get nominated for BP, but not win: 4 (Boys Town; Kings Row; Dead Poets Society; Howards End)
Warner Bros via Everett Collection
Movies whose titles are a single intangible noun......to win a Best Picture Oscar: 1 (Crash)...to get nominated for BP, but not win: 8 (Alibi; Suspicion; Crossfire; Deliverance; Traffic; Atonement; Inception; Moneyball)
Movies whose titles end in "ity"......to win a Best Picture Oscar: 1 (From Here to Eternity)...to get nominated for BP, but not win: 3 (Double Indemnity; Atlantic City; Sense and Sensibility)
Warner Bros via Everett Collection
Movies whose titles are made up three letters or fewer......to win a Best Picture Oscar: 0...to get nominated for BP, but not win: 4 (Z; JFK; Ray; Up)
Movies that have the word "her" in their titles......to win a Best Picture Oscar: 1 (Ben-Hur)...to get nominated for BP, but not win: 1 (Hannah and Her Sisters)
Paramount via Everett Collection
Movies with U.S. state names in their titles......to win a Best Picture Oscar: 0...to get nominated for BP, but not win: 2 (In Old Arizona; Mississippi Burning) *Note: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Gangs of New York both refer to cities, not states, and the "Virginia" in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf is a human woman.
We loved Nebraska, but this is really the only one we could think of for it. Sorry, Alexander Payne. Sorry, everybody.
Weinstein Company via Everett Collection
Movies whose titles are just a main character's first name......to win a Best Picture Oscar: 5 (Rebecca; Hamlet; Marty; Gigi; Oliver!)...to get nominated for BP, but not win: 20 (Skippy; Cleopatra; Ivanhoe; Shane; Fanny; Cleopatra; Alfie; Lenny; Rocky; Julia; Norma Rae; Tess; Bugsy; Babe; Elizabeth; Seabiscuit; Ray; Juno; Precious; Hugo)
Movies whose titles were mispronounced by Leonardo DiCaprio on live television......to win a Best Picture Oscar: 0...to get nominated for BP, but not win: 0 (There can be only one Philomania.)
12 YEARS A SLAVE
Movies with numbers in their titles......to win a Best Picture Oscar: 6 (It Happened One Night; Around the World in 80 Days; The Godfather Part II; One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; Million Dollar Baby; Slumdog Millionaire)...to get nominated for BP, but not win: 36 (Seventh Heaven; Five Star Final; One Hour with You; 42nd Street; The Private Life of Henry VIII; One Night of Love; Broadway Melody of 1936; A Tale of Two Cities; Three Smart Girls; One Hundred Men and a Girl; Four Daughters; One Foot in Heaven; 49th Parallel; Henry V; Miracle on 34th Street; A Letter to Three Wives; Twelve O’Clock High; Seven Brides for Seven Brothers; Three Coins in the Fountain; The Ten Commandments; 12 Angry Men; The Defiant Ones; A Thousand Clowns; Anne of the Thousand Days; Five Easy Pieces; Born on the Fourth of July; The Godfather Part III; Four Weddings and a Funeral; Apollo 13; The Sixth Sense; The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers; District 9; 127 Hours; Toy Story 3; Zero Dark Thirty)
Movies that refer to a unit of time in their titles......to win a Best Picture Oscar: 2 (The Best Years of Our Lives; Around the World in 80 Days) ...to get nominated for BP, but not win: 9 (One Hour with You; Lady for a Day; The Yearling; The Longest Day; Anne of the Thousand Days; Dog Day Afternoon; Remains of the Day; The Hours; 127 Hours)
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
Paramount via Everett Collection
Movies whose titles include mention of an animal......to win a Best Picture Oscar: 3 (The Deer Hunter; Dances with Wolves; The Silence of the Lambs)...to get nominated for BP, but not win: 17 (Of Mice and Men; The Little Foxes; The Maltese Falcon; The Ox-Bow Incident; The Snake Pit; Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; To Kill a Mockingbird; The Lion in Winter; One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; Dog Day Afternoon; The Elephant Man; Raging Bull; Kiss of the Spider Woman; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Black Swan; War Horse)
Movies whose titles include the name of a street......to win a Best Picture Oscar: 1 (The Broadway Melody) ...to get nominated for BP, but not win: 5 (42nd Street; The Barretts of Wimpole Street; Broadway Melody of 1936; Miracle on 34th Street; Sunset Boulevard)
Cast your bets, folks. Captain Phillips looks like it has this one locked down.
*Special thanks to Hollywood.com writers Julia Emmanuele and Jordan Smith for helping to compile data and entertaining the madness of this post, and to our CTO Greg Zimerman for recovering hours of work after my Word Doc crashed. You're a hero, Greg.
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There is something particularly unnerving about demon possession. It's the idea of something you can't see or control creeping into your body and taking up residence eventually obliterating all you once were and turning you into nothing more than a sack of meat to be manipulated. Then there's also the shrouded ritual around exorcisms: the Latin chants the flesh-sizzling crucifixes and the burning Holy Water. As it turns out exorcism isn't just the domain of Catholics.
The myths and legends of the Jews aren't nearly as well known but their creepy dybbuk goes toe-to-toe with anything other world religions come up with. There are various interpretations of what a dybbuk is or where it comes from — is it a ghost a demon a soul of a sinner? — but in any case it's looking for a body to hang out in for a while. Especially according to the solemn Hasidic Jews in The Possession an innocent young person and even better a young girl.
The central idea in The Possession is that a fancy-looking wooden box bought at a garage sale was specifically created to house a dybbuk that was tormenting its previous owner. Unfortunately it caught the eye of young Emily (Natasha Calis) a sensitive artistic girl who persuades her freshly divorced dad Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan of Watchmen and Grey's Anatomy) to buy it for her. Never mind the odd carvings on it — that would be Hebrew — or how it's created without seams so it would be difficult to open or why it's an object of fascination for a young girl; Clyde is trying really hard to please his disaffected daughters and do the typical freshly divorced parent dance of trying to please them no matter the cost.
Soon enough the creepy voices calling to Emily from the box convince her to open it up; inside are even creepier personal objects that are just harbingers of what's to come for her her older sister Hannah (Madison Davenport) her mom Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) and even Stephanie's annoying new boyfriend Brett (Grant Show). Clyde and Stephanie squabble over things like pizza for dinner and try to convince each other and themselves that Emily's increasingly odd behavior is that of a troubled adolescent. It's not of course and eventually Clyde enlists the help of the son of a Hasidic rabbi a young man named Tzadok played by the former Hasidic reggae musician Matisyahu to help them perform an exorcism on Emily.
The Possession is not going to join the ranks of The Exorcist in the horror pantheon but it does do a remarkable job of making its characters intelligent and even occasionally droll and it offers up plenty of chills despite a PG-13 rating. Perhaps it's because of that rating that The Possession is so effective; the filmmakers are forced to make the benign scary. Giant moths and flying Torahs take the place of little Reagan violently masturbating with a crucifix in The Exorcist. Gagging and binging on food is also an indicator of Emily's possession — an interesting twist given the anxieties of becoming a woman a girl Emily's age would face. There is something inside her controlling her and she knows it and she is fighting it. The most impressive part of Calis's performance is how she communicates Emily's torment with a few simple tears rolling down her face as the dybbuk's control grows. The camerawork adds to the anxiety; one particularly scary scene uses ordinary glass kitchenware to great effect.
The Possession is a short 92 minutes and it does dawdle in places. It seems as though some of the scenes were juggled around to make the PG-13 cut; the moth infestation scene would have made more sense later in the movie. Some of the problems are solved too quickly or simply and yet it also takes a while for Clyde's character to get with it. Stephanie is a fairly bland character; she makes jewelry and yells at Clyde for not being present in their marriage a lot and then there's a thing with a restraining order that's pretty silly. Emily is occasionally dressed up like your typical horror movie spooky girl with shadowed eyes an over-powdered face and dark clothes; it's much more disturbing when she just looks like an ordinary though ill young girl. The scenes in the heavily Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn look oddly fake and while it's hard to think of who else could have played Tzadok an observant Hasidic Jew who is also an outsider willing to take risks the others will not Matisyahu is not a very good actor. Still the filmmakers should be commended for authenticity insofar as Matisyahu has studied and lived as a Hasidic Jew.
It would be cool if Lionsgate and Ghost House Pictures were to release the R-rated version of the movie on DVD. What the filmmakers have done within the confines of a PG-13 rating is creepy enough to make me curious to see the more adult version. The Possession is no horror superstar and its name is all too forgettable in a summer full of long-gestating horror movies quickly pushed out the door. It's entertaining enough and could even find a broader audience on DVD. Jeffrey Dean Morgan can read the Old Testament to me any time.