The Grand Budapest Hotel
Director: Wes Anderson.
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jude Law.
NO director of the past few decades is as distinctive and idiosyncratic as Wes Anderson.
His cinematic style and visual language is so unique as to be instantly identifiable from just a few frames, and all those quirks are on display within the opening minutes of The Grand Budapest Hotel - the wonderfully weird offering which could be Anderson's best to date.
Like his previous gems The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic, Fantastic Mr Fox, and Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel sees all his skills and tricks coalescing around intriguing locations and bizarrely loveable characters.
The central player is Monsieur Gustave (Fiennes), a concierge during the 1930s at the titular hotel, which sits amid the mountains of the fictional European country of Zubrowka.
Due to a predilection for some of the older female guests of the hotel, Gustave finds himself having to clear his name after being accused of murdering the wealthy Madame Desgoffe und Taxis (an unrecognisable cameo from Tilda Swinton).
Helping him along the way in his quest for freedom is lobby boy Zero (Revolori), who is also relating Gustave's story three decades later as an old man (Murray Abraham) to an unnamed author (Law).
There's also an extra layer to this story-in-a-story-in-a-story conceit, which is ultimately unnecessary but sets the tone of the film and its sense of humour quickly.
That style and comedic sense is very Anderson-esque - fans of his previous work will love every colourful moment of this caper. His usual cinematic tics are in full bloom too, such as strange panning shots, a near constant use of symmetry, unnatural acting styles, general absurdities, a distinctive colour palette, and the use of inter-titles and animated dabblings. No other director would get away with such things all at once, yet they are the natural language of a Wes Anderson film, and once again these quirks combine as a thing of beauty (if you are willing to accept the weirdness and artificiality of it all).
The Anderson regulars return too - Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Bob Balaban get cameos among a mammoth cast that also includes bit parts from
Léa Seydoux, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, and Tom Wilkinson.
The star though is Fiennes, whose remarkable performance makes Gustave one of the most intriguing characters to drive a film in recent years. A mixture of grace and snootiness, bluntness and front, fakery and honesty, he makes for a fascinating hero and a departure from anything we've seen Fiennes do in the past.
An argument could be made that this is Anderson's best film. Some of his past works have been derided for being plotless (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums) and wandering (The Life Aquatic), but The Grand Budapest Hotel is neither of those things
It's story is gripping and moves at a breakneck speed - so much so that a bizarre chase sequence actually slows the film down and would feel like padding if it wasn't so absurdly funny. The whole film whirs by at a blistering, breathless pace.
Best of all, the movie is hilarious and easily the funniest Wes Anderson effort to date. Fiennes gets regular laughs, Wilkinson's opening address features one of the biggest guffaws, and the film includes probably the most absurd prison break in cinematic history.
Is this Anderson's best? Time will tell, but if nothing else it continues a remarkable run of modern classics.