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Why Wes, Why Now?

Michael C here. Wes Anderson’s films haven’t been ignored by awards season in the past, so much as they have been relegated to flitting around the edges. His films have received four total Oscar nods, two for Original Screenplay for Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom and one animated film and one score nod for Mr. Fox. His most high profile wins have been a Gotham Award for Best Film for Moonrise and two Indie Spirit wins for Rushmore for Best Director and for Best Supporting Actor for Bill Murray who is in nearly all of his films.

Wes & Tilda on the set

Now that has all changed with Grand Budapest Hotel. No longer the strange side dish, Anderson’s nostalgic remembrance of a Europe that never quite existed has just finished a rampage through the precursors that culminated with Anderson’s first DGA nomination. Over the past few weeks buzz for Budapest grew steadily from “It might pick up a few nods” to “It looks like a lock for a Best Picture slot” to “Hey, it just might snatch the screenplay Oscar away from Birdman”. And today, incredibly, it LEADS the Oscar nominations with nine (tied with Birdman)

For those of us who have been on board with Anderson since the 90’s and have grown used to Anderson being underappreciated it’s hard not to wonder what exactly has changed. Why did Wes break through now when his films have been as good or better in the past? 

Five theories after the jump...


Explanation #1 - Grand Budapest is just too beautiful too ignore. 
Sure, all of Wes’s films have been visually splendid, but even if Grand Budapest isn’t your favorite title from Wes's filmography you have to admit there was something extra dazzling about this confection. Inattentive voters might have missed the mastery of Tenenbaums or been confused by the wild imaginings of Life Aquatic, but there was no missing the glories on the screen this time. 

Explanation #2  - Career Culmination
Wes Anderson has been a beloved figure among film lovers since the before the turn of the century but recent years have seen the director tip over into the realm of cultural touchstone. There was the SNL video, the coffee table book, plus the fact that GBH followed right on the heels his biggest success since Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom, the snubbing of which lent Anderson a vibe of being past due for acknowledgment. Now that he has amassed a significant body of work, voters who previously found him too outré can embrace him confident that Grand Budapest’s greatness is not a one-off fluke.

Explanation #3  - The Fiennes Bump
This theory doesn’t really hold water since even with Grand Budapest dominating pre-cursors, Fiennes had a tough time breaking into the packed Best Actor field though at least BAFTA nominated him. But still, to have a widely respected acting powerhouse delivering a career high point at the center of the film can’t help but lend an air of credibility. Speaking of which...

Explanation #4 – Gravitas
Zubrowka may be a fictional country but the resonance Anderson finds in its collapse is very real. One could always find a current of melancholy in Anderson’s films if one was willing to look past the eccentric surface, but with Grand Budapest the heavy themes are much easier to spot. Plus, anything related to World War II, even in fictionalized context, equals instant dramatic heft.

Explanation #5 – It’s all about the $$$
Grand Budapest Hotel is Wes’s biggest box office hit to date (unless you adjust for Inflation, in which case Tenenbaums still holds on to the title domestically) Worldwide it has earned $174 million, which is more than his last three films combined. Wes has become a bankable brand name, and it is time to reward him accordingly.

Have any other theories? Think any of these are off the mark? Surely it is some mix of factors but in what percentage? Or are we overthinking it and everyone just loved the brilliant ski chase.

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Reader Comments (34)

Not to fixate on the negative, but I'm similarly confused on this one - been a longtime Anderson fan but this ranks as my second least favorite of his. Impressively realized, but probably his movie that is the least interested in its characters and feels like an entire second act went missing (and Saorise Ronan along with it). Beautiful, but in human terms, pretty cold.

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

I would move 4 to number 2. It ends up being a picture set in / about war.

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph W

I would move 4 to number 2. It ends up being a picture set in / about war.

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph W

I said it before and I'll said it again:
Cartoon-like Nazis in the movie ass-kicked? Check. World War II references abound? Check Nostalgia for the good ol days? (when, for instance, the voters where kids? - no kidding!) Check. And it's a period piece! Holly Molly!!! No matter the quirckiness. It worked for bloody Tarantino (no pun intended) oe Polanski for the Pianist. How come wouldn't for Wes? Wait until he makes another INCREDIBLE movie about dysfunctional geniuses in a family and get ZERO nominations (well, maybe one for the scrennplay and that's it) It's not that the Academy came to him. It was HIM to came to the broad tastes of the oldest members of the Academy. Get an expensive movie be seen about these THEMES and...voilá! Unless you get whipped like Angelina with critics...otherwise...Morten Tyldym abracadabra!

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterchofer

Joseph -

I wasn't ranking these theories in any order. Just spitballing. If I did rank them I would agree the war theme would be higher, if not top of the list.

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

Chofer - I think your theory makes a lot of sense, but I'm surprised more people weren't put off by how gingerly the film even handles the war. It's not that multiple types of struggles can't coexist or personal stakes don't matter, but the film tries to leverage the weightiness of history while obscuring actual causes, consequences, and atrocities. It was even someone's job to design a symbol that was similar to a swastika but not quite, and to match an aesthetic. It's singularly odd, and discomforting in ways I'm not sure were wholly intended. Months later I'm still trying to sort through how I feel about that kind of elision.

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

Nice Last Days of Disco/Barcelona reference Dave S.

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterScottC

A sort of addendum to #1: He's just gotten better as a filmmaker. He's in complete control of this film in every scene. It delivers laughs, suspense, real feeling, technical mastery (those differing ratios) and beautifully directed, varied performances. He's pushing himself past his own familiar habit -- or maybe more deeply into them, finding something new. And he's channeling Hollywood history (Lubitch, Grand Hotel, etc.).

Can we get a shout-out for Tony Revolori?

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

Dave, I totally agree. I think his mastery of pupets in Mr. Fox got to him so much that these antics translated to his latest films. It is to me kind of annoying to see a live action film from him that works better as a stop motion picture. Go figure!

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterchofer

I would count myself a fan of Wes Anderson, but not a rabid one. For me The Grand Budapest Hotel stood out because of a certain verve that came across in both the film-making and the actual performances.

I liked the speed with which it moved - very fast, much more screwball comedy paced, than his previous films. It was faster, funnier, and it had Ralph Fiennes.

No disrespect to other actors in previous Wes Anderson films, but Fiennes was brilliant and I believe he is a big reason why this film couldn't be denied.
Elegant charm (Cary Grant, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, George Clooney) is a quality that is sometimes difficult to define but wonderful to behold. Fiennes may not have broken into the Oscar best actor category but comic performances rarely do.
If you ask yourself which film gave you the most pleasure this year - Grand Budapest Hotel comes to mind. The best film of the year doesn't necessarily have to be some serious slog, it can be zany fun. And GBH is Wes Anderson's best film to date. (IMHO)
I think Boyhood will probably win best picture but GBH is my personal best film of the year.

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

Dave S. -

I think his choices were the wise ones, to be respectful of the real history to say it is too serious to examine in this playful context. Can you imagine the appalled response if had used actual Nazis? The distance of fictionalization allowed Wes the breathing room to take on dark subjects in a farcical film.

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

I think timing had so much to do with it. Early release, it was out on DVD before the real campaign season began and on HBO right at the end. Everyone had an easy time of seeing it (repeatedly if they wanted). Word of mouth could get around without pressure and it made a nice counter to all the heavy bio-pics and dramas. Plus, it has great craft. Every viewing turns up new bits of business that add to the story.

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

This is one of Wes Anderson's best films to date, and it's perfectly deserving of all the Academy recognition on its own merits, thank you very much.

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKylie

I think that his style has become established and the voters have finally learned to embrace it. The fact that it was financially successful also played a good part. It's nice to see Wes Anderson receive the recognition without having to temper his artistic vision. He kept making his films the way he wanted and it was the Academy who caught up. He didn't have to make a biopic or any other kind of Oscar-baity material. I'm thrilled for him, and it stands out in the roster of best picture nominees as an anomaly of sorts. If only Ralph Fiennes got a nomination too I would be over the moon.

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

I find this to be the least Wes Anderson-y film he's made, and I think that's what's helping him. The plot meanders a lot less than usual, the cutesy quirks are there but work more smoothly with the more normal elements, and Fiennes is doing his own thing as well as playing a Wes Anderson role.

Not a huge WA fan, and the fact I really like this one makes me think I'm on to something. Also, how disappointing that Fiennes didn't get a nom!

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMarsha Mason

Yes! to what LadyEdith said. I would add "and Revolori".'s Wes Anderson bingo still makes me laugh. Would love to see new cards with GBH stuff added.

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPam

Michael, pardon me for correcting you, Fantastic Mr. Fox also got a Best Original Score nomination, so that's four nominations for his previous work.

As for your theories, I think most auteurs need some time to catch on with the Academy's (not too mention the general audience) tastes. IT took Wes Anderson longer than most (mostly because his style takes some getting used to) but it finally happened. I wish Moonrise Kingdom had been the film to do it (it's my favorite Wes Anderson film), but it paved the way for this one, which is also terrific (it didn't hit me as hard as Moonrise, but I enjoyed it immensely, particularly Ralph Fiennes' pitch-perfect performance.

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRichter Scale

I can think of so many instances over the years that he and his actors have deserved recognition. The Royal Tenenbaums not being a bigger deal with The Academy and elsewhere is still shocking.

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBia

My favorite part of this movie (visually) was the series of other hotel concierge that were shown. It was like the Twilight Bark sequence of 101 Dalmatians. Such whimsy and precision with color and design: I would've watched a movie about EACH of the other hotels.

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterHayden W.

Richter - You are of course right about Mr. Fox. I was originally listing nods he personally received and forget to correct it when I expanded my view. It is corrected. Thanks

January 15, 2015 | Registered CommenterMichael C.

I'll take #2 and #5. After the Moonrise Kingdom BP snub, he started being seen as overdue and this succesful film was the way to reward him.
Do you guys think GBH is his "Fighter"? The one movie that makes him break through with Oscar and everything he'll make from now on will be considered?

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLucky

Wes Anderson didn't set out to make a Second World War movie in the usual sense, which is why the references are indirect and oblique. Also, I agree with Michael C that it's more respectful to the real history.

The film to me seems to be about the decline and death of the old European order, with all it's style and decadence, but which hid a lot of dark undercurrents.

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRobMiles

Excellent piece. Agree it's a mix of all those factors. One other factor to consider, and it's kind of a sub-reason to #5: GBH was not just a hit in the US - it was a HUGE hit overseas, dwarfing the performance of all his previous films. I wonder if that didn't help, along with the mostly British cast, endear him to the Academy's overseas contingent in a big way? Just look at how the film dominated in the BAFTA nominations...

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

Maybe the Academy considered it a British movie (Ralph Fiennes and so on) and it benefited from that perception.

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPedro

My theory as thus: The Royal Tennenbaums brought Anderson out of the underground sense of auteur into the mainstream, but Oscar wasn't quite ready yet to fully embrace him. Then, we had a series of films (Life Aquatic, Darjeeling, Moonrise Kingdom) where the quirk far outweighed the trait Oscar normally looks for in a film it wants to award heavily: straightforward plot-driven narrative. Grand Budapest fulfills this balance of quirk vs. accessibility much better than the others, and thus Wes Anderson finally arrives in the Oscar pantheon, just delayed by a decade. It doesn't hurt that Fiennes is fantastic in it, and it may remind some Academy members of a lovely little foreign film, expect OK to nominate a lot because it's in English.

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBruno

I think #2 has a lot to do with it. Auteurs who have an impact beyond cinephiles have to break through with the public and the Academy (think Allen, Scorsese and the Coens), but it generally takes awhile. Both Linklater and Anderson have done that this year, Linklater's situation is a bit different because the huge critical response to Boyhood propelled that movie into the public consciousness, whereas Grand Budapest just had a life of its own, but both filmmakers were helped by their recent works - Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom in Wes's case and Bernie (aided by McConaughhey's big couple of years) and Before Midnight in Linklater's. I don't know if the success would be quite so big for either of them without those previous efforts.

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Sorry if this has already been said in the comments, but I think it is a 6th reason: ACTORS! The poster features 17 actors. I've read that actors, the largest branch, often vote for the picture they would want to be in. Perhaps, many actors are jonesing to become part of the Anderson repertoire and want to recognize a director that has given many actors work. Plus, if you are friends with any of those 17 actors, wouldn't you feel an obligation to give it a mention on your ballot?

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered Commentershawshank

Explanation #8 - The Academy is very old and many are rich - and they all want to imagine Ralph Fiennes giving them all sorts of.... um.... special favors

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterErich Kuersten

otherwise known as the "oooh, what about these coen brothers" effect

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterpar

I think what happens to Fiennes at the end of the film really touches people. I haven't seen the film since it opened but I still think about it. I plan to watch it on HBO. Anderson must write another part for Fiennes.

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGabriel Oak

As someone who's been more annoyed than charmed by Wes Anderson I suspect that The Grand Budapest Hotel is receiving recognition because it's his most mature film to date. It's also the first one in which he seems to be aware of, and wrestles with, much of the casual and "romantic" racism that pervades his earlier films. I could be wrong though--it's not like Oscar voters to pick up on these things unless delivered in brush-strokes six feet wide.

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBeta

Michael, thank you for this illuminating piece. I have often been confounded by Anderson's work, even while enjoying it. I think the most influential factor in GBH's popularity is what someone else posted--it's a straightforward story you can follow that also has an emotional payoff. That's what's missing from his other movies. This time he's not just getting by on mood and atmosphere. And I think your Fiennes Theory is a fine theory. Great article!

January 15, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

GBH is such a gorgeous cinematic treat destined for propensity!

It will probably sweep all the tech awards come Oscar Day and Linklater is def gonna win best director, but fingerz crossed that GBH will nab best pic from Boyhood! :)

January 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

One more theory - the Academy has one their losing their minds moments


January 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterjoeS

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