See How They Run Review

You know a genre has made a real comeback when the passably forgettable entries pop up. That’s an apt description for Tom George’s See How They Run which features lovely production design, a few humorous bits, and a murder mystery that’s hard to get invested in. The 2017 remake of Murder on the Orient Express and 2019’s Knives Out made whodunits a valuable commodity again as Run catches up with the trend.

This one is a little meta (very much of the times) as the killing occurs in London’s West End circa 1953. The Mousetrap, a play written by Agatha Christie, is celebrating its 100th performance. Side note: for some fun research, look up how long the actual play ran. American film director Leo Köpernick (Adrien Brody), a drunken louse, is slated to make the film adaptation. His inappropriate behavior puts him at odds with the stage performance’s lead Dickie Attenborough (Harris Dickinson), producers John Woolf (Reece Shearsmith) and Petula Spencer (Ruth Wilson), and screenwriter Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo). Another side note as my 90s kid upbringing only left me slightly distracted that Dickie Attenborough would become a famed director who also happens to be John Hammond from Jurassic Park.

Moving on, Leo’s early narration correctly surmises that the most contemptible character in these stories usually gets offed. Therefore his time is short-lived and everyone onscreen seems to have a motive. Another drunken louse is in charge of the crime solving when Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) is assigned the case. Shadowing him is the eager but inexperienced Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan).

The chemistry between the two investigators is meant to carry the load for most of the snappy runtime (98 minutes). This is where the screenplay from Mark Chappell isn’t quite up to snuff. Rockwell speaks his lines in a woozy register that recalls Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow. Lady Bird‘s Ronan (like the rookie she’s portraying) gives it her all. Unfortunately the material is pretty thin. It might be considered a lesser tome from Christie, who factors into the plot in numerous ways. To put it simply, the case that Stoppard and his trusty Stalker are looking into isn’t that compelling.

See How They Run goes by quickly and there are a handful of inspired bits. When the action reaches a snowed in mansion in the third act, I wished the whole picture could’ve been set there. Much of it is as disposable as the victim.

**1/2 (out of four)

See How They Run Box Office Prediction

**Blogger’s Note (09/14): I am revising down estimate down from $4.8 million to $3.2 million.

Shades of Agatha Christie are said to inspire See How They Run, a whodunit slated to hit approximately 2200 venues on September 16th. Marking the directorial debut of Tom George, the cast includes Saoirse Ronan, Sam Rockwell, Adrien Brody, Ruth Wilson, Harris Dickinson, and David Oyelowo.

The Searchlight production has generated mostly positive reactions thus far (it opens in UK cinemas a week prior to the North American start). The Rotten Tomatoes score is 75%. Run‘s existence is likely due to the success of recent genre fare like Murder on the Orient Express and especially Knives Out. 

Without significant star power and with buzz muted, I do believe this could struggle to find an audience. Murder mystery aficionados may wait to get their fix with the forthcoming Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. An opening in double digits would be surprising. I think the range is more $4-6 million and my estimate  is at the middle of it.

See How They Run opening weekend prediction: $3.2 million

For my The Woman King prediction, click here:

The Woman King Box Office Prediction

For my Pearl prediction, click here:

Pearl Box Office Prediction

Oscar Predictions: Blonde

While she received two Golden Globe nominations in her short-lived career, the Oscars never recognized Marilyn Monroe. Could the Academy honor the performance of Ana de Armas in the biopic Blonde as the icon? Arriving in limited release on September 16th before its September 28th Netlix stream, Andrew Dominik’s pic comes with a rare NC-17 rating and a near three hour runtime. Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale, Xavier Samuel, and Julianne Nicholson costar in the adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’s 2000 novel.

This is Dominik’s first feature since 2012’s Killing Them Softly (his 2007 Western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is considered by many to be a modern day classic). It premiered at Venice and early buzz is that this is a dark and rather sleazy and often enthralling exploration of the price of fame. The Rotten Tomatoes meter is at 84%.

I’m dubious that the Academy will embrace this as a BP contender. The real question is whether de Armas can make the cut. Based on initial reaction, she certainly can but it’s no guarantee… unlike, say, Cate Blanchett (Tar) or Michelle Yeoh (Everything Everywhere All at Once). Her potential inclusion is probably contingent on how competition for slots plays out in the next four months. My Oscar Predictions posts will continue…

Oscar Predictions: See How They Run

With plenty of critics citing inspiration from Agatha Christie, the humorous murder mystery See How They Run arrives in UK theaters Friday and in the US on September 16th. Marking the directorial debut of Tom George, four-time Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan and one-time winner Sam Rockwell lead a cast that includes Adrien Brody, Ruth Wilson, Harris Dickinson, and David Oyelowo.

Run forewent the fall festival circuit which surprised me a bit. Some reviews are appreciative of its charms while others aren’t nearly as impressed. The 76% Rotten Tomatoes indicates that most write-ups don’t have their knives out for it.

Speaking of, we’ll know whether Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is an awards player when it premieres in Toronto this weekend. I don’t believe this genre predecessor will be. Perhaps something like Production Design or Costume Design but that’s likely the extent of it. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

22 for ’22: Oscars Early Look

It’s been an entire week since The Slap… check that, the 94th Academy Awards where CODA parlayed its Sundance buzz from January 2021 all the way to a Best Picture victory.

That also means I’ve managed to wait a whole week without speculation for the next Academy Awards which will hopefully be a slap free zone. So what are some titles that could be vying for attention?

On May 27th and after numerous delays, Top Gun: Maverick will find Tom Cruise returning to his iconic role some 36 years after the original. There’s a decent chance it could be up for similar prizes that its predecessor landed like Sound, Film Editing, and Song (courtesy of Lady Gaga apparently). Visual Effects is a possibility as well.

My weekly Oscar prediction posts won’t begin until mid to late August. In the meantime, you’ll get individualized write-ups for pics that open or screen at festivals.

Yet for today – I feel the need. The need to identify 21 other 2022 titles that might end up on the Academy’s radar. Enjoy!

Armageddon Time

Despite acclaimed movies like The Lost City of Z and Ad Astra, James Gray has yet to connect with awards voters. This drama, rumored to be centered on his Queens upbringing, is the next hopeful and features a stellar cast including Anne Hathaway, Anthony Hopkins, and Jeremy Strong. Release Date: TBD

Avatar 2

The 2009 original amassed nine nominations and won took home three. The first sequel (there’s three more on the way) arrives in December from James Cameron. Will it capture the critical and box office magic of part one? That’s impossible to know at this juncture, but one can safely assume it’ll be up for some tech categories like Sound and Visual Effects. Release Date: December 16th

Babylon

Damien Chazelle is no stranger to the big dance. Whiplash was a BP nominee and J.K. Simmons won Supporting Actor. Chazelle took Director for his follow-up La La Land along with Emma Stone’s Actress victory and it almost famously took BP. First Man nabbed four nominations, but missed the top of the line races. Babylon is a period drama focused on Hollywood’s Golden Age and should be right up the Academy’s alley. The cast includes Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, and Tobey Maguire. Release Date: December 25th

Canterbury Glass

Robbie also turns up in David O. Russell’s latest ensemble piece. Anytime he’s behind the camera, Oscar nods typically follow (think The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle). Slated for November, the dramedy also features Christian Bale, John David Washington, Rami Malek, Zoe Saldana, Robert De Niro, Mike Myers, and… Chris Rock. Release Date: November 4th

Elvis

Arriving in June but with a Cannes unveiling in May, Baz Luhrmann’s musical bio of The King stars Austin Butler in the title role and Tom Hanks as The Colonel. If this doesn’t contend for the major awards, I would still anticipate potential tech recognition (Production Design, Sound, etc…). Release Date: June 24th

Empire of Light

Sam Mendes was likely in the runner-up position in 2019 for Picture and Director (behind Parasite) with 1917. His follow-up is an English set romance starring Olivia Colman (who would be going for her fourth nomination in five years), Michael Ward, and Colin Firth. Release Date: TBD

Everything Everywhere All at Once

From two filmmakers known collectively as Daniels, Once is already out in limited release with spectacular reviews (97% on RT). The sci-fi action comedy might be too bizarre for the Academy, but I wouldn’t count it out as its admirers are vocal. Picture, Director, Actress (Michelle Yeoh), and Original Screenplay are all on the table. Release Date: out in limited release, opens wide April 8th

The Fabelmans

Steven Spielberg directs a semi-autobiographical tale and cowrites with his Lincoln and West Side Story scribe Tony Kushner. The cast includes Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, and Paul Dano. Needless to say, this is a major contender on paper. Release Date: November 23rd

Killers of the Flower Moon

Alongside The Fabelmans, this might be the most obvious nominee from a personnel standpoint. Martin Scorsese helms this western crime drama featuring Jesse Plemons, Lily Gladstone, and his two frequent collaborators Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. Apple TV just became the first streamer to get a BP victory with CODA. This could be the second in a row. Release Date: November

Poor Things

In 2018, The Favourite scored a whopping ten nominations. Based on an acclaimed 1992 novel, Poor Things is Yorgos Lanthimos’s follow-up and it reunites him with Emma Stone along with Willem Dafoe, Ramy Youssef, and Mark Ruffalo. The plot sounds bizarre but it could also be an Oscar bait role for Stone and others. Release Date: TBD

Rustin

One of Netflix’s contenders is George C. Wolfe’s profile of gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin (played by Colman Domingo). In 2020, Wolfe directed Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman to nods for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Look for Domingo to be a competitor and the supporting cast includes Chris Rock (maybe he will be back at the show), Glynn Turman, and Audra McDonald. Release Date: TBD

See How They Run

The 1950s set murder mystery could provide 27-year-old Saoirse Ronan with an opportunity to land her fifth nomination. Sam Rockwell, David Oyelowo, Adrien Brody, and Ruth Wilson are among the supporting players. Tom George directs. Release Date: TBD

She Said

Five years after the scandal rocked Hollywood, She Said from Maria Schrader recounts the New York Times sexual misconduct investigation into Harvey Weinstein. Zoe Kazan, Carey Mulligan, and Patricia Clarkson lead the cast. Release Date: November 18th

The Son

Florian Zeller won Best Adapted Screenplay in 2020 for The Father along with Anthony Hopkins taking Best Actor. This follow-up (based on the director’s play) finds Hopkins reprising his Oscar-winning part in supporting fashion. Other cast members seeking awards attention include Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, and Vanessa Kirby. Release Date: TBD

TAR

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Todd Field behind the camera. Previous efforts In the Bedroom and Little Children received 8 nominations between them. A decade and a half following Children comes this Berlin set drama with Cate Blanchett, Noemie Merlant, and Mark Strong. Release Date: October 7th

Three Thousand Years of Longing

Scheduled for a Cannes bow in May, Longing is a fantasy romance from the legendary mind of George Miller (who last made Mad Max: Fury Road which won six tech Oscars). Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton star. Release Date: TBD

The Whale

Darren Aronofsky directed Mickey Rourke to a comeback narrative nod for 2008’s The Wrestler. Two years later, his follow-up Black Swan earned Natalie Portman a statue. Brendan Fraser is hoping for the same treatment with The Whale as he plays a 600 pound man attempting to reconnect with his daughter. Costars include Sadie Sink, Hong Chau, and Samantha Morton. I’d expect Makeup and Hairstyling could also be in play with this. Release Date: TBD

White Noise

Not a remake of the Michael Keaton supernatural thriller from 2005, this is Noah Baumbach’s follow-up to Marriage Story. Based on a 1985 novel, it’s the filmmaker’s first picture based on other source material. Marriage landed three acting nods (with Laura Dern winning Supporting Actress). The cast here includes frequent Baumbach collaborator Adam Driver, real-life partner Greta Gerwig, Raffey Cassidy, Andre Benjamin, Alessandro Nivola, and Don Cheadle. This could be Netflix’s strongest contender. Release Date: TBD

The Woman King

Expect this West Afrian set historical epic from Gina Prince-Bythewood to be heavily touted by Sony with awards bait roles for leads Viola Davis and Thuso Mbedu. The supporting cast includes John Boyega and Lashana Lynch. Release Date: September 16th

Women Talking

Based on a 2018 novel, Sarah Polley writes and directs this drama focused on eight Mennonite women and their story of abuse. The sterling cast includes Frances McDormand, Jessie Buckley, Ben Whishaw, Claire Foy, and Rooney Mara. Release Date: TBD

And that’s just a small preview of the features that could materialize for the 95th Academy Awards! As always, the speculation on this site will continue throughout the year and into the next. Stay tuned…

The French Dispatch Box Office Prediction

Wes Anderson’s latest comedy The French Dispatch is being delivered to 52 theaters on October 22nd before its wide release the following weekend. The anthology pic arrives a year after its COVID delay. It received a premiere at the Cannes Film Festival over the summer.

Like most of his unique tales, Dispatch features a massive cast (many of whom have appeared in multiple previous works from the director). That list includes Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Timothee Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Mathieu Amalric, Stephen Park, Owen Wilson, Anjelica Huston, Elisabeth Moss, Liev Schrieber, Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, Fisher Stevens, Henry Winkler, Bob Balaban, Rupert Friend, Griffin Dunne, and three actors from No Time to Die (Lea Seydoux, Jeffrey Wright, and Christoph Waltz).

There is no question that Anderson has an ardent fanbase. However, there’s some drawbacks. Reviews are not quite up to the level of other features like Moonrise Kingdom or The Grand Budapest Hotel. The Rotten Tomatoes score is 79% and it is not thought to be an awards contender. That’s unlike his previous live-action film Hotel, which was nominated for nine Oscars and won four. It ended up with $59 million domestically after a long and leggy run in multiplexes. This might be fortunate to nab a couple of tech nods from the Academy.

Dispatch‘s wide release on October 29th comes with caveats in terms of my prediction. I have yet to see a theater count and that could easily alter my projection once known. However, I’m leaning towards this being one of Anderson’s lesser earning titles. This is somewhat of a placeholder estimate, but I’ll say $3-5 million seems likeliest.

The French Dispatch opening weekend prediction: $3.8 million

For my Last Night in Soho prediction, click here:

Last Night in Soho Box Office Prediction

For my Antlers prediction, click here:

Antlers Box Office Prediction

For my My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission prediction, click here:

My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission Box Office Prediction

For my A Mouthful of Air prediction, click here:

A Mouthful of Air Box Office Prediction

Oscar Watch: The French Dispatch

Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch was supposed to premiere at Cannes in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic altered that plan. One year later, the auteur’s latest has screened in the French Riviera and it’s probably the most eagerly awaited debut of the festival. The film boasts an ensemble that is to be expected from the filmmaker and it reads like a who’s who of his frequent collaborators and several other previous awards nominees: Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Timothee Chalamet, Frances McDormand, Lyna Khoudri, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Elisabeth Moss, Liev Schrieber, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Saoirse Ronan, Christoph Waltz, Jason Schwartzman (who shares a story credit with Anderson and others), Bob Balaban, and Anjelica Huston. Yeah, I know.

Early reviews indicate that this anthology (out stateside on October 22) is a loving ode to journalism and that could be right up the alley of Academy voters. Yet some buzz is also indicating this isn’t among his strongest efforts. One thing seems certain: Dispatch is a visual feast that should easily assert itself in several technical categories. That certainly includes Production Design, Costume Design, Alexandre Desplat’s Original Score, Cinematography, and perhaps Makeup and Hairstyling (though that race in particular could be packed this year).

What do all those races have in common? They were all nominations received for Anderson’s 2014 pic The Grand Budapest Hotel, which scored nine mentions (winning for Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Score, and Production Design). Don’t be surprised if this is a major hopeful in those same categories.

As for the massive amount of actors, here’s a fun fact: no performance from an Anderson production has ever been nominated. That seems hard to believe, but his casts often make it tricky to pick a favorite or two to mount a campaign for. Del Toro, Chalamet, Wright, and McDormand have been singled out in some write-ups already. I suspect none will emerge to make the Oscar cut. Chalamet has hope in lead actor for Dune and the same can be said for McDormand with The Tragedy of Macbeth (time will tell).

Now to the biggest derbies. Will The French Dispatch manage Best Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay nods? The latter seems most possible. And while some European chatter indicates the other two could be out of reach, it’s important to remember that it took a little time for Budapest Hotel to become the Academy player that it turned out to be.

Bottom line: the future is cloudy for Dispatch when it comes to the most high-profile competitions. Some Academy love down the line in the tech races already seems highly likely. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Cannes Do Spirit

The Cannes Film Festival, originally scheduled for May in the French Riviera, was canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, an announcement today confirmed that the long running fest will exist in some form. And like everything in 2020… it’s a little confusing. A lineup announcement of 56 pictures was put out as being in the Cannes fold. However, these titles will premiere at various other events scheduled later in the year such as the Toronto and Telluride festivals, among others.

Awards watchers know that Cannes is a fertile breeding ground for Oscar hopefuls. Just last year, Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite won top Cannes prize the Palme d’or and eventually won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Some other titles (among many) that premiered at Cannes and got Oscar attention include Apocalypse Now, The Piano, Pulp Fiction, and The Pianist. 

So what are some significant 2020 Cannes contenders that could vie for Oscar gold? I’ll give you a quintet and we start with Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch. The latest effort from the acclaimed filmmaker is his live-action follow-up to 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel which nabbed a leading nine nominations at that year’s Oscars. The cast is filled with familiar faces and many Anderson regulars including Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Timothee Chalamet, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Willem Dafoe, and Anjelica Huston. It is obviously high on the list for potential players throughout awards season.

Ronan also costars in Ammonite, a period drama from director Francis Lee. Her costar is Kate Winslet and between the two of them they have 11 Academy nominations. Expect plenty of chatter as to their viability in the performance races.

Steve McQueen is premiering not one, but two pictures with the Cannes label – Lovers Rock and Mangrove. The director saw his 2013 pic 12 Years a Slave awarded Best Picture. Both of his new titles focus on race relations in the United Kingdom.

Finally, Pixar is in the mix with Soul. Originally scheduled for summer, it was pushed back to November and is rightfully seen as a top tier contender in the Animated Feature derby. Featuring the voices of Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey, Soul is directed by Pete Docter. He’s responsible for two of the studio’s most acclaimed entries and Oscar winners – 2009’s Up and 2015’s Inside Out.

I would suspect that the 51 other Cannes selections could wind up in the mix as well (especially in the International Feature Film race). Time will tell, but the Cannes label will carry on in 2020 (albeit under unforeseen and unique circumstances).

Best Actor: A Look Back

My look back at the major Oscar categories from 1990 to the present arrives at Best Actor today! If you missed my posts covering Actress and the Supporting races, you can find them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/31/best-actress-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/25/best-supporting-actor-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/20/best-supporting-actress-a-look-back/

As with those previous entries, I am picking the three least surprising winners of the last 28 years, along with the three biggest upsets. Additionally, you’ll see my personal picks for strongest and weakest fields overall.

As a primer, here are the winners from 1990 to now:

1990 – Jeremy Irons, Reversal of Fortune

1991 – Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs

1992 – Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman

1993 – Tom Hanks, Philadelphia

1994 – Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump

1995 – Nicolas Cage, Leaving Las Vegas

1996 – Geoffrey Rush, Shine

1997 – Jack Nicholson, As Good As It Gets

1998 – Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful

1999 – Kevin Spacey, American Beauty

2000 – Russell Crowe, Gladiator

2001 – Denzel Washington, Training Day

2002 – Adrien Brody, The Pianist

2003 – Sean Penn, Mystic River

2004 – Jamie Foxx, Ray

2005 – Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote

2006 – Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

2007 – Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood

2008 – Sean Penn, Milk

2009 – Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

2010 – Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

2011 – Jean Dujardin, The Artist

2012 – Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

2013 – Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

2014 – Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

2015 – Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

2016 – Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

2017 – Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Let’s begin with the three that I’m deeming as the non-surprise winners. Whittling this down to that number was a challenge. The double wins by Hanks and Penn and even last year’s winner Oldman could’ve easily been named here, too. Here goes…

3. Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman

The legendary thespian was 0 for 6 when it came to nominations and wins entering 1992. He picked up his 7th and 8th nods that year with his supporting role in Glengarry Glen Ross and lead role as a blind former colonel in this Martin Brest directed drama. By Oscar night, it was clear he was finally going to make that trip to the podium.

2. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Like Pacino, DiCaprio had been an Academy bridesmaid before… four times. His fifth nod for The Revenant guaranteed he’d finally be a winner against weak competition (more on that below).

1. Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

I could have named the Method actor’s victory in 2007 for There Will Be Blood as well, but his win five years later as the nation’s 16th President edges it out. From the moment the Steven Spielberg project was announced, Day-Lewis was the odds on favorite and it never changed.

Now – my selections for the upsets:

3. Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs

While it might seem an obvious win nearly 30 years later, Nick Nolte’s work in The Prince of Tides had nabbed him the Golden Globe. Additionally, there was some controversy about Sir Anthony’s inclusion in the lead race due to his approximate 16 minutes of screen time. This is truly evidence of a performance so towering that it couldn’t be ignored.

2. Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful

The Italian director/writer/actor was an underdog against competition that included Nick Nolte (once again) for Affliction and Ian McKellen in Gods and Monsters. Mr. Benigni seemed a bit shocked himself when his name was called, as he famously bounded exuberantly to the stage.

1. Adrien Brody, The Pianist

The smart money in 2002 was with Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt or Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York. Brody’s win was pretty shocking, as was the giant smooch he planted on presenter Halle Berry.

When it comes to overall fields, I’m going recent history with both. For strongest, I’ll give it to 2012. That’s the year Day-Lewis won for Lincoln. All other nominees were rock solid as well with Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), and Denzel Washington (Flight).

For weakest, I’m picking 2015. This is the aforementioned year of DiCaprio’s overdue win. The rest of the field, however, was a bit lacking. It consisted of Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Matt Damon (The Martian), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), and Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl).

And there’s your Actor look back, folks! Keep an eye out for Best Picture soon as the final post in this series…

The Grand Budapest Hotel Movie Review

Director Wes Anderson is known for being in acquired taste and I’ve always found myself somewhere towards the middle with him. The strongest proponents of his work find Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom, and others to be brilliant. Frankly, I do not. However, I’ve yet to watch an Anderson picture and not come away with giving it a recommendation – some more highly than others (Tenenbaums is my personal favorite).

There is nothing about The Grand Budapest Hotel that changes that dynamic. Like his aforementioned efforts, some have found this to be a masterpiece and I disagree. Yet again – the aspects that are great are truly remarkable. The majority of the pic takes place in the 1930s when The Grand Budapest Hotel is a thriving business located in the made-up European Republic of Zubrowka. The head concierge is Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), with a penchant for romancing the wealthy older (much older) female clientele of the establishment. One current conquest is Madame D (Tilda Swinton with one heckuva old lady makeup job). It is Madame D’s murder that leads to her concierge lover being framed and he must clear his name with the assistance of his best Lobby Boy Zero Mustafa (Tony Revolori). This is all set against the backdrop of the outbreak of World War II and Anderson’s screenplay manages to occasionally integrate the tragic elements of the war with the madcap events happening before us. The story is told in flashback with 1980s Mustafa (F. Murray Abraham) recounting the pic’s events to a writer played by Jude Law. And even the Abraham/Law dynamic is a flashback itself with a modern-day Tom Wilkinson as an older version of Law.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is loaded with actors in supporting roles that Anderson has used many times. They include Adrien Brody as the Madame’s conniving son, Edward Norton as a police inspector, Harvey Keitel as an inmate helping Gustave, Jeff Goldblum as a lawyer tasked with the Madame’s complex will, and smaller roles from Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman. There’s also Saoirse Ronan as Mustafa’s love interest. The cameos by Murray and Wilson felt a bit perfunctory to me, as if Anderson simply felt the need to include his usual standbys, but the director’s biggest admirers will probably appreciate their inclusion.

For all the considerable star power inhabiting Hotel, it’s the Gustave/Mustafa relationship that fills most of the brisk 99 minute running time. And it’s the until now unknown impressive comedic chops of Fiennes that is by far the highlight. Known for being a serious actor, the actor seems to relish playing this zany character and spouting Anderson’s dialogue. I suspect he may become yet another staple of the director’s troupe (I hope so).

The production design and cinematography are fantastic. This is an absolutely gorgeous picture to look at and Anderson evens shoots Hotel in three different aspect ratios in relation to each time setting.

As already stated, the most rabid aficionados of Anderson’s work will adore this. Somewhat surprisingly – Budapest managed to breakthrough to the mainstream more than any other of his pictures with a wonderful $162 million worldwide gross. I say surprisingly because I put this on the same level with most of his other efforts. This is a consistently amusing comedy with spots of true hilarity. The moments where Anderson injects emotion into all the craziness feels a little forced, more so than it did in Tenenbaums or Moonrise Kingdom. And any comedy that puts Bill Murray in a scene and doesn’t let him do something funny earns a demerit.

Bottom line: if you’re in the Anderson makes pretentious fluff camp, you’ll still be. If you’re in the Anderson is a God camp, you’ll worship again. Or if you’re like me… you’ll appreciate its finest moments without coming close to uttering the word masterpiece.

*** (out of four)