The 10 best films of 2014: No 9 – The Grand Budapest Hotel

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

Wes Anderson’s delightful trifle conceals a depth of feeling – emotional and political – which means it stands out among the director’s back catalogue, and this year’s crop of movies

The Grand Budapest Hotel opened its doors in the depths of winter. A select few had a sneak peek at Berlin in February. Then, the following month - the first Friday after the Oscars in fact - the place was immediately packed out (best screen averages of the year so far).

In part because of this unexpected timing, it felt like even more of a treat; Christmas in spring, a birthday you’d forgotten was looming. Rather than the barrel-scraping pap which generally sets up shop in the schedule once the Oscar movies have cleared out, here, suddenly, was a flawless little miracle. A hermetic sanctuary for those battered by awards season and bracing themselves for the barren months to come.

Now, of course, Wes Anderson’s eighth feature must itself enter the fray, stand up and be counted not just in end of the year lists like this but in the 2015 awards round for which it’s eligible. Yet like last year’s Nebraska, it feels too delicate for such sausage-paws – an eclair in the bearpit, a diamond in the mud.

But it’s this resistance to being lumped in with the others which makes it stand out; its significance – like the lapel badge sported by members of the Society of the Crossed Keys – only discernible by the specially refined.

Structurally alone, it’s a doozy. The script (discreetly filthy, a second watch confirms) a teetering stack of digressions and diversions, each fresh layer exposing a new Faberge egg beneath. It is fine-tuned yet casual, a perfect confection.

Its biggest reveal is its simplest: Ralph Fiennes can be funny. Really funny. As legendary concierge M Gustav (a part originally earmarked for Johnny Depp) he is camp, nimble, precise as a kitten and much more cute. His fondness for Leonard Rossiter finds full expression in some of the sideways glances and quick skips here. Gustav is irresistible; Fiennes the best he’s ever been.

Yet the appeal of the Grand Budapest also lies in it acting as an antidote to Anderson’s other movies: films about the minted and flippant, fairytale boards in which players trade quirks. Grand Budapest’s models may be only a meter or so high, but this is in many ways the most gritty manifesto he’s ever made. These people are battling fascism, as well as four-star customer service. The bereavement suffered by one is real and tearing. We see the hotel itself not just in its glory years, but at a time of brutalism, too. Such bookending means that the meat of the movie can justifiably be regarded as nostalgia, not indulgence.

Anderson’s previous signature dish was brattishness served sentimental. Here he delivers something quite different: a splendid defence of preciousness and etiquette, a rallying cry for the importance of aesthetics even in prison, even in exile. It is stirring stuff, feeling beneath the genteel.

• No 10: The Lego Movie

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