I know everyone is busy discussing the Selma Oscar snubs and Jennifer Aniston’s supposed one. The former film I haven’t seen yet, and Cake I won’t. Only when I scrolled through long lists of snubs would I find Ralph Fiennes, as if the omission of his name were insignificant, perhaps expected. Sigh. Of course it was. He’s in a comedy.
Ralph Fiennes is best known for his dramas; he was nominated for The English Patient and Schindler’s List. Harry Potter fans know him as Lord Voldemort. He can alternate between a terrifying serial killer (The Red Dragon, Schindler’s List, In Bruges), and a fragile intellectual (Quiz Show). That’s just the beginning of his impressive range. And in The Grand Budapest Hotel, he proves that he can be hilarious.
Well-respected comedic actors are honored by the Academy when they turn to drama: Bill Murray, Bette Midler, Cary Grant. But with few exceptions (Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive, for example), the process doesn’t go the other way. Where are Christopher Walken’s nominations for becoming one of the funniest men in film? How is it possible Gene Hackman didn’t get a nod for The Royal Tenenbaums? And if the Academy is considering nominating actresses merely for being willing to appear unattractive, what of Tilda Swinton’s hysterical showing in The Grand Budapest Hotel, surely the least vain performance I’ve seen in years?
If it were so easy to switch from drama to comedy, I doubt one of—if not the—finest actresses of her generation, Meryl Streep (19 Oscar nominations and counting), would have struggled so much with it. Everyone may now recall when she had mastered comedy in The Devil Wears Prada, but it took her years.
Anyone remember She-Devil? Death Becomes Her? In Postcards from the Edge Streep was so bad I couldn’t even make it through the film. Her bravery is one of the things I value most about her: she let herself stink up the screen in order to improve her craft, not something many women with her dramatic chops would have braved. I suspect she pairs those two devil movies in her mind, appreciating how far she’s come.
And yet I’m to think Fiennes’s laugh-out-loud funny performance was easy?
Fiennes was getting early buzz for The Grand Budapest Hotel. Back in the spring, I thought he was a lock for a nomination. He could have been considered for Best Supporting Actor, given his role; technically, he wasn’t the star. Ethan Hawke was nominated; Ralph Fiennes wasn’t. Repeat that to yourself without laughing—or crying.
I admit that this is a tough year in the Best Actor category, but The Grand Budapest Hotel is tied for Birdman with nine nominations, and Fiennes carried his film from start to finish. Could I imagine another star in the others I’ve seen so far (4/8)? Yes. In The Grand Budapest Hotel? Absolutely not.
As M. Gustave, Fiennes is funny, original, moving. I have seen no other film this year that drew me in like this one, no other actor or actress who affected me more. Watch Fiennes’s quick transitions from elegance to crassness and see if you can stop yourself from laughing. Observe those nuances in his gestures, voice, and expressions that make Gustave’s mood changes from rage to tenderness convincing—and all in mere seconds (that’s all you get in a Wes Anderson film). When else have you seen a character simultaneously this funny and this heartbreaking, thanks to the actor playing him?
If you haven’t watched the movie yet, do yourself a favor and rent it now. And if The Grand Budapest Hotel wins, tell me, in a movie riddled with big names, which actor helped the gifted Wes Anderson finally pull it off.