I don’t think I’m alone in having a bit of expectation when I go into a film that has won the Oscar for Best Picture. It’s a question of pedigree, of performance; to me, the best picture of the year should feel like the best picture of the year. Of course, that can’t always be the case, as I’ve found out the hard way with some of the first few ceremonies’s worth, but it’s hard to be a fan of cinema and not have this expectation. Then along comes a film like Grand Hotel, that despite only garnering one nomination at the Academy Awards, for Best Picture, managed to win it, the only time so far that there would be a Best Picture winner from a single nomination. I still have a few films from the 5th ceremony left to see, but after watching Grand Hotel, I might be prepared to call the race early; this, while not a perfect or even outstanding film, just feels like a Best Picture winner, more than any of the other nominees I’ve seen so far.
There’s a lot of plot to Grand Hotel, but not a lot of narrative, so a plot summary seems to be a bit more difficult to pull off without divulging everything to the film, especially with how the film is formatted; indeed, the ‘Grand Hotel theme’ would become a frequently used storytelling device in the wake of this film. The Grand Hotel theme, by a loose definition, involves a troupe of players in a central location, where various things happen to each of them, some inter-connected, some not even interacting with others, but all of them revolving around each other in that one location; in Grand Hotel, that location being the eponymous hotel located in Berlin. Now, normally, it’s the plot or the hints of one that would be the main selling point of a film to get people interested enough to want to see it, but Grand Hotel plays a different game; since the plot is just various happenings in a hotel, the film instead relies on the star power of all the hotel’s various regular guests. Greta Garbo, John and Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Joan Crawford, Lewis Stone, and more are all involved as major players, and all are very good (with the possible exception of Garbo, who seems to rely a little too much on her foreign accent to sell her character), mostly thanks to the innovative format of the script, as well as the excellent production design of the central set, which keeps all the action together, even when it has very little to do with other people. Some of the editing was a little off, and it was mostly due to some continuity problems between shots, but the film, weirdly enough, did feature an awful lot of wipe cuts, which aided the effect of the transitions while at the same time seeming incongruously modern for a 1930s film. Really, the whole film has that feel of being more modern than other pictures of the era, and that it still managed to be pretty entertaining even to this day is a testament to that, and the good decisions the film makes.
Most of all, Grand Hotel comes across as a grand picture; it just has that air about it of a Best Picture winner, and it’s this that I can see more than anything why it ended up winning. That plus its impressive modernity made this a pretty easy and worthwhile watch, and it was really only personal circumstance that ended up having me not get to the film until now. The only qualm I’d have about the film was that the ending was somewhat longer than I felt it should’ve been, but the rest of the film was quite impressive, and I gave it a little bit of allowance when it came to extending its running time. I’m actually surprised this didn’t get any other nominations at the Oscars, especially for its writing and its production (which I surmise would’ve fallen under the Art Direction category); this was very well done for a film that only got the one nomination. But, it was for the one that counted, I guess, and it ended up winning it, and for once I can actually support that decision.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10