As our week of extensive Oscar coverage continues, we’re pitting the Best Picture nominated films against each other, two at a time, to see how they compare. In this installment, it’s the turn of Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash and Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. How are these films alike, how do they differ, and which is more successful in telling its very unique story?
Wes Anderson is, by any standards, a perfectionist; the most meticulous and detail-oriented director in Hollywood today. Every inch of every frame of his Grand Budapest Hotel is designed carefully, and the film itself is a cinematic panting. Whatever Grand Budapest lacks in wit and heart in comparison to some of Anderson’s better films, it compensates for in sheer beauty. Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, on the other hand, is an emotionally overwhelming hurricane; a 100-minute non-stop snowball of angst, desperation and immense talent. Whiplash is grounded by two extraordinary performances from Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, but is undoubtedly a visually (and aurally) terrific example of cinema’s capability to provoke awe. One could freeze-frame Grand Budapest at any second, print off that image and stick it onto their wall. Whiplash, however, only works if one watches it in one go, with the volume turned right up, preferably on the biggest screen available. They are both perfected by their creators down to the finest details. They are both films about creators: Miles Teller’s Andrew aims to become the greatest jazz drummer of all time and is assaulted from all sides by perfectionist teacher Fletcher (Simmons) and his constant, drill-seargant yells of “Not Quite My Tempo!”. Ralph Fienne’s Gustave and his assistant Zero (Tony Revolori) dedicate their lives to running the best damn hotel in the world, with every chandelier and painting held perfectly in place. Fletcher and Gustave in particular go about implementing their demand for perfection in very different, questionably effective ways: one through aggression, the other through persistence and hard work. Gustave and Fletcher aren of course, both ultra-masculine mentors to their “lost” and “struggling” young protégés.
Whiplash is not the sort of film one would accuse of “having heart”. Rather, it has soul. Grand Budapest is- as a result of its preference for pretty colours and shapes over emotional engagement- lacks a great amount of soul or heart. Both films shall be long remembered: Whiplash grabs the viewer around the throat and won’t let go; The Grand Budapest Hotel dances before your eyeballs for hours, playing the triangle.