Grand Hotel (1932)

  • Posted on: 21 March 2016
  • By: Noah Brand

Watching Grand Hotel, the 5th-ever Best Picture winner, it struck me how rapidly I was seeing the art of filmmaking develop. An audacious plotline-juggling comedy, this movie makes remarkable use of the camera in ways that haven’t shown up in previous films, but will continue showing up in subsequent ones. (Except for the fact that Greta Garbo has a proprietary lighting system that exists only for her character, as though she’s in a whole different movie by herself. That one’s all Garbo.)

The thing I admire about this movie is its chutzpah. Also the fact that most of a century later, a majority of the jokes still land; that’s harder than you might think. It starts with a pan across a bank of public telephones, where we get to hear one side of a bunch of different conversations, establishing the necessary exposition for the half-dozen separate plotlines we’re going to follow. Given how formulaic many movies end up feeling, it’s kind of wonderful to have a film basically state up front “Okay, we’re going to try to pull off something totally crazy here. Sit down, shut up, and hang on to your popcorn.”

What did this beat?

Arrowsmith, Bad Girl, Five Star Final, One Hour With You, The Champ, Shanghai Express, and The Smiling Lieutenant. Amazingly, Scarface wasn’t even nominated for anything, despite being a landmark movie that’s still referenced today, unlike… well, most of those nominees. It’s possible that it was a casualty of its release date, but it wasn’t nominated the next year either, so that’s a massive oversight on the Academy’s part.