Each week this column will highlight one winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, progressing chronologically until all winners have been discussed. There will be a brief discussion of the film itself followed by a mention of what we wish won from the nominees in the given year (though in many cases there were films that were superior in terms of quality and/or impact that were not nominated). This week’s entry is Grand Hotel (1932).
Though perhaps best known as the film that won Best Picture without a single other nomination, Grand Hotel isn’t without its merits in the smaller categories. With one of the greatest ensemble casts ever assembled, it serves as an acting showcase of the biggest names of the time delivering performances that were exactly what one could hope to see from them, and that it received no acting nominations* is probably more a testament to the immense talent splitting votes than it is to the quality of their performances. Though it was a star vehicle for the time it was made, and this can hardly be considered a real criticism, today’s audiences will likely get less out of the film as it relies on having a knowledge of the actors’ screen personas that simply isn’t widespread anymore. The film is quickly paced and hardly takes any time for characterization, relying on that prior knowledge of who everyone is supposed to be, but it unfortunately also leads to a film where all of the different threads lead to a bit of an imbalance and no one ever becomes terribly compelling.
*The supporting acting categories did not exist at this time and it’s almost impossible for me to believe it still would have missed out had they existed.
The Real Best Picture:
Grand Hotel is a great time capsule and I think it was the right choice.