MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #23 – WES ANDERSON
“having or characterized by peculiar or unexpected traits or aspects.
“her sense of humour was decidedly quirky”
eccentric · idiosyncratic · unconventional · unorthodox · unusual · off-centre · strange · bizarre · weird · peculiar · odd · freakish · outlandish · offbeat · out of the ordinary · Bohemian · alternative · zany · outré ·
I thought I’d save myself a lot of time using the above variant words in one go. Because they, and the word auteur, are utterly inevitable while writing a short article in praise of the Wes Anderson films I rate. It’s intriguing to write about Anderson though. While many of the pieces in the My Cinematic Romance series concentrate on people in cinema I absolutely adore, he is more a filmmaker who I respect rather than have an undying emotional connection with.
Wes Anderson is a phenomenal filmmaker with an imaginative set of style and narrative conceits. Everyone one of his releases is a rich tapestry containing memorable ensemble casts, adjacent framing, effervescent use of colour, geographical pertinence, intellectual humour and subjects situated in the far left field of genre cinema. Yet, I don’t enjoy ALL of his films. Often they veer too far into eccentric pretentiousness. Indeed, I was going to write a review of The French Dispatch (2021), but I found it frustratingly dull and, other than the tremendous story set in the asylum with the mad artist (Benicio Del Toro) disconnected with it on the whole. But, I must say, it was another admirable work of cinema, but one I did not enjoy as a paying punter.
So, rather than write a middling review about a genius filmmaker’s latest work, here is a piece about my favourite five films of Wes Anderson.
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
BOTTLE ROCKET (1996)
Anderson’s debut feature film is based on his short film of the same name. Co-written with Owen Wilson, it is a freewheeling take on the heist movie which eschews hard-boiled professionals for a group of hapless losers led by the positively loopy Dignan (Wilson again). Shot way before Anderson got his ruler and set square out, it’s a naturally filmed, hilarious character comedy that destabilises crime genre conventions with charming effect. Launching the acting careers of the Wilson brothers it is an oddly charming filmic treat.
This is still my favourite Wes Anderson film because it combines a perfect combination of uncommon humour and prevailing verisimilitude. What I mean is I did not feel I was watching a showcase of artistic flourishes, but a true human story full of empathetic characters, feeling and emotion. It is also incredibly funny as we follow the rites of passage story of school maverick, Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), a working class kid rebelling against the adults he believes are beneath him. Bill Murray’s career renaissance began here and his character’s vengeful battles with Max are one of the film’s many highlights.
THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (2001)
The first Wes Anderson film that saw the stylistic devices and themes so prevalent in his later work to truly come to the fore. The ensemble cast crammed with famous names, the omnipotent narrator, symmetrical framing, consistent and complimentary colour palettes, typography, fantastic use of nostalgic music, distinctive costumes and stories structured in chapters of the literary kind. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) contains many absurd comedic moments, but has several tragic scenes too. This demonstrates Anderson’s growing maturity and remains a confident vision of a dysfunctional American family of geniuses and misfits.
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014)
While Rushmore (1998) is my favourite film of Wes Anderson, his best is the tour-de-force comedy, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). It’s the pinnacle of bravura style and well-honed narrative competence, confidently presenting the rags-to-riches story of Zero Moustafa beginning in 1930s. Europe. Moustafa’s story takes in his first love, his job at the opulent hotel and his moving friendship with the prideful Gustave, an amazing Ralph Fiennes. It’s a film packed with invention, colour, humour, sadness and romance all wrapped in themes of the rise of fascism, loss, love and the wonder of friendship.
ISLE OF DOGS (2018)
Put aside ridiculous millennial online accusations of cultural appropriation and submerge yourself within Anderson’s rich canine narrative and stop-motion tapestry. As aforementioned, I’m not always a fan of his story subjects but he is a master of style and form. Isle of Dogs (2018) is no different and is a wonderful cinematic experience. Set in Japan we concentrate on, hence the title, a bunch of stray dogs dumped on a wasteland left to die and their subsequent adventures. This is much darker than prior Anderson films, but full of the imagination, wit, colour and brilliant technique, containing funny gags and twisting drama throughout. I preferred this to his version of the Roald Dahl classic, Fantastic Mr Fox (2009), as Bryan Cranston and the marvellous cast breathe life into the Anderson’s visionary animated box of tricks.