(Written for HeyUGuys)
Currently filming his latest comedy-drama The Grand Budapest Hotel, which is set to star an ensemble cast including Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law, and Saoirse Ronan, Wes Anderson has been producing quirky dramas for almost twenty years now. Director, screenwriter, actor, and producer of features, short films and commercials, Anderson’s work is mostly known for his family struggles, flawed characters, British rock soundtracks, and colourful cinematography. Not only do his films compare in visual style, though, they also often include regular collaborators Bill Murray, Anjelica Huston, Owen and Luke Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman. Here’s some of his best:
1. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
A personal favourite of mine is Anderson’s adaptation of the classic Roald Dahl book, Fantastic Mr. Fox, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2009. As one of his most recent pieces of work, it was hard to guess whether his style of film-making was going to work as well as a stop-motion animation, but we obviously should never have doubted. With an excellent voice cast, including many of Anderson’s regulars, this really is a fantastic film. George Clooney voices the lead fox and adds a huge charm to his character with his cheeky wit, whilst Meryl Streep adds a pinch of class as his wife. The dialogue is comical, the characters are individually brilliant, the soundtrack really compliments the films visual style, and the animation itself is stunning. Most of all, Anderson pays such close attention to detail that he has created a film with very little flaws.
2. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
His most recent film which opened the Cannes Film Festival 2012, Moonrise Kingdom, is another critic favourite, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 2012. Whilst it is yet again set around a detached reality that is sometimes Anderson’s biggest downfall in his work, the naive qualities and simplistic structure works at its best here with the boy scout premise. This time with the additions of Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, and Tilda Swinton to the Anderson regulars, the cast is probably at its best here, but it’s the young stars who lead the film that deserve the credit. With stunning cinematography and, as always, a well-written script, Moonrise Kingdom is Anderson’s most innocently charming film.
3. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 2001, we then have The Royal Tenenbaums, a brutally honest family drama about an estranged family of former child prodigies. With more brilliant cinematic sequences and a soundtrack that fits the film to a key, this is another of Anderson’s best, and is probably his most critically acclaimed to date. What Anderson’s films do well is the way that they will always fill you with a sense of joy, though sometimes of a sadness at the same time, and that shines through at its best here as The Royal Tenenbaums serves as a great feel good film. As for the cast, Gwyneth Paltrow gives a brilliant performance, one of her most definitive, I feel, but the cast is also welcomed by the hugely comical Gene Hackman and Ben Stiller.
4. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
The Darjeeling Limited is often seen as one of Anderson’s most disappointing films, largely because it explores the same themes without really pushing any more boundaries. To sum the film up perfectly, I like to use a quote from the film itself: “I wonder if the three of us would’ve been friends in real life. Not as brothers, but as people.” It’s one of the greatest quality of Anderson’s work – the way he explores relationships and the characters individually at the same time, and that’s what I personally love so much about this film. Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman have a brilliant chemistry as brothers and each give superb performances. The Indian setting also suits Anderson’s style of filming really well, which makes me look forward to his upcoming film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, even more.
5. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)
The first Wes Anderson film I ever saw was The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. Granted, it’s not the best film to start off with, as the film got trashed by many critics for being “smug, ironic and artificial”. However, it also showcases some of Anderson’s best cinematography and eccentricities with a number of stunning underwater scenes that were created using stop-motion animation under the direction of Henry Selick, the man behind The Nightmare Before Christmas. With the addition of Willem Defoe and Cate Blanchett, the cast is yet again fantastic and the character developments are some of the best. This is when I first started to take Owen Wilson seriously, as well.
6. Bottle Rocket (1996)
And finally, we end where it all began. Bottle Rocket, Anderson’s debut feature which is based on his first film ever, a short of the same name, follows two young men, Dignan and Anthony, who plan, stage, and discuss an armed robbery. The leads are played by Owen and Luke Wilson, real-life brothers and good friends of Anderson’s, both of whom made their on-screen debuts in the short and went on to lead the feature film as well. Just like the short, the Bottle Rocket feature shows the very early, rough-around-the-edges stages of Anderson’s quirky directorial qualities; it doesn’t have the same feel as his later work, although it does share many similar characteristics, it is definitely his funniest. Unfortunately, it was also a commercial failure but, despite this, the feature was enough to draw attention from critics and win Anderson and his collaborators a reputation among the biggest names in Hollywood. It may have been a failure in its day, but both the short and feature play a huge part in launching Anderson’s career and, for that, it’s hard not to appreciate them for their progressive qualities alone.