Watching a Wes Anderson film, one can't help but think that the primary goal of its director was to delight the audience. Not to simply entertain or to shine a light on a particular subject, but to truly delight above all else.
Born in Houston in 1969 and raised there, Anderson attended the University of Texas in Austin. While he majored in philosophy, he spent the years he was in school writing fiction. In 1996, he made his feature directorial debut with the caper, Bottle Rocket.
As Anderson has developed as a filmmaker over the years, he has built his visual and narrative style into one which is immediately identifiable. Certain trademark features have come to define his work. Today, he is widely recognized to be a true auteur, an original in a world where that's far from common.
He usually works with the same collaborators. Cinematographer Robert Yeoman has shot every single one of his live action features. He works with four-time Oscar-winning costume designer Milena Canonero, Oscar-winning production designer Adam Stockhausen, and 11-time nominee and two-time Oscar-winning film composer Alexandre Desplat to create worlds that are wholly unique for the audience to inhabit.
A lifelong student of cinema, Anderson is an admirer of the films of the many legendary filmmakers who have come before him, including his influences Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, Orson Welles, Ernst Lubitsch, Jean Renoir, Akira Kurosawa, Max Ophüls, Billy Wilder, Hal Ashby, Stanley Kubrick, and Martin Scorsese, among others. Over the years, Anderson has himself become one of the respected greats.
Anderson is a screenwriter, a producer, and a director. In his career, he has received seven Oscar nominations, three times for writing, once for directing, once for producing a Best Picture nominee, and twice for producing a Best Animated Feature Film nominee.
He has directed commercials, a music video, and many short films and features. With his latest feature, Asteroid City, a sci-fi comedy-drama hitting theaters on June 16, A.frame is taking a look at some of the features in Anderson's oeuvre.
Anderson and Owen Wilson were roommates and good friends in the early '90s while attending the University of Texas at Austin. Wilson was majoring in English while Anderson was writing stories regularly. In 1994, Anderson and Wilson co-wrote what would become Bottle Rocket, Anderson's 13-minute, black-and-white short film.
With the short film made and a script for a feature based on the short film written, Anderson and Wilson were able secure the financing needed to make Bottle Rocket the feature. Made with a $5 million budget and shot in Dallas and various other locations throughout Texas, the film is a crime comedy.
Starring Wilson and his brother Luke Wilson in their debut film, Bottle Rocket received acclaim from critics and launched the careers of Anderson and the Wilson brothers. Co-starring James Caan and Robert Musgrave, the film is about three dysfunctional young men who plan to go on a crime spree, and then, go on the run. The friends soon realize that they actually know absolutely nothing about being a criminal.
A viewer today can see Anderson the newcomer working toward his signature style. Although not as polished as his later films, the inventive and funny Bottle Rocket still manages to charm and impress.
Anderson's second feature is a coming-of-age comedy-drama where Jason Schwartzman plays Max, a rebellious teenager at Rushmore Academy, a prep-school, and Bill Murray plays Herman Blume, a wealthy industrialist in the middle of a midlife crisis.
Max falls in love with a teacher at the school (Olivia Williams) right when she arrives. Max then turns to Herman, the father of two of his schoolmates, for advice on how to woo her in spite of the age difference. The situation becomes complicated when Herman actually becomes involved with her himself. Once Max learns of the affair, he decides that he must get revenge.
Anderson's second film is much more refined from a storytelling standpoint. There's an anarchic spirit to the comedy in Rushmore, one that is backed by the film's soundtrack. The film is also notable for marking the very first time that Anderson worked with Murray and Schwartzman, who would each go on to become a frequent collaborator of his.
Anderson loves an ensemble, and he certainly put one together for The Royal Tenenbaums, the saga of an estranged, dysfunctional family.
The children of the eccentric Tenenbaum family, Richie (Luke Wilson), Chas (Ben Stiller), and Margot (Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow) were all prodigies growing up. Now each one is struggling to one degree or another to deal with adulthood and the failures that come with it. When their self-centered father, Royal Tenenbaum (two-time Oscar winner Gene Hackman), announces that he is terminally ill, the Tenenbaums are dragged back together one winter. Although they rally around him as an act of solidarity, the kids all feel a certain level of contempt for their father, who has been absent from their lives for quite some time.
Anjelica Huston co-stars as Etheline Tenenbaum, the mother of the children. The comedy-drama also co-stars Murray, Danny Glover, and Seymour Cassel.
Marinated in a sense of melancholy, The Royal Tenenbaums still manages to contain its share of comedy. The film is generally regarded as Hackman's swan song even though he did appear in a few more movies afterwards before retiring. This was the third straight film that Anderson and Wilson wrote together, and they received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay for their work.
Internationally famous oceanographer Steve Zissou (Murray) and his crew, Team Zissou, set sail on an expedition to hunt down the elusive jaguar shark responsible for killing Zissou's colleague, Esteban.
They are joined on this adventure by a young pilot, Ned (Wilson), who may or may not be Zissou's son. Two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett plays Jane, a journalist assigned to write a profile on Zissou and Eleanor (Huston), Zissou's estranged wife and co-producer. Together, they face countless complications, including pirates, kidnapping, and bankruptcy.
The film co-stars Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, and Michael Gambon. Visually stunning and featuring one of the best sets in any Anderson film (the interior of Belafonte, Zissou's research vessel), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is another quirky and frequently hilarious comedy-drama from Anderson, one which features yet another protagonist that is obsessed with completing a mission.
On a journey of self-discovery, estranged brothers Francis (Wilson), Jack (Schwartzman), and Peter (Adrien Brody) reunite for a spiritual train trip across India on the Darjeeling Limited.
The brothers have not spoken in over a year, ever since their father died. Jack is trying to get over an ex, Francis is recovering from a motorcycle accident, and Peter, whose wife is pregnant, is very anxious about the upcoming birth of his child.
The film can feel a bit more intimate than the Anderson films featuring an ensemble. Wilson, Schwartzman, and Brody create a believable imperfect family bond, one filled with resentments and sadness. The exotic color palette, the beautiful soundtrack, and a powerful flashback sequence help to make this another memorable Anderson feature.
Based on the book by Roald Dahl, the whimsical Fantastic Mr. Fox is a stop motion animated comedy which features the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Wilson, Schwartzman, Gambon, Dafoe, Brian Cox, and many others.
Mr. Fox (Clooney) lives underground beside a tree with his wife (Streep) and four children. After 12 years of countryside bliss, Mr. Fox gives in to his animal instincts and raids the farms of their human neighbors, Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. In doing so, he not only breaks a promise to his wife and endangers his marriage, but he also puts the lives of his family and their animal friends at risk. Chaos ensues. When the farmers force Mr. Fox and company deep underground, he must resort to his natural craftiness to save the day.
Clocking in at an easy-breezy 87 minutes, Fantastic Mr. Fox is an allegory which warns against greed. The film received two Oscar nominations: Best Animated Feature Film and Best Score for Alexandre Desplat's marvelous music.
Moonrise Kingdom is a '60s-set coming-of-age tale of first love between two twelve-year-old loners, Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward). The film, which has a bittersweet summer camp vibe, is set on a fictional island off the coast of New England, only accessible by ferry and populated by Khaki Scouts and dysfunctional families.
Sam and Suzy, who have fallen in love, decide to run away together. As a violent storm approaches the island, the quirky adults, played by Murray, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, and four-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand, must mobilize and find Sam and Suzy before it's too late.
As gorgeously shot as any Anderson film has ever been – and possibly his funniest film – Moonrise Kingdom, written by Anderson and Roman Coppola, received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
The owner of an aging high-class hotel (Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham) tells a writer (Jude Law) of his early years serving as a lobby boy during the hotel's heyday under a remarkable concierge, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes).
We flashback to the 1930s and the Grand Budapest Hotel is a popular ski resort in Europe. (The film is set in a fictional European province.) And the lobby boy we meet is Zero (Tony Revolori), who becomes Gustave's friend and protégé. Gustave takes great pride in providing immaculate service to the guests of the hotel. When a hotel guest dies under mysterious circumstances, Gustave finds himself the recipient of an invaluable painting and also falsely implicated in her murder. Gustave and Zero must then do everything they can to clear his name.
This is the Anderson film with the largest budget, which also proved to be his biggest hit at the box office. Here, he tells an expansive story with yet another ensemble cast, one that includes Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Saoirse Ronan, and Mathieu Amalric, among many others. The film features razor-sharp dialogue, complex sequences, exquisitely designed sets and costumes, and a wonderful score. As the debonair hotel concierge, Fiennes delivers one of the most memorable performances in any of Anderson's films.
The Grand Budapest Hotel received nine Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Directing, and Best Original Screenplay for Anderson, Best Cinematography for Yeoman, and Best Film Editing, and went on to win four Oscars (Best Original Score for Desplat, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, and Best Makeup and Hairstyling).
Anderson's second foray into stop motion animation was also his first into sci-fi. The dystopian adventure Isle of Dogs is set in Japan, in the fictional city of Megasaki. Following the outbreak of dog flu, by order of the government, all canine pets are exiled to Trash Island. There, a group of stranded dogs from different backgrounds, along with Atari, a young boy who crashes his small plane on the island looking for his dog Spots, attempt to make it back to the mainland.
Although the premise makes it sound like it could be a horror film, Isle of Dogs is actually a hangout movie to a large degree. Even though the setting is bleak, the story is full of warmth and the dogs are often hilarious.
Featuring the voices of Bryan Cranston, Scarlett Johansson, Murray, Norton, Goldblum, and McDormand, among others, Isle of Dogs received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature Film and another for Best Original Score.