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If you happen to live in New York and Los Angeles, you’ll get to see The Grand Budapest Hotel, the eighth film from director Wes Anderson this weekend. His previous seven movies make up one of the most unique careers American filmmaking has ever seen, from the family epic of The Royal Tenenbaums to the hopeless young romantic tale of Moonrise Kingdom.
Anderson is really the living definition of an auteur, a director who is the sole author of his films. While film is a collaborative field and Anderson certainly has plenty of regular collaborators, there’s no way to mistake an Anderson film for a movie from anyone else.
What makes an Anderson movie? Each film has an incredible sense for detail. Anderson is the most meticulous filmmaker. Everything is planned and plotted out - every “i” has its dot and every “t” has been crossed. These details usually include references to the classics, from themes stolen from Hitchcock and Welles to even Jacques Cousteau. Fantastic Mr. Fox is plotted like the perfect 1960s Hollywood heist film, while Tenenbaums is like a modern version of The Magnificent Ambersons. Rushmore comes to a climax when Max Fisher puts together a stage version of Platoon-meets-Apocalypse Now.
Anderson’s films are also filled with several repeated themes - like family (Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox) and friends’ bonds (Bottle Rocket, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou). Romance is also a key, as is plans going awry. Ironically, Anderson is good at planning his movies, but he makes sure his characters are never as good at planning as he is.
One of the aspects the aspects that unfortunately seems to get lost when it comes to Anderson’s films is the great performances he gets out of his stars. Moonrise Kingdom would never be as wonderfully charming as it is if Anderson couldn’t get Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward to act as well as he did. He is also a genius when it comes to getting unexpected performances out of serious actors. Who knew today’s Bruce Willis could be funny if he wanted to be? Or Edward Norton? And now he’s got Ralph Fiennes as the star of his latest movie.
For me, Anderson’s best film is his second, Rushmore. The rebellious Max, played perfectly by Jason Schwartzman, is a perfect example of the flawed central character Anderson loves to have in his films. Moonrise Kingdom is a close second, as that was probably his funniest, yet most romantic effort yet.
Don’t forget Fantastic Mr. Fox either. Although based on a Roald Dahl book - his only non-original screenplay to date - the stop-motion animated film is hilarious and first perfectly in his canon.
The Grand Budapest Hotel has been earning good reviews since it was screened in Berlin, so it should be a welcome chapter to Anderson’s career.