As one of the most unique and immediately recognisable filmmakers working today, Wes Anderson has slowly cultivated a cult following with his original stories and unique sense of style. Thanks to his idiosyncratic art style, he is one of the few directors who could be recognised from just a few seconds of footage.
So, where to start with his films? Whilst I would argue that he hasn’t made a bad film yet, these are the four that I would recommend if you want an introduction to the quirky world of Wes Anderson.
Wes Anderson’s first film, Bottle Rocket, provided a fun twist on the heist genre, however it went largely unseen and unappreciated at the time of its release. His first major hit came with Rushmore, a truly original film which seemingly came out of nowhere and one which is often hailed by critics as one of the best films of the 90s.
Starring Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray (who financed much of the film, and has appeared in all of Anderson’s work since), Rushmore tells the story of Max Fischer, a precocious student at the prestigious Rushmore Academy, and his various attempts to spark a romance with a teacher, Rosemary (played by Olivia Williams).
From the early montage of the societies Max runs at the school, it’s clear that the film takes place in a heightened reality, full of eccentric, deadpan characters, setting the template for his subsequent films. It’s sometimes funny, sometimes painfully awkward viewing, and – if you can put up with its protagonist being pretty unlikable for a large portion of the film – oddly touching.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2002)
Whilst Rushmore set the tone for Wes Anderson’s later work, The Royal Tenenbaums is the first film to truly explore just how far he could go with his own unique style. The opening scene presents us with a montage, in which a deadpan Alec Baldwin narrates the early lives of the three child-genius Tenenbaums (played by Luke Wilson, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Stiller). Their various achievements get more ridiculous as the scene goes on, yet they remain completely believable within the world that Anderson has established.
The plot is driven by the return of the long-absent Royal, the aging patriarch of the family, played by Gene Hackman, leading to the sudden release of years of bottled-up upper-class anxiety in different – and in some cases heart-breaking – ways. Funny but also incredibly moving, The Royal Tenenbaums is sometimes almost difficult to watch, with one scene set to Sam Smith’s ‘Needle in the Hay’ being particularly devastating. The occasionally dark plot, however, is carefully balanced out by Anderson’s delicate direction and sense of style, giving the viewer a moving portrait of dysfunctional family.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Jumping forward a decade, past some of his more routine (but still highly enjoyable) works, Wes Anderson released Moonrise Kingdom, my personal favourite of his films.
The plot at first appears to be overly sweet, and almost saccharine, telling the story of two twelve-year-olds who fall in love on a small island in 1965. Soon however, it becomes clear that whilst the events are presented through Anderson’s still-charming direction, these children are living in an adult’s world, with one particular scene ending up with a crashed motorcycle, a boy stabbed with scissors and a dead dog.
Ultimately though, the film still wins audiences over with its sweet but sincere screenplay; whilst child actors can often be grating, Anderson and his writing partner Roman Coppola treat their young characters like adults, even when the characters surrounding them don’t. Here as well, Anderson continues to expand his cast, with great performances from Frances McDormand, Edward Norton and – of all people – Bruce Willis.
To me, Moonrise Kingdom represents the film where the script suits Anderson’s directing style perfectly, leading to a work of both style and substance.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Wes Anderson’s most recent work, this is the one where his style arguably reached its peak; almost every shot is perfectly symmetrical, leading to a ‘storybook’ feel to the entire film. A story-within-a-story-within-another-story, this is Anderson’s reality at its most heightened, but crucially nothing seems out-of-place.
“The most Wes Anderson-y Wes Anderson film”
This was the first of Anderson’s films to really be picked up by awards ceremonies, securing Academy Award nominations for best picture and best director, and winning the joint-most Oscars of 2015 for, among other things, its soundtrack, make-up and perfect costume design.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is also by far Anderson’s funniest film – immensely quotable, endlessly re-watchable, and filled with moments of perfectly-pitched physical comedy. The film also contains his most impressive cast, too numerous to even begin to list here, ensuring that actors like Jeff Goldblum and Harvey Keitel make even the minor, incidental characters seem real and fully-fleshed out. This is all supported by a career-best performance from Ralph Fiennes as the devoted concierge of the hotel, M. Gustave, with newcomer Tony Revolori keeping up impressively as his protégé, Zero.
The most Wes Anderson-y Wes Anderson film of his output, The Grand Budapest Hotel is quite rightly hailed by many as his masterpiece.
Featured image courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures via IMDb.
Article images courtesy of Touchstone Pictures and Indian Paintbrush via IMDb.