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Wes Anderson is a Great Director of Style and Substance

May 28, 2012

By John C.

For my money, Wes Anderson is one of the best directors currently working.  With vibrant colours, striking cinematography and beautiful slow-motion scenes, he is a director who frames every shot brilliantly, creating a perfect marriage of lighting and dialogue that is unforgettable for the viewer.  Watching his films, we are observers to the often quirky and genuinely unique world of his perfectly realized characters.

I’m a big fan of all Wes Anderson’s films and his latest, Moonrise Kingdom, opens this Friday after recently premiering at the just finished Cannes Film Festival.  A wonderful tale of young love set in the 1960s, the film has an all star cast that offers many delights for fans of the director and is sure to be admired even by those less versed in his work.

The Texas-born director’s first film, Bottle Rocket, started life as a thirteen minute short in 1994 that caught the attention of James L. Brooks, who executive produced the feature adaptation in 1996.  The quirky and immensely likeable story of three friends who innocently dream of becoming robbers to give themselves some purpose in life, it was an impressive debut and proof that Wes Anderson has always had a style that is uniquely his own.  The film and its original short not only launched the career of the director, but also of frequent collaborator Owen Wilson, who starred alongside his brother Luke.

Wes Anderson followed up Bottle Rocket with Rushmore in 1998, a unique coming of age film that has deservedly gained status as a classic over the years.  Jason Schwartzman starred as Max Fisher, an overachieving high schooler who develops a crush on an elementary school teacher (Olivia Williams) and befriends a wealthy industrialist (Bill Murray), after he is put on academic probation.  This odd love triangle becomes quite touching as the film progresses, because the eccentricities of the perfectly realized characters are allowed to play out in believable ways.  Another director might not have been able to handle the material, but just like all of his other films, Wes Anderson handled it with a sensitivity that made us fall for the characters.

The careful balance of quiet humour and genuine heartache is another signature mark of Wes Anderson’s films, and a big part of what makes him a director capable of delivering both style and substance.  His 2001 effort The Royal Tenenbaums remains the most financially successful of his films, and the only one to get him a very deserved Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.  Following a dysfunctional family of former child prodigies who all reunite at the house of their father (Gene Hackman), this was an equally funny and moving portrait of a unique family.  His 2004 follow up The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou divided some critics, but was a wonderfully conceived and hilariously droll comedy that starred Bill Murray as an oceanographer obsessed with hunting a mythical shark that may not even exist.

The way that he uses music is an important part of all his films, including his excellent 2007 film The Darjeeling Limited, which has a diverse soundtrack that immediately recalls the movie every time you hear it.  Following three estranged brothers (played wonderfully by Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody and Owen Wilson) who take a spiritual train journey across India in an attempt to rediscover themselves and redefine their bond as siblings, it was a subtly hilarious and deeply heartfelt film.  We also got a moving backstory to The Darjeeling Limited in the preceding thirteen minute short Hotel Chevalier, a beautifully written and spectacularly filmed work of art that starred a luminous Natalie Portman alongside Jason Schwartzman.

For his first animated film in 2009, Wes Anderson chose to adapt Roald Dahl’s beloved book, Fantastic Mr. Fox.  The story of the stealthy Mr. Fox (perfectly voiced by George Clooney) who outwits a band of evil farmers, this was a lovingly produced stop motion film that had the director’s paw prints all over it, right through to the awesome soundtrack and memorable cast of characters.  Although it takes Wes Anderson back to his live action roots, Moonrise Kingdom is in many ways the perfect follow up to Fantastic Mr. Fox and another great entry into his excellent filmography.

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