Normally doctors would advise against prolonged exposure to Owen Wilson, as such a strong dosage of licked surfer-style hair and Arian smugness is enough to kill a man. But, proving the Nietzchean adage that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, Wes Anderson has not only survived a career spent mostly in close proximity to Owen Wilson, but has in fact has achieved great success in spite of that fact. He is a two-time Academy Award nominated director whose work is distinctive, playful, sad, charming, funny and beautiful to look at – none of which can be said for Owen Wilson.
His first film, the little-seen but influential Bottle Rocket (1996), began carving the niche that Anderson would come to inhabit on the pimpled and rocky face of Hollywood. Bottle Rocket is the story of two robbers planning on carrying out a heist and, while it flopped commercially, it did well critically. Like David Lynch’s Eraserhead, it was seen by the right people – Scorsese, for one – and quickly led to opportunities in other areas. Unlike David Lynch’s Eraserhead, however, it is not a film that is likely to populate the nightmares of the viewer for years to come.
One of the more artistically fruitful areas that Bottle Rocket allowed Anderson to travel to was a small plot of filmic land called Rushmore, Anderson’s second full-length feature, and his breakthrough project. The eccentric Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) attends Rushmore Academy, a private school, and attempts to win the affections of his teacher there. Her attentions are also being courted by local industrialist Herman Blume (Bill Murray). Their loggerheads relationship and games of oneupmanship lead to a funny and memorable film, and an incredibly beautiful one at that. It not only launched the careers of Anderson and Schwartzman, it also revitalised Murray as a respected actor in independent cinema.
After Rushmore came The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). An eccentric comedy about a bizarre family of geniuses who are reunited after the terminal diagnosis of their father – the titular Royal Tenenbaum, played brilliantly by Gene Hackman – and is an incredibly poignant film with an all-star ensemble cast. The jokes are truly odd and, like all of Anderson’s films, it will either entertain or completely infuriate.
The Life Aquatic (2003) followed The Royal Tenenbaums. Bill Murray plays Steve Zissou, an aquatic documentarian who is driven by his hormones and his desire to kill the creature that killed his friend. Probably Anderson’s most divisive film, it split his fanbase into lovers and haters. Some say it’s boring, but those people are wrong. Some say that it is pretentious, and those people are wrong as well. It’s a tender and funny examination of laziness, jealousy, and obsession.
After a jaunt directing adverts, Anderson returned with The Darjeeling Limited (2007). Three brothers (Adrian Brody, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman) take a train journey across India to try to reconnect with their recently deceased father and, in the process, each other. The humour comes from the fish-out-of-water situation, and the stoic way in which the three main characters interact with their ever-changing surroundings. It’s probably Anderson’s most mainstream recent live-action film.
Live-action was specified because after The Darjeeling Limited came a stop-motion animation of Fantastic Mr Fox (2009). Critically derided for not being enough of a kids film or a Wes Anderson film, but congratulated for its innovative style and its handmade quality, the film divided fans even further and was a surprising step. Anderson’s cartoonish style was always suited to animation but the film isn’t anything fantastic, unfortunately.
His latest film, Moonrise Kingdom (2012), premièred at Cannes and follows a young couple in the 1960’s as they abscond from the small town they live in and the search party as they set out to rescue them. The trailer seems to show the film retaining Anderson’s usual cartoonish, flat, colourful style and his penchant for British music from the 1960’s.
Best known for:
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)
Stoic, wealthy characters
Music from the 1960’s
Nominated for two Academy Awards
Frequently works with: