Thursday 28 July 2016

Worst to Best: Wes Anderson

Worst to Best: Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson! Wes Anderson! Hey, do you guys remember the 2015 Golden Globes? The Grand Budapest Hotel was up for four awards, and Amy Poehler quipped "Per usual, Wes arrived on a bicycle made of antique tuba parts." Hahaha! Oh how I laughed! It's probably true! Wes is really weird!

And I guess that's why writing this Worst to Best was super difficult for me. For starters, how do you describe a magic that has already said everything you could ever want to before you even open your mouth? Huh? Furthermore, Anderson's style is so distinctly unique and weighed heavy with so many nutty trademarks, that it becomes increasingly hopeless not to repeat oneself. In fact, I could write a review right here which could apply to each and every one of his brilliant contributions, and it would go a little something like this:

This film is not quite a film, but rather an art-piece delivered with a sympathetic charm laced by a humour so deadpan, that one could never be fully confident as to what it was trying to do here—a prime example of how something can be so hilarious without finding itself hilarious, provoking the viewer to laugh at the film rather than with it. The whole experience seems surreal without falling abstract, the extraordinary satisfied to simply bubble beneath the surface, refusing to expose itself, subtly hinting at a fantasy film without every fully committing to one. Such a feat is achieved by the immaculately chosen cast as they navigate through the unformulated storyline, void of any easy-to-follow morals yet with its heart always in the right place, never a comedy, never a tragedy, never anything at all.

You see? DO YOU SEE? The above summary truly applies to every single entry below, and now I've completely fucked myself because I've gone and used all my good words before we've even began. But it had to be done in order to illustrate the reasons as to why Anderson was welcomed into my special box, armed with work so immediately recognisable and impossible to confuse with any other, that I effortlessly consider him one of the most consistent and loveable directors on the planet today, undoubtedly on his way to be forever imprinted into the fancy books. You cannot ignore him! Why would you want to!

Ok, so let's give this a go. Please forgive me as I once again pretend to know what I'm talking about as I order his directed works from my least favourite to what I consider his best. This is what I've got so far:

Worst to Best: Wes Anderson - 08. The Darjeeling Limited

08. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

Watch the Trailer
For the movie I consider to be the worst Anderson on sale, The Darjeeling Limited still holds strong to some impressive merits. Telling the precious story of three brothers attempting to resolve their past issues by discovering some enlightenment via a spiritual adventure through India, this narrative reflects such a real life Western crisis cliché that enough of the humour is already well-cooked before the title screen has even reared its pretty font. Furthermore, the casting decision of shoving Wilson, Brody, and Schwartzman in the same company guarantees a chemistry so hilariously persuasive, that the characters alone invoke a mushy tenderness which the flawed script was frustratingly unable to attain. And finally, the unique vibrancy of Indian culture itself suits Anderson’s eye for detail so perfectly that it's amazing it took him so long to film a project there, as the yellow colouring is exaggerated until each scene explodes into a thrilling vision of affection and warmth. But therein lies the exact problem: the stumbling block where style dominates substance, forcing us to watch Anderson trying too hard to to be Anderson, not as funny as he thinks he is whilst nurturing the haphazard plot so cautiously that it arrives safely into nowhere. Such an undertaking will be enough to amuse most fans (and I, myself, was amused), but I’d strongly advise avoiding this passable film until you run out of others to puncture your taste buds.

Recurring actors: Waris Ahluwalia; Adrien Brody; Anjelica Huston; Bill Murray; Kumar Pallana; Jason Schwartzman; Owen Wilson

Worst to Best: Wes Anderson - 07. Bottle Rocket

07. Bottle Rocket (1996)

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When a bunch of incompetent but optimistic friends cluelessly attempt to pull of a few heist jobs, you'd be forgiven in assuming you may have heard this common premise before. However, where Anderson’s directorial debut falls on originality, it excels from a completely unusual delivery and a blind self-assurance exuberating out of a man who knew something we did not (even if it took a while for the rest of us to work it out). Granted, the big budget visuals and surrealistic conceptual pows Wes later became famous for aren't as obvious on this early example of his craft, but his brand qualities are still firmly intact if you are willing to dig past its own disconnected simplicity and relaxed intentions. My advice is to approach this work casually sideways, and then perhaps you will be able to appreciate the movie’s amateurism as part of its charm, a film so uncontrollably likeable and frequently hilarious that it becomes evident that Bottle Rocket (above any of his other films) was made purely for the fun and love of the art without anything to lose. I mean, I’m not saying it’s a masterpiece—far from it—but it certainly did not deserve to be the monstrous commercial failure it is now considered, not his best but probably his most underrated all the same. Basically put, for a debut film, it’s incredible. And even by Anderson standards, it’s still pretty wonderful.

Recurring actors: Kumar Pallana; Andrew Wilson; Luke Wilson; Owen Wilson

Worst to Best: Wes Anderson - 06. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

06. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

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Famous ocean documentary filmmaker, Steve Zissou, embarks with his crew to hunt down the potentially mythical Jaguar Shark, but in real life, they only manage to produce a feature which drastically tore viewer opinion down the middle—way more than any other Anderson, in fact. Critics continue to ridicule the laborious pacing and aimlessly self-serving plot, which they claim drenches the footage with so much clutter that everything sinks to the bottom of its own dubious ocean, bombing heroically at the box office as it did so. However, many fans have hung on to it for dear life, happy to drown with the film, and rightfully praising such factors as Murray’s mopey performance, the incredible Portuguese renditions of David Bowie classics, and the infinitely strange world only Wes could possibly manifest. In time, said conflict granted the title a proud ‘cult classic’ stamp of approval, but personally, I am undecided. I appreciate how humourous Life Aquatic is without relying on any jokes, sure, yet am also painfully aware of how much tightening would be needed in order for this piece to compete with the man’s greater works... which is why I'm basically copping-out by calling it underrated, as well as calling it overrated, without enough confidence to make a solid statement either way. Ignore me, carry on.

Recurring actors: Waris Ahluwalia; Seymour Cassel; Willem Dafoe; Michael Gambon; Jeff Goldblum; Anjelica Huston; Bill Murray; Owen Wilson

Worst to Best: Wes Anderson - 05. Fantastic Mr. Fox

05. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

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It’s difficult to imagine a better director to take on a Roald Dahl classic above Wes Anderson. As a self proclaimed superfan of the author, our hero was respectfully careful to avoid getting lost within his standard bizarreness when re-imagining this memorable tale of one dapper fox slipping back into his wild old chicken-stealing ways. Rather, it seems to me that Anderson’s primary focus was one of enjoyment, providing a lively-paced gem, stuffed with an excess of comical chaos so pure in its morals that it can keep our younger generations locked to their seats, yet with enough wit to engage even the oldest of curious viewers. However, that is not to say that this otherworldly film doesn’t have Wes’ neurosis smothered all over it, as it playfully skips far away from your standard CGI type animation, preferring to speed along with a jerky, tattered style, which is quite refreshing in our Pixar flooded world, and may even contain enough quirk to make Quentin Blake visually aroused. Basically put, as Wes’ first ever animated feature, it was an enormous success, perhaps the greatest of his lesser films, and if nothing else, a perfectly sad reminder of how few decent Dahl interpretations there have been in recent times.

Recurring actors: Adrien Brody; Willem Dafoe; Michael Gambon; Bill Murray; Jason Schwartzman; Owen Wilson

Worst to Best: Wes Anderson - 04. The Royal Tenenbaums

04. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

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Out of every title on offer here, I consider The Royal Tenenbaums to be the most Anderson Anderson film ever made. With more than enough broken characters in the dysfunctional Tenenbaums family to invest in (with a quick special nod to Gene Hackman’s universally praised performance as the Dad who ruined them all), this film is central to the director’s trademarks, summing up all the ingredients only Wes can amalgamate quite so weirdly, and then executing them into one impenetrable ball of uncomfortable amusement. Try these on for size: a quirk overload which is as absurd as it is touching; a subtle bleakness which almost brings shame to your laughter; a sweetness in the misery; an imaginative discomfort stirred by calculated pokes to the rib cage; an unshakeable sense of unsettling oddness which perpetually provides a slight wince throughout; and (above all else) a story with an impressive heart, one which recognises its own faults, seeks answers in hope of repairing old mistakes, and wishes nothing more than to leave the world a better place. Certainly, this is not my favourite from the catalogue, but it is arguably the ideal entry point for the uninitiated witness, because if you don’t understand this movie, you don’t deserve Wes Anderson anyway.

Recurring actors: Seymour Cassel; Anjelica Huston; Bill Murray; Kumar Pallana; Andrew Wilson; Luke Wilson; Owen Wilson

Worst to Best: Wes Anderson - 03. The Grand Budapest Hotel

03. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

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If The Royal Tenenbaums is the archetype of an Anderson contribution, then The Grand Budapest Hotel is surely the pinnacle, an accumulation of everything he’s learned, nailed together like some sort of an awkwardly shimmering summary, except without repeating past pathways, opting to rather step a little bit skew whilst verifying the man’s genius as a director who no longer had anything left to prove. Telling a story within a story within a story within a story (?) this is an adventure of friendship shared between a hotel’s legendary caretaker and his lobby boy, running along as an offbeat comedy where so much happens that it’d be impossible to justly sum it up in the short time we have here. However, what’s important to note is that this film ticks every single stylish arty box we have come to demand, propelled by a captivating pace which never risks its rich elegance, undoubtedly the most refined and mature film Wes has ever achieved, indicating that perhaps (as the most recent entry on this list) Mr Anderson may somehow have the best left in him yet. Some may argue that the ridiculous whimsies and tragically dark undertones aren’t quite as potent as his reputation would tell, but the absolute widespread acclaim did not seem to notice, as everyone took it in turns to throw awards at Anderson's head until he could finally build himself that fort out of accolades and play an accordion all secluded by his lonesome.

Recurring actors: Waris Ahluwalia; Bob Balaban; Adrien Brody; Willem Dafoe; Jeff Goldblum; Harvey Keitel; Bill Murray; Edward Norton; Jason Schwartzman; Tilda Swinton; Owen Wilson

Worst to Best: Wes Anderson - 02. Rushmore

02. Rushmore (1998)

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Anderson’s second feature, Rushmore, not only launched the man’s artistic ventures into mass critical awareness, but also set an unimaginably high precedent for all his future works. This particular story begins with Max Fischer, an eccentric, overly-ambitious, misfit school student with everything going for him except passable grades. Said character is somehow presented as obnoxious as possible yet is still somewhat likeable, which was such an impressive performance from Schwartzman that it single-handedly created his acting career, and remains as (arguably) my favourite individual in all of Wes’ arsenal. However, the true magic arrives with Herman Blume, a disillusioned middle-aged businessman casually under-acted by Bill Murray so convincingly that this is generally lauded as the best Anderson/Murray collaboration ever—which says a lot, because the man is in all of them (bar one). These two unforgettable personalities forge a tight friendship, followed by a severe rivalry after they both develop a crush on the same teacher at the school, igniting an exceptional chemistry between these lovestruck boys as they blur the distance of their ages, reminding us all of our own adolescence and boyhood-meets-adulthood conflicts. Which made me a very excited human being. I wasn't alone either, as this masterpiece was essentially where Wes birthed his own genre, and he continues to stand as the only dude who can execute quite this way.

Recurring actors: Seymour Cassel; Bill Murray; Kumar Pallana; Jason Schwartzman; Andrew Wilson; Luke Wilson; Owen Wilson

Worst to Best: Wes Anderson - 01. Moonrise Kingdom

01. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

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When I first watched this tender romance between two intelligent twelve-year-old kiddies who opted to run away from the unpleasantries of society, well, my heart just broke and I felt legitimate physical pain. The cause for this agony was the fierce reminder of the strength of youth; the certainty and courage granted by naivety, sadly crawling towards its eventual demise by the curse of maturity; and the unadulterated magic of pubescent love, which only the innocent heart of a child could harness and follow through without apprehension. And then, by the endearing trickery of Wes Anderson's fingertips, you quickly forget that these adorable juveniles have essentially abandoned their parents and escaped into the dangerous wilderness—a terrible idea from any viewpoint and not something we should be encouraging whatsoever. And yet, you find yourself supporting their blind mission, yearning for their undeveloped connection to survive these odds, all the while suffering in devastation that you are now too old to ever recreate such a precious encounter. Mix this with the highest calibre of all-star casting, the most joyously dry of all performances, the perfectly original storyline, and the pedantically detailed visuals which are polished to glistening purity... and you have once again described every Anderson in existence. However, this specific gift stands out by its ability to crush nostalgia in a way none of his other projects have achieved, effortlessly standing as my favourite Anderson of all time due to my own stupid emotions, while I try recall when my life became so complicated and I managed to loose all the answers.

Recurring actors: Bob Balaban; Harvey Keitel; Bill Murray; Edward Norton; Jason Schwartzman; Tilda Swinton

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