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Wes Anderson: a Hollywood auteur in an age of template technicians

PUBLISHED: 19:00 02 May 2019

Ralph Fiennes as Gustave in the Grand Budapest Hotel Photo: 20th Century Fox

Ralph Fiennes as Gustave in the Grand Budapest Hotel Photo: 20th Century Fox

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Wes Anderson is a film-maker with a distinctive style. He manages to navigate both mainstream Hollywood and the world of independent cinema. As he marks his 50th birthday we take a look at his eclectic career

Pictured: Steve Zissou (BILL MURRAY, left), and Eleanor Zissou (ANJELICA HUSTON, right) in a scene from THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU, directed by Wes Anderson. 


Photo: Buena Vista International.Pictured: Steve Zissou (BILL MURRAY, left), and Eleanor Zissou (ANJELICA HUSTON, right) in a scene from THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU, directed by Wes Anderson. Photo: Buena Vista International.

In Hollywood it has always been hard to be an auteur – in modern Hollywood it is twice as hard as the multinational conglomerates try and make movies that look and sound like every other movie. They want homogenous movies that fit into a current trend which can be sold to the world.

But, happily there are a few film-makers which not only buck-the-trend, but manage to thrive in the dog-eat-dog world of mainstream Hollywood. One such person is writer-director Wes Anderson who celebrated his 50th birthday this week.

Anderson, who was responsible for the revival of Bill Murray's film career, had three films on the BBC's top films of the 21st century list and continues to make highly distinctive films which are embraced by both the multiplex community and the arthouse circuit.

Like fellow mainstream auteurs Tim Burton and Woody Allen and classic film-makers like Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford and Billy Wilder, Wes Anderson makes films that are instantly recognisable as his work. He presents his own quirky, slightly distorted view of the world which remains surprisingly consisted through as series of films which, on the surface are nothing alike.

Wes Andersons Moonrise Kingdom (L to R) Bill Murray as Mr Bishop, Tilda Swinton as Social Services, Bruce Willis as Captain Sharp, Edward Norton as Scout Master Ward, and Frances McDormand as Mrs Bishop Photo: Focus FeaturesWes Andersons Moonrise Kingdom (L to R) Bill Murray as Mr Bishop, Tilda Swinton as Social Services, Bruce Willis as Captain Sharp, Edward Norton as Scout Master Ward, and Frances McDormand as Mrs Bishop Photo: Focus Features

His signature style is to tell quirky, slightly otherworldly stories, often character-driven, but in a very visually distinctive way. He will use powerful colour palettes and camera lenses which draw attention to the fact that we are watching something which is not rooted in reality.

When he started his career, he worked closely with his university mate Owen Wilson – the pair met at University of Texas in Austin, graduating in 1990 – and wrote Anderson's first film Bottle Rocket (1996) together. The film, a crime caper movie, featured Owen and brother Luke Wilson. It wasn't a hit but it did provide him with a calling card which Hollywood quickly snapped up.

Wes Anderson's Signature Movies:

Wes Anderson attends the premiere of his film The Royal TenenbaumsWes Anderson attends the premiere of his film The Royal Tenenbaums

Rushmore (1998) starring: Olivia Williams, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman

Anderson's break-through movie which followed the extraordinary school career of over-achieving 15 year old Max Fischer, played by Jason Schwartzman.

Fischer is sponsored by eccentric millionaire businessman Herman Blume, played with typical emotional distance by Bill Murray and the pair both find themselves falling for the charms of English teacher Miss Cross (Olivia Williams). Fischer stages a school play to end all school plays and perhaps a school play to potentially end the school. The film is as eccentric as its main character and as strange as Murray's disdainful industrialist.

Ralph Fiennes as Gustave and Tony Revolori as Zero in the Grand Budapest Hotel Photo: 20th Century FoxRalph Fiennes as Gustave and Tony Revolori as Zero in the Grand Budapest Hotel Photo: 20th Century Fox

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) starring: Gene Hackman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Anjelica Huston, Bill Murray, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson

After the success of Rushmore Anderson and writing buddy Owen Wilson teamed up together for a third time and this is the first of his films to make the BBC's 21st century classic list. It's a bitter-sweet comedy-drama film, about a successful artistic New York City family and its ostracised patriarch, played by Gene Hackman.

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Like Rushmore, this is a film about the burdens of being an over-achiever, except in this case it's a family of eccentric over-achievers. Royal and Etheline Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman and Anjelica Houston) are a wealthy couple living in New York City with their three children, all of whom are incredibly gifted in particular fields. But, there is trouble at the heart of the family.

Chas (Ben Stiller) is mourning the loss of his wife in a plane crash six months earlier, and is struggling with the duty of raising their two sons, Ari and Uzi, on his own. Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), a playwright, is stoic and enigmatic, suffering from writer's block and enduring a listless marriage to the much-older neurologist Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray). Richie (Luke Wilson) retired from professional tennis after a mysterious emotional meltdown at a crucial match, and had been travelling the world on a cruise ship for a year.

Etheline, an academic, works as an archaeologist. Etheline's smitten accountant Henry Sherman (Danny Glover) proposes marriage to her. Meanwhile, the family's longtime servant Pagoda reports the news to Royal, who resolves to win his family back.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) starring: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Anjelica Huston, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum

Not a huge hit at the time but a classic piece of Wes Anderson cinema. This is the story of a Jacques Cousteau-esque documentary filmmaker played by Bill Murray. It captures the obsession and the single-mindedness that often drives people become known as the great pioneers of their generation.

The story has strong elements of Moby Dick as the gently barmy Steve Zissou goes to hunt down the mythical Jaguar Shark because he believes it killed his partner.

Family, again plays a big part in the film because he takes his estranged wife along for the ride and a co-pilot who could possibly be Zissou's son. Hold on tight, it going to be a bumpy ride.

Fantastic Mr Fox (2009) starring: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Michael Gambon

This inventive animated tale, adapted from the Roald Dahl classic, was the last thing people expected from Wes Anderson but it is a total treat and performed much better in the UK and Europe than it did in the USA. As you expect from a Roald Dahl story, its a delicious dark tale but thanks to Wes Anderson's input it's also wonderfully eccentric. Mr. Fox is known for stealing things. Then, he decides to put his wild days behind him and do what fathers do best: be responsible. However, he is tempted to try “just one more raid” on the three nastiest, meanest farmers in the district: Boggis, Bunce and Bean. It is a tale of crossing the line of family responsibilities, midnight adventures and friendships in a world inhabited by Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012) starring: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Frances McDormand

A beautifully filmed, charming story of young love in an isolated community set on a remote island community off New England. Set in the 1960s, once again it highlights the character-driven comic conflicts which exist between close-knit families and some highly dysfunctional communities. A rare film where the Boy Scout Association of America plays a central role.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) starring: Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law, F. Murray Abraham, Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman

This is Anderson's final entry (so far) on the BBC's 21st century film classic list and to my mind his masterpiece. It's set in the 1930s and follows the adventures of Monsieur Gustave, the hotel's concierge, running a glorious hotel for the rich and famous and being generally indispensable. But, as time passes you see the glamour fade and the fortunes of its guests change. There is a definite Hitchcock air about the movie, particularly his 1930s classics The Lady Vanishes and The 39 Steps. It's a stylish film which emphasises his visual storytelling prowess.

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