Wesley Anderson. Wes’ strength for the purposes of this list is both the filmography and the aesthetic quality (and consistency) in his work. He already has 3 top 500 films and a whopping 6 films that are in their respective decade’s top 100. That’s remarkable. I think it’s less likely that he’ll ever have a Tree of Life or In the Mood For Love– level masterpiece but if he can keep cranking them out every 2-3 years and have such great depth (like a Fassbinder or Ozu) he should easily creep into the top 25-50 of all-time when it’s all said and done. I’ll get to it more below but he’s one of cinema’s great masters of mise-en-scene—production design and décor. And, he’s a world-creator like Bunuel/Lynch/Malick/Tarantino—he’s easily parodied because he’s so stylized and consistent like these auteurs. He has a style—and it’s impressive.

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brilliant scene here in Royal Tenenbaums– every inch of the frame detailed– blue lighting

Best film:  The Royal Tenenbaums

  • It is Anderson’s first real attempt at a diorama (NYC apartment here) and then we’d have a boat (life aquatic), train (Darjeeling), hotel (grand budapest). It’s a dazzling exploration and launch for his creative brilliance regarding mise-en-scene and décor
  • NYT review calls it “unbearably show-offy”—sign me up
  • A dysfunctional family opus and ensemble work
  • Formally rigorous with the story construction (to match the rigor of the set design and mise-en-scene work)- we have book presentation of the film, prologue, gorgeous use of “Hey Jude” and Alec Baldwin’s sublime voice-over
  • Highlights galore and start from the very beginning with the intro of the characters montage, facing camera getting ready
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artwork in the character intros here again from Tenenbaums
  • Like the Schwartzman character in Rushmore these children are artists- and Margo even writes plays like Schwartzman’s Max Fisher character
  • Books (both real and fake) abundant in the intellectual world of the characters and apartment—a common insert edit from Anderson is a cutaway to the book the person published, etc
  • Absolutely no stone unturned in this mise-en-scene—not as bright or flashy as Grand Budapest but just as detailed and rich
  • When Hackman is in the doctor’s office there are three file cabinet drawers that are different colors and it’s perfectly in synch with the rest of the film- this is a 15 second scene at the longest- so just for the hell of it Anderson details everything. This makes for richly rewarding rewatches
  • The Nico “These Days” slow-mo of Paltrow getting off the bus with the reverse to Luke Wilson in close-up is a work of art- a transcendent scene— the only one that rivals it for the film’s best is the Elliott Smith montage editing of Luke Wilson’s suicide attempt. A staggeringly beautiful scene
slow-motion with pop/rock musical cue– Scorsese 101 – sublime
  • Symmetry in every frame- he’s showing you great blocking here and human faces and bodies for framing like Bergman would do
  • Love the comic tapestries in Eli’s (owen Wilson) apartment
  • He’s using the entire frame- there’s always a film going on in the foreground and a film going on in the background
  • Like silent cinema we have his loudly stylized chapter breaks
  • Too many critics get hung up on the twee and cuteness of the red jump suits and Dalmatian mice
  • Lots of wallpaper art options here to choose from (another highlight is the two-character close up of Stiller and Wilson lying down at the end in the backyard)
  • The deadpan style is, now, 3 films in, becoming trademark. Wes has fashioned a unique cinematic work like Lynch, Tarantino, Malick, Scorsese, Bresson, Tarkovsky—easily parodied and identified.
  • It’s too rich for most viewers honestly- taken for granted
  • I think it hits as harshly, on a narrative/content level of many films it’s not given credit for. We have an exaggerated world and exaggerated characters but when Stiller tells Hackman “I’ve had a rough year, Dad” I found it to be quite devastating. The plight and struggles of this family are real in their film and the move towards togetherness and bond, a surefire theme in Anderson’s work, is real
  • The epilogue funder- Van Morrison and slow-motion like his previous two films- very well done

total archiveable films: 9

top 100 films: 0

top 500 films: 3 (The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore, The Darjeeling Limited)

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actually one of Wes’ more subtle brilliant mise-en-scene shots– an empty stadium, overcast– loneliness and isolation– architecture as character

top 100 films of the decade: 6 (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel)

symmetry– do a “function f” search on the page- if you haven’t found the word “symmetry” multiple times- I’ve failed here

most overrated: Bottle Rocket. So it’s not in the TSPDT top 1000 so it’s not technically overrated. But Scorsese had this as the #7 film of the entire 1990’s. I love Scorsese– but 7th best film of the 90’s?!? No way. Bottle Rocket is easily Wes’ weakest visual effort and he’s a great auteur because of his visuals…. even if you didn’t like Life Aquatic (it’s definitely grown on me) there’s nothing in Bottle Rocket like the dazzling set designs, framing, and the wonderful editing during the helicopter crash sequence in Aquatic. I guess you could argue the characters and writing are better in Bottle Rocket but I’ll take the superior style all day.

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this is just a throwaway in Life Aquatic and it’s absolutely breathtaking

most underrated: The Darjeeling Limited. It’s his lowest rated film on TSPDT and severely underrated

  • To me, the short, Hotel Chevalier is part of Darjeeling the larger feature. It’s a prologue- and I found it to be a stunning opening to the film—Schwartzman’s character is watching Stalag 17 and it shows that even in 2007 Wes is thinking about gorgeous and plush European Hotels (Grand Budapest)
  • Slo-motion used heavier here than in all his previous work- he uses it in the hotel and Bill Murray’s slow-mo trying to catch a train
  • Music is truly inspired throughout- I love “The Kinks” with “This Time Tomorrow” and then we have original music from the Satyajit Ray films
  • Those who gave the film a poor review (and there are many) are deaf to the onslaught of beautiful film visual style- this film is oozing in it. Even if it doesn’t “gel” for them (which is a cop-out) the visual ambition alone make for a top 10 of the year film—I have it higher
  • Laminated itinerary, father issues, comradery… Wes’ auteuristic traits
  • There’s form and repetition in the screenplay I appreciate with Owen Wilson ordering for everyone
  • The film’s mise-en-scene and décor are exploding in colors: Teal, Yellow, Green—and Wes is rolling the tracking shots back and forth in the carts with gorgeous wallpaper in all of it.
  • He uses the train window as frame within a frame device
  • I’ll admit these are tougher characters to get behind than some of his better work—they’re affluent, smug/rude—in need of change- see later
  • Many critics mistake Wes for going to India to get spiritual enlightenment which is exactly what he’s debunking—his point is you can’t force spiritual moments like the Owen Wilson character tries to—the real moment comes unexpectedly when the attempt to save the drowning children—- I’ll admit that moment came in and it wiped me out emotionally
  • There 1-2 Zooms like he always has
  • The film has a lot to say on death and grieving. The characters all make phone calls later to make amends
  • I think it’s a complete film at 70 minutes—the last 15 with Anjelica (and she’s not the problem- she’s great) are a little rough—it’s not awful (the marvelous tracking shot through the walls of the train showing the various people in their life with stunningly detailed backgrounds on each is a film highlight) it’s just not as tight as it would’ve been with the 70 minute film.
  • Symmetry and the bookmarks– catching the train at the end—literally can’t make the train if they continue to hold onto their dad’s baggage (luggage- designed by Louis Vuitton) weighing them down—slow-mo again- gorgeous
  • The production designer Mark Friedberg—far from heaven
  • The slow-motion shot of the three men walking to the kid’s funeral is amongst the career highlights for Wes—such a brilliant auteur—it’s a moving painting with the characters in profile—it flows well into the flashback of their father’s funeral. It’s a fantastic moment. There’s elements of Greenaway with the mise-en-scene tracking//moving painting and certainly elements of Scorsese with all the gorgeous slow-motion to inspired soundtrack (The kinks here mainly)
  • Must-See film- top 5 of the year quality
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the rolling tableau– a tracking shot/mise-en-scene marriage shot that would make Cuaron in Roma or Greenaway in Cook, Thief, Wife jealous
from Darjeeling here– production design and decor

gem I want to spotlight:  Moonrise Kingdom

  • I think the first hour may be the pinnacle of Wes’ style
  • The entire thing is a singular confident vision that’s perfectly execcuted
  • Heavy brown and wood color—the fake “New Penzanc” island is a perfect world for Wes for create and diorama-fy
  • Nostalgia and true love- well-earned formally- the emotional resonance
  • As a strict formalist- I love how Wes pulls apart the various pieces in the Benjamin Britten music and then reconstructs
  • I took this from Bordwell but I love how Suzy’s book on children looks like a Saul Bass poster—there’s also a postage stamp that looks like Edward Norton- this level of detail in the mise-en-scene makes for thoroughly rewarding study and dissection
  • Cartography— and a tendency to fix the camera at right angles with characters staggered in profile or at angles
  • This filmed turned back a lot of critics who felt justified in not liking Wes through the Darjeeling and life aquatic phase- lots of “best since Rushmore” in the reviews
  • Rolling tracking shots in the opening are stunning- it’s all done within perfect symmetry in the mise-en-scene. This is Peter Greenaway—it’s a moving painting
  • Letter writing- auteur mark/trait—another is the mentor/father/family issues—a dead dog
  • The shot of Suzy in the tower is a stunner as well
  • There’s another actual play in the film- again another reoccurring trait in Wes-world- rich detail- clearly it’s pointing to the storm/flood as it’s Noah’s ark
  • Wes is clearly in love with the preparation of camps and scouts—“maybe we should take an inventory”—but she’s a singer and he paints
  • Murray’s pants
  • Very 1960’s/70’s cinema zoom-heavy in the inlet
  • That dancing scene is just so damn sweet
  • Multiple times with have split screen usage with juxtaposing rich mise-en-scene(s)—stunning work
  • I missed it before but there is slow motion here- leaving the makeshift chapel after the marriage
  • That first hour before the storm— I feel like after the storm the film gets a way a little
  • Another level of detail is the ongoing love between Norton and the phone operator- multiple viewings
  • 16mm which I find hard to spot- it looks too gorgeous to me
  • The film opens and closes perfectly- blending painting with actual location (Suzy’s family’s red cottage house to open then the “moonrise kingdom” inlet to end)—so perfectly bookmarked
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some smirk when you mention Wes in the same breath as Ozu but this shot from Moonrise is evidence — different depths, doorway work
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space and minimal frame design sometimes as powerful as the confectionery overload– this is from Moonrise

stylistic innovations/traits:   Wes is one of the true masters of mise-en-scene and production design in the history of film. There are dioramas (sliced up NYC apartments, submarines, islands, hotels) like Jacques Tati. He creates a world through film style:  characters act (often a deadpan delivery) and dress (from yellow jump suits in Bottle Rocket to the baby blue in Life Aquatic and purple in Grand Budapest) differently in Wes’ world. Even those that aren’t a fan of his world and eccentricities have to marvel at his craftsmanship, colorful compositions and fastidious attention to detail (both in narrative and visuals).  He’s not just about mise-en-scene though. His early films all end with great slow-motion sequences to rock music cues (hello Scorsese)—the slow-motion of Paltrow getting off the bus is pure Scorsese.The editing of the suicide attempt in Royal and the helicopter crash in Life Aquatic are marvelous sequences. I was also blown over by the rolling tableau tracking shots in both Darjeeling and Moonrise that reminded me of the best of Peter Greenaway. These are moving paintings. Wes’ whip pans have become a trademark and his 1-2 zoom shots per film have proven to be ever so effective. His content includes father-figure/father complex/mentor and protégé content fixation is even consistent than PT’s even if he never achieves the depth of exploration. They are also meditations on camaraderie.

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detail, creativity and consistency in the narrative presentation — formal chapter breaks here
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letter writing in Wes’ world

top 10

  1. The Royal Tenenbaums
  2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  3. Moonrise Kingdom
  4. Rushmore
  5. The Darjeeling Limited
  6. Fantastic Mr. Fox
  7. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
  8. Isle of Dogs
  9. Bottle Rocket
auteur-driven stop-motion or animation is rare in cinema– here- a gorgeous establishing shot/painting in Fantastic Mr. Fox

By year and grades

1996- Bottle Rocket R
1998- Rushmore MP
2001- The Royal Tenenbaums MP
2004- The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou R
2007- The Darjeeling Limited MS
2009- Fantastic Mr. Fox MS
2012- Moonrise Kingdom MP
2014- The Grand Budapest Hotel MP
2018- Isle of Dogs R

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives