Monday, March 10, 2014

Criticwire Question: Wes Anderson's Best & Worst

A couple of things before I answer the question – First - although The Grand Budapest Hotel should open in Toronto (perhaps wider in Canada) this weekend - there is a good chance I won’t get to it for a few weeks – a new baby will do that. Second – in anticipation of The Grand Budapest Hotel, which is one of my most anticipated films of the year - I am re-watching all of Anderson’s previous 7 films, and will do a sort of career retrospective sometime next week. I’ve only re-watched three so far (I’m going in no particular order – so I’ve re-watched The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom – will get to the rest this week) – so my answer could easily change by this time next week.

The Best? I’m torn between The Royal Tenenbaums and Fantastic Mr. Fox. Before re-watching it this weekend, I would have said Mr. Fox  – animation suits Anderson’s sensibilities perfectly, and the painstaking work involved in stop motion animation fits in with Anderson’s obsessive attention to detail. Anderson has always been influenced  by Roald Dahl – we’ve seen it most of his previous films – and his adaptation of Dahl’s book is a perfect blending of the two artists sensibilities. Oddly, the animated Fox family is among the most realistic in any Anderson film. The marriage between the Fox’s is strained in ways that seem real. It’s a stunner.
But re-watching The Royal Tenenbaums this weekend for the first time in about 5 years reminded me of how great that film was – and surprised me with how much it moved me –especially everything involving Ben Stiller’s Chas – two moments in particular - the early moment of his son coming down from the bunk bed to lay next to his father, to the late moment when Stiller finally says something to his father without anger and hatred in his voice – “I’ve had a rough year, dad” – both had me tearing up. Seeing the film for the first time since becoming a father hit me much harder than it ever did before – and convinced me it may well be Anderson’s masterpiece. Everything about that movie works just about perfectly. But check back again next week after I’ve given Fantastic Mr. Fox another viewing – not to mention Rushmore which could conceivably make a run as well (I'm not sure how many times I saw Rushmore as a teenager - 7 or 8 anyway - but it's been a while since I re-watched it). I really wouldn’t argue with anyone who chose Moonrise Kingdom either – I loved it even more on second viewing this weekend than I did when I saw it back in 2012.

As for Anderson’s worst, I first feel the need to say that most directors – even great ones – would probably be happy if their worst films were as good as Anderson’s worst ones. I’m torn again though – between Bottle Rocket, which I’ve seen three or four times now and enjoy it every time I do watch it (and will watch again this week) – because the film always slips from my memory soon after watching it -  with very few things about it sticking with me at all – which is odd, because Anderson’s films usually have many moments I never forget. The other one is The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou – which is a film I’ve watched multiple times, and just never quite loved as much as its defenders seem to. To me, The Life Aquatic has always been the film that Anderson’s detractors claim ALL his films are – empty style over substance, where all the deadpan delivery, meticulous art direction and costume design, and hipster music is so ironic and detached that nothing leaves an impression. Still, it’s one of the films I’m most looking forward to revisiting – it’s been a long time since I have, and I keep hoping that a subsequent viewing will let me in on what the films fans love about it so much – and at the very least, The Life Aquatic looks amazing in pretty much every frame, so it’s hardly a bad film. Who knows (SPOILER WARNING) maybe I’ll finally feel something when Owen Wilson dies this time around – I’ve never felt anything before because as with everything else in the movie it seems to stylized that Anderson wasn’t concerned with the emotional content but how it looked. Still, I don’t think I ever noticed the moment that Stiller’s son comes down and lays next to his father in Tenenbaums before, and now it’s perhaps my favorite moment in the film. Things change.

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