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For over two decades, Wes Anderson has consistently made films that decoratively glean on the big screen, tell compelling stories about idiosyncratic characters, employ aesthetically appealing set designs, enchanting color coordination, and stories with powerful universal themes including family, dysfunction, and affliction. These cinematic trademarks have elevated Anderson to auteur status. Born and raised in Houston, Texas by a mother who was a realtor/archeologist and a father who worked in advertising, Anderson picked up on what makes things appealing to look at, and how to design beautifully.

The second of three boys, one later became a physician and the other an artist, Anderson lived in a seemingly nuclear family until his parents’ divorce at the age of eight, which serves as a root to common themes in his films.  He later attended the University of Texas at Austin, along with Owen Wilson, and earned a degree in Philosophy, but said he loved creative writing classes the most, and even when he wasn’t in those, he would still spend a lot of his class time writing short stories. After graduating, Anderson would go on with brothers Owen Wilson and Luke Wilson to make their first short film. 

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The Early Cinematic Achievements of Wes Anderson 

Anderson released a short film titled Bottle Rocket in 1994, starring friends from college Owen Wilson and Luke Wilson, and submitted it to film festivals around Texas. After garnering some positive attention, they were able to secure funding for a feature-length version of the film with the same name and same unknown actors in the lead roles. They were also able to attract the attention of one of America’s most recognizable actors from groundbreaking films such as The Godfather and Stephen King’s Misery, James Caan, which elevated them to more legitimate status. The film was a critical success, even being hailed by Martin Scorcese as one of his top ten movies of the 90s, but did poor commercially during its theatrical release. However, the film has since developed a massive fanbase with strong DVD/Blu-ray sales. 

Anderson and Owen Wilson then co-wrote Rushmore, which Anderson directed. The film introduced future A-List actor, musician, and Fargo star  Jason Schwartzman, who starred alongside On the Rocks lead Bill Murray, who would accompany Anderson in almost every one of his films following that. This was the film that raised Anderson’s artistic plateau, allowing him to have a soundtrack mixed with classic songs and quirky orchestral compositions, make peculiar yet suave uniforms, and make elaborate set designs, all elements that have been included in every one of his later films.

The film deals with themes of status, family dysfunction, and romance as two very unlikely rivals battle for the woman they love. Although the film is overall a comedy, full of sharp, witty dialogue and silly pranks, there’s a lot of heart to it that rounds the film off as being a moving coming of age story. Bill Murray earned a Golden Globe for his performance as Herman Blume, a depressed oil tycoon. It was a pivotal film in Anderson and Schwartzman’s careers that set the wheels in motion for two incredibly successful careers. 

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Anderson’s followup to Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, instituted an ongoing theme in Anderson’s movies of familial relationships and the indispositions that accumulate with them along the way. The roster of A-List superstars in this film shows that Anderson’s work was becoming well respected at the time, building him a reputation that allured the greatest actors. In this unconventional three-act, considerably even hyperlink structure, we follow the lives of the Tenenbaum family, a real-life family that Anderson knows, and the people they’re close to. The cast includes greats such as Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, and of course Anderson’s regulars, the Wilson brothers, and Bill Murray. The film was commended by critics and earned Anderson and Owen Wilson their first Oscar nominations for Best Screenplay.  It was also the most commercially successful of Anderson’s films for eleven years. 

The Evolution of an Auteur 

As Anderson continued to develop his artistic voice, he created even more distinct films that delved heavier into his most consistent cinematic trademarks. After his explosive introduction to the movie industry, Anderson made The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited. There were substantial motifs of family dysfunction, repairing relationships, and overcoming hardship to achieve self-satisfaction in each film, and all beautifully picturesque in every shot. These were the two films where Anderson really started to put the pieces together on who he wanted to be as an artist, and blossomed him into the wholesome, distinct, universally beloved auteur that’s enchanted critics and captivated audiences more than almost any other filmmaker.

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Anderson didn’t reach the same critical and commercial heights as he did with his early films until his first animated feature, Fantastic Mr. Fox, an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel, and co-written with Oscar-nominated filmmaker Noah Baumbach. The film is mainly in stop motion and includes a typical Anderson all-star cast. The film was nominated for two Oscars, Best Animated Feature, and Oscar-winning composer Alexandre Desplat, who would go on to work with Anderson regularly as well, earned the film a Best Original Score nomination. This movie slingshotted Anderson to the forefront of trusted writer/directors not just amongst film buffs, but general audiences too. It was this film that set up the critical and most commercially successful film of his since The Royal Tenenbaums

The Best Decade of His Career Yet 

Known to be as the quintessential Wes Anderson film to that point, Moonrise Kingdom was also his most financially triumphant, earning almost $70 million worldwide on an estimated $16 million budget. Continuing the pattern of Anderson putting the biggest stars of interest to him in lead roles, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, and Frances McDormand lead this giant cast in a hyperlink structured film. The film follows a young couple who run away together from their camps, ensuing a massive search party from their New England town. Anderson co-wrote the film with Roman Coppola, with their screenplay earning them an Oscar nomination. 

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Two years later, Anderson released his masterpiece to date, The Grand Budapest Hotel. “Inspired by the writings of” Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig, Anderson adapted the story and wrote the screenplay alone, the first time he took full charge of the writing responsibilities alone. It was a success, with the film grossing more than triple as much as any of his previous films, along with earning nine Oscar nominations and clinching four of them, Anderson reached the status of an icon. The cinematography, set design, comedy, and original score were reflective of Anderson’s style, polished and molded by his genius collaborators. The cast includes dozens of A-list stars, is gorgeously color-coordinated, and is charming to every one of the senses from start to finish.  

Anderson’s most recent feature was Isle of Dogs, a stop motion film like Fantastic Mr. Fox that follows a young Japanese boy searching for his dog. It’s a charming film with a story unlike most of his previous work but has enough Anderson elements to vividly show it’s his. The film earned two Oscar nominations and grossed more than his last stop motion film. It was almost the perfect end to Anderson’s cinematic decade, but another one of his films was supposed to be released in theaters before the COVID-19 pandemic, which would have been his last of the 2010s. The French Dispatch looks more Anderson-esque than ever and has a star-studded cast: Timothee Chalamet, Anjelica Huston, Tilda Swinton, and many other Anderson regulars. The film is now set to release in theaters in January of 2021. 

By Armando Brigham

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