Picture this: whimsical music in the background, an ideal symmetrical frame with perfect angles, and flashcards detailing the time and place; sound familiar? That’s right; it is a film by Wes Anderson!
All cinephiles can easily identify the idiosyncratic, brilliant filmmaker Wes Anderson’s films. Wes Anderson’s highly stylised films have cemented him as one of this era’s most distinctive American directors.
Considered to be a modern auteur with a specific and recognisable artistic vision, Anderson uses colours, lights and props to create visual effects that not only contribute to the story but also excite the viewer perceptively to delineate the environments of an almost childlike fantasy, leading him out of the bitterness of the adult dimension.
The result is the creation of noteworthy titles that have earned Anderson an army of fans deeply devoted to his unique vintage-style creativity and a narrative strongly imbued with nostalgia. Enamoured with the cleanest camera movements and perfect symmetrical composition, Anderson chisels high-quality baroque-pop images. An imprint that never left him, not even when he threw himself into stop-motion animation.
Coming up next, we take a closer look at the life and work of the magnificent Wes Anderson.
Who is Wes Anderson?
Wes Anderson is an American actor, director, executive producer, writer, and screenwriter born on 1 May 1969 in Houston, Texas (USA). Anderson graduated from the University of Texas, where he studied philosophy. At the university, he befriended the Wilson brothers: Owen, Luke and Andrew.
He worked with them on his first short film, Bottle Rocket (1994), which was showcased at the Sundance Film Festival, where it was noticed by producer James L. Brooks. Brooks helped Anderson and the Wilsons to raise the necessary funds to turn the work into a feature, and that’s how Bottle Rocket (1996), Anderson’s first feature film, came to life. The film didn’t do good at the box-office results, but it received critical acclaim.
Two years later, he co-wrote and directed Rushmore, the story of an extraordinary 15-year-old boy caught up in an unlikely love triangle. In this film, Anderson was still far from the aesthetics that would make him famous, but we can already see his first preferences for monochrome and perspective. It is a less stylised, more realistic Anderson. Rushmore also was the beginning of the artistic bond between Anderson, Bill Murray, and Jason Schwartzman.
However, the breakthrough film in Wes Anderson’s career is The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). The film had its premiere at the Berlin Film Festival, and it was a big hit with critics and audiences. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and Gene Hackman scored the Golden Globe for Best Actor for his role.
The Royal Tenenbaums is an absolute gem. Perhaps it stands out among Anderson’s films for the bitterness with which one can go from the stars to the stables, from brilliance to superficiality, from goodness to disloyalty.
The Ups & Downs!
In 2004, Anderson’s next project, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), came out. Like his previous film, this one was also presented in Berlin. Among the strongest aspects of this film was the stunning soundtrack done by Mark Mothersbaugh, featuring several famous David Bowie songs.
With this film, it seemed clear that Anderson had a tendency to work with the same cast, consisting of recurring actors plus a few additions. In the film, Anderson chose close-ups so that the viewer could come face to face with the actors, but he also opened up to shots in which the individual character is alone or in the middle of the frame to better represent his sense of isolation.
Chromatically, Anderson incorporated magnificent scenic and photographic compositions with colours reminiscent of water, using various shades of blue throughout the film.
However, he failed to replicate the success of his previous work, although the result is still of a very high standard. Even from a narrative point of view, there is that ironic and light-hearted (and once again sad) note that characterises his scripts, rich in subtexts here elevated by the musical choices of Mark Mothersbaugh.
Anderson then moved to work on The Darjeeling Limited (2007), following three American brothers who travel through India searching for themselves and their missing mother. The film was showcased in Competition at the Venice Film Festival. The film paid tribute to Satyajit Ray, who Anderson dedicated the film to.
Anderson used the same colour code in the film but in Indian style. Warm, vivid colours and remarkable patterns (often belonging to traditional clothing) were in stark contrast to cold greys and bright blues.
Two years later, Anderson tried his hand at the complex art of stop-motion animation with the film Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), which was a massive success, and it even received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Film.
In 2012 came one of Anderson’s masterpieces to date, Moonrise Kingdom. The coming-of-age drama had its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. Anderson co-wrote the film with Roman Coppola, and they received an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay nomination for their work.
Later on, precisely two years later, came another masterwork, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). The film was a great success both at the box office and with the critics. It scored many awards, including nine Oscar nominations, grossing Anderson his first Academy Awards nomination for Best Director!
Anderson followed that with another stop-motion animation film Isle of Dogs (2018). The film was adored by critics and audiences, and it won numerous awards and two Oscar nominations.
The 2020s started with yet a new gem from Anderson, The French Dispatch (2021). Like many of his films, the film was a hit, nominated for many awards and going home with several of them. As for his latest project, Asteroid City, it had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival 2023, and it received quite good reviews from critics.
There is a reason why Wes Anderson’s films are so recognisable, AKA his unique artistic touch! When it comes to filmmakers like Wes Anderson, there is so much to learn from regarding their techniques and style. Anderson’s techniques are like no other; he pays so much attention to different factors:
Above all, the uniqueness and originality of Wes Anderson’s characters are expressed through the care of the decoration and costumes of the characters.
Anderson is a kind of filmmaker-stylist. The costumes, objects, places and interiors are distinctive and eye-catching. In particular, Wes Anderson’s aesthetic imagery is linked to the 1960s and 1970s and is fuelled by a remarkable passion for literature, illustration and cinema.
Wes Anderson likes to use wide angles, and he often uses Zoom to highlight a detail, starting with the wide field and then tightening on the point. Zooms are usually high-speed to give additional dynamism to the shot.
The Photographic Style
In Wes Anderson’s films, every shot is studied to perfection, as is the photographic composition. A recurring characteristic of Wes Anderson’s films is a scene full of elements, always perfectly distributed. The use of slow motion is also frequent in his films, with cadenced rhythms amplified by an apt soundtrack.
When it comes to landscape shots, there are a few types of shots recurrent in Anderson’s films. He opts for shots parallel to the ground, with a point of view much lower than human height. Almost to compensate for this type of framing, Wes Anderson also alternates shots from above. In this way, he obtains a very graphic and unconventional point of view.
Finally, Anderson likes framing with foreground elements to contextualise the environment. In this case, he uses a very closed diaphragm to have the whole scene in focus is of fundamental importance.
A Wes Anderson film is what people with symmetry OCD dream of! It is impossible not to notice the exaggerated attention to symmetries and the centralisation of the scene. In Anderson’s films, the frame is often vertically or horizontally centred. If you love symmetries, his films will give you great inspiration.
The colour palette is the feature that probably stands out most when watching a Wes Anderson film. The colour palette is always minimal, with pastels and bright tones. Anderson favours warm, saturated colours echoing a setting vaguely reminiscent of the 1970s. The colour palette can be considered Wes Anderson’s genuine ‘signature’. It makes his films instantly recognisable.
Anderson favours the most indignant, sarcastic and cynical comedy like that of late 1990s indie cinema. Anderson focuses on themes of family, especially in a broad and untraditional sense, the theme of adolescence’s struggle, and the rebellious spirit of individuals who like to make a change.
In fact, with extreme lightness, he tells melancholic stories populated by eccentric characters with fairy-tale looks who yearn for joy but only have the pain caused by broken loves and friendships at their fingertips. They are unhappy men and women, victims of dysfunctional families, who often find escaping is the only possible solution.
Wes Anderson Most Memorable Films
Wes Anderson’s repertoire is just like him; quirky, interesting, and full of surprises! Coming up next, we pay homage to some of his memorable films.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Some consider Anderson a director more of form than substance; however, The Royal Tenenbaums has become Anderson’s most enduring masterpiece precisely because it dismisses this thought without appeal, with a perfect synthesis of his style and a story with an immense heart.
It is the film against which the Texan director’s work continues to be measured even after almost twenty years! In this film, Wes was so in control of his eccentricity, sensibility and impassive humour that he found the purity of emotions.
Set in New York City, The Royal Tenenbaums is a portrait of a dysfunctional middle-class family with an opportunistic father and mother and their three kids; a real estate mogul, a playwright and a tennis professional.
The Royal Tenenbaums turned out to be one of Anderson’s top films. The story and images were carefully constructed, with a specific style in the colour scheme that, from then on, became always present in all Anderson’s works. The colour palette of that film included shades of brown, red, blue and yellow, consistently linked to the details and costumes of the characters in prescribing and describing their emotions in each scene.
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
In his first experience with stop-motion animation, Anderson immediately hit the mark. Fantastic Mr. Fox is a full-blown Wes Anderson film; it combined the fairy tale with Anderson’s wit and humour, turning Roald Dahl’s original book into a full-blown campy heist comedy.
The rest of the magic was done by the dubbing, which was performed by George Clooney, who lent his effortless charm to Mister Fox, while the one and only Meryl Streep was the voice of the delightful Miss Fox. The film was a hit and got nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Score. With this film, it was clear that Anderson’s love affair with stop-motion had only just begun.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Love, friends, boyfriends, and adventure; this is exactly what Wes Anderson’s teen film Moonrise Kingdom hinges on. The film is set in 1960s New England, where Sam, the awkward orphan and Suzy fall in love at summer scout camp, and they escape to an isolated island.
Moonrise Kingdom is one of the tenderest films about first love. The sentimental coming-of-age featured the usual Wes Anderson films’ stratospheric cast, Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton, and Jason Schwartzman, with the young leads Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, who were absolutely delightful!
Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
In 2014, Anderson came close to perfection with The Grand Budapest Hotel! The Grand Budapest Hotel is proof that Anderson is the only indie auteur who has somehow managed to become mainstream while remaining stubbornly himself, without aligning himself with Hollywood dictates.
In The Grand Budapest Hotel, the charming concierge of an atmospheric Central European hotel (Ralph Fiennes) and his waiter must prove the former’s innocence in the face of a murder charge. In between, there is war, the oppression of fascism, the ever-present sense of tragedy, friendship and the honour of loyalty punctuated in three different moments, denoted by three different stylistic approaches.
The hotel featured in the film is definitely one of its greatest assets, thanks to the muted pink chosen to colour it and that pastel taste with which Anderson painted the environments and dressed the protagonists, creating dreamy little worlds. In terms of narrative, The Grand Budapest Hotel is probably the most complex challenge Anderson has ever tackled: a mix of drama, comedy, thriller and political intrigue.
It is Anderson’s most sumptuous film, but beneath all that magnificent decoration lies a sense of history, loss and a wonderful underlying melancholy for a lost era of beauty and elegance. The film is Anderson’s highest-grossing film and winner of countless awards, including four Oscars for set design, costumes, make-up and soundtrack.
Isle of Dogs (2018)
In the second stop-motion experiment for Anderson, the stakes were much higher! But Anderson didn’t fail to deliver, and the feature film is perhaps Anderson’s most imaginative work yet.
In the not-too-distant future, the fictional metropolis of Megasaki has quarantined dogs on Trash Island after an outbreak of a seemingly incurable strain of dog flu. A band of misfit dogs accompany young Atari on a search for his beloved dog on a remote island in the Sea of Japan.
With beautiful hand-built sets and a cameo by none other than the Japanese artist Yoko Ono, The Isle of Dogs pays homage to Japanese cinema. The film focuses on themes of the importance of friendship, determined courage, a sense of sacrifice, profound seriousness and composure in the face of life’s immense tragedies.
The French Dispatch
This Wes Anderson creation is practically a summary of the director’s entire oeuvre. The cast is an endless roundup of Hollywood stars. The film is a witty retelling of three stories, set in an imaginary 20th-century French city, that celebrate the profession of the journalist.
In the three stories told, Wes Anderson switches from colour to black and white to animation. Like many of his films, in The French Dispatch, there is no shortage of dreamlike sets, bizarre characters and peculiar plots, creating the recognisable and captivating characteristics of Wes Anderson’s cinema.
While sometimes, he is accused of making the same film over and over again. Yet, this artistic attitude is actually one of Anderson’s strengths. The Texan director has created a compact and coherent universe transcending cinematic boundaries. Wes Anderson established an entirely new aesthetic language. He has distinguished himself as an exceptionally creative filmmaker who, with his unmistakable signature, deserves the status of an auteur more than any other filmmaker of his generation.