A mainstay in the cinephile’s compendium since the 2001 release of The Royal Tenenbaums, Wes Anderson is one of the few contemporary filmmakers able to successfully cultivate a wholly original, instantly recognizable, and deeply idiosyncratic style able to resonate so profoundly with multigenerational audiences. Anderson’s employment of themes like nostalgia, familial strife, and human connection against meticulously crafted, uniform backdrops suffused with rich color palettes and strangely gratifying symmetry lend Anderon’s film an undeniable whimsical magnetism.
With the release of Anderson’s 11th feature Asteroid City in 2023, it’s clear (much to the delight of audiences) the director's influence will only continue to expand, promising fans more of his hallmark vision and charming nostalgia.
Early forays into filmmaking
Born Wesley Wales Anderson on May 1, 1969 in Houston, Texas; Anderson found his love of filmmaking at a young age. Alongside staging elaborate theater productions in high school, Anderson shot silent films with his brothers using their father’s Super 8mm camera and had an early fascination with storytelling and performance. Anderson worked part-time as a cinema projectionist while a student at the University of Texas at Austin and would meet his roommate and later frequent collaborator Owen Wilson in college. After bonding over their shared love of movies, Wilson and Anderson worked on a script for his first full-length film titled Bottle Rocket.
Bottle Rocket (1996)
Anderson’s first directorial feature and the acting debut of Owen and Luke Wilson, Bottle Rocket is a 1996 crime comedy based upon Anderson’s 1994 short of the same name. Though the film was praised upon release, it was not a commercial smash, leading star Owen Wilson to consider quitting acting and joining the Marines instead. Shot almost entirely at the Camarillo State Mental Hospital in Camarillo, California, the film has been named by director Martin Scorcesse as one of his favorite movies from the 1990s.
Anderson’s next film was the 1998 comedy Rushmore starring Jason Schwartzman in his film debut as Max Fischer (a fictionalized version of a young Anderson) alongside Bill Murray as wealthy businessman Herman Blume. Co-written by Anderson and Owen Wilson, Rushmore focuses on Murray and Schwartzman’s characters' shared infatuation with school teacher Rosemary Cross, played by British actress Olivia Williams, at the prestigious Rushmore Academy in Houston, Texas. Like Bottle Rocket, box office returns were modest—though once again critically lauded—nabbing two Independent Spirit Awards and earning Murray a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Starring Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Bill Murray, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Stiller —the 2001 comedy drama (again co written by Anderson and Wilson), chronicles the lives of the eccentric Tenenbaum family as the family patriarch (Royal Tenebaum, played by Gene Hackman) attempts to reconcile with his estranged family after abandoning them years prior. Strongly influenced by the storytelling of novelist J.D. Salinger, the film’s absurdist humor and themes of dysfunctional familial relationships helped make The Royal Tenenbaums Anderson’s most commercially successful film in his early career. Hackman was awarded a Golden Globe for his performance, while Wilson and Anderson were nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 74th Academy Awards.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
One of Anderson’s most divisive film’s, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, follows madcap oceanographer Steve Zissou (a parody of French naval officer Jacques Cousteau played by Bill Murray) in his journey to hunt down a shark who’d eaten his best friend and partner, Esteban du Plantier. Released on Christmas 2004, the film also stars Anderson ensemble regulars like Owen Wilson, Willem Defoe, Anjelica Huston, and Cate Blanchett as members of Zissou’s crew and passengers aboard his submersible documenting his whimsical Moby Dick reminiscent odyssey.
The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
The Darjeeling Limited is a 2007 dramedy following three malcontent brothers (played by Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, and Owen Wilson) embarking on a spiritual journey through India on a luxury railway a year after their father’s funeral. Using Anderson’s short film Hotel Chevalier starring Schwartzman and Natalie Portman as a prologue, the film premiered at the 64th Venice International Film Festival, later taking home the coveted Little Golden Lion award. Filmed predominantly in northern India, the film was well received by critics and praised for its depiction of India as an integral piece of the storytelling rather than a tourist’s garish caricature.
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
Based upon Roald Dahl’s 1970 children’s book of the same name, Fantastic Mr. Fox is a 2009 stop-motion animation film directed by Anderson and written by Anderson and Noam Baumbach. Fantastic Mr. Fox began development in 2004 as a collaboration between Anderson and Nightmare Before Christmas stop-motion director Henry Selick. The film premiered to widespread critical acclaim at the 53rd London Film Festival, later receiving nominations for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Score at the 82nd annual Academy Awards. Despite the film’s near universal critical acclaim, it underperformed at the box office, just barely making back its $40 million budget.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Anderson’s 7th feature-length film, Moonrise Kingdom is a coming-of-age dramedy. The film tells the story of Sam, a young orphan and boy scout (played by Jared Gilman), as he journeys across the fictional New England island of New Penzance to meet his troubled penpal, a young girl named Suzy (played by Kara Hayward). The pair escape together to a remote beach (the titular Moonrise Kingdom as dubbed by the couple) as romantic tensions between them begin to rise. One of Anderson’s best remembered films, Moonrise Kingdom has been widely praised for its charming production design, depiction of young love, and excellent utilization of the filmmaker's trademark visual stylings.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Anderson’s most commercially successful film, The Grand Budapest Hotel employs a host of Anderson’s top notch ensemble regulars (Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson, Edward Norton, among many others) led by Ralph Fiennes as Monsieur Gustave H., the fastidious concierge of a famed mountain resort in the countryside of the fictional Eastern European nation Zubrowka. After Gustave is framed for the murder of a former paramour, a wealthy widow played by Tilda Swinton, he conspires with a young concierge named Zero to escape prison, clear his name, and secure the late widow’s fortune while a fascist military regime closes in on the titular hotel. The film was a surprise hit at the box office, raking in more than $170 at the worldwide box office and taking home four Academy Awards in 2015.
Isle of Dogs (2018)
Anderson’s 2nd stop-motion animated feature, Isle of Dogs takes place in the fictitious Japanese city of Megasaki where all dogs have been banished to a remote island aptly named Trash Island in an effort to mitigate a raging canine influenza epidemic ravaging the city. Inspired by Japanese filmmakers like Hayao Miyazaki and Akira Kurosawa, Anderson began production for the film in October 2016 and utilized more than 1,100 animatable stop-motion puppets with roughly 20,000 faces alongside an additional 2,000 puppets crafted for background characters. Isle of Dogs was a critical hit, receiving two Academy Award nominations.
The French Dispatch (2021)
Described by Anderson as “a love letter to journalists”, The French Dispatch is a 2021 comedy anthology film centering on three distinct narratives taking place as the fictional newspaper the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun prepares to publish its final issue. The French Dispatch premiered at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival after facing production delays in 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Originally imagined as a musical, the film performed well at the box office and was generally received positively by critics, though some reviews were a bit more tepid than those garnered by much of Anderson’s previous work.
Asteroid City (2023)
Anderson’s latest feature, Asteroid City is a meta, retro-futuristic comedy centering on the events of a Junior Stargazer convention held in a fictional town named Asteroid City in the 1950s. Despite purportedly taking place in the United States, much of filming took place throughout late 2021 in Chinchón, Spain —a small historic town roughly 30 miles southeast of Madrid. Premiering at the 76th annual Cannes Film Festival in May 2023, Asteroid City received largely positive reviews, grossing more than $50 million at the worldwide box office and making it Anderson’s highest earning opening. Complete with Anderson’s trademark style against a soundtrack of country western classics, the endlessly entertaining Asteroid City is an essential watch.
Anderson has also directed an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s short story collection The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More for Netflix to be released near the end of September. Starring Dev Patel, Ralph Fiennes, and Benedict Cumberbatch, the short film debuted at the 2023 Venice Film Festival, receiving nearly universally glowing reviews and will premiere on Netflix alongside three other Roald Dahl inspired short films at the end of September. Anderson has also announced that filming for his 12th feature starring Bryan Cranston, Michael Cera, and Jeff Goldblum will begin this fall.
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