Today is Wes Anderson’s birthday, with the Houston-born auteur turning 44 years old following the commercial and critical success of Moonrise Kingdom. That 2012 Oscar nominee was his seventh feature film, and between that, his shorts, and his many commercials, Anderson has put together a pretty respectable body of work. So how does it all stack up?
19. Hyundai Azera ads (2012)
Hyundai paid big money to premiere these two spots during the 2012 Oscar ceremony. In the first, “Modern Life,” a beautifully busy Anderson composition conveys the chaos of the out-of-control household (in contrast to the clean comfort of the car); the second, “Talk to My Car,” dramatizes the sci-fi dream of communicating with your vehicle. The handmade feel of the latter spot is quite lovely (it recalls Fantastic Mr. Fox’s design), though the Conventional Commercial feel (complete with Jeff Bridges voice-over) that clobbers each spot in the closing seconds makes them feel less like tiny Anderson movies and more like real ads.
18. Stella Artois ad (2010)
Anderson co-directed this one with frequent collaborator (and son of Francis) Roman Coppola, who co-wrote Moonrise Kingdom and The Darjeeling Limited, as well as the Prada: Candy campaign. The punchline isn’t their strongest, but it’s a stylish spot, and the visual symmetry is particularly eye-catching.
17. SoftBank ad (2008)
Wes Anderson and Brad Pitt have yet to make a feature together, but they did do this 2008 spot for the Japanese telecommunications company SoftBank. It’s a lovely little homage to Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, with Pitt in the Jacques Tati role (and you don’t get to say that often). A quick but charming bit of fun, with a pre-Moonrise Kingdom appearance of the scouting motif.
16. IKEA ad (2002)
One of Anderson’s first commercial jobs was this inventive spot for IKEA, in which familial crisis is given a test drive in a pre-made showroom setup. This was three years after Fight Club made IKEA synonymous with yuppie ennui, so you’ve gotta hand it to them for going along with this somewhat risky campaign. On a formal front, the handheld style (appropriate to the domestic drama that seems to be unfolding) is quite un-Anderson; this is one of the few spots he’s done that isn’t immediately recognizable as his.
15. MTV Movie Awards ads (1999)
Anderson’s never made a full-on sequel to any of his films, but he came close in 1999, when he reassembled his Rushmore cast to create a series of three ads for the MTV movie awards. In them, the Max Fischer Players stage three of the show’s big nominees (The Truman Show, Armageddon, and Out of Sight), as only they can. The results are hilarious — and a nice reminder that it’s been way too long since we’ve seen Sara Tanaka in anything.
14. Bottle Rocket (short) (1994)
In 1992, director Wes Anderson, his co-writer Owen Wilson, and Owen’s brother Luke decided to raise money and awareness for their in-development indie feature Bottle Rocket by making this low-budget, black-and-white, 13-minute short film version. It’s a blast to see the movie in its embryonic form — and to see the Wilson brothers at such an early age — though Anderson’s clean visual style was not yet fully developed, and his work just doesn’t look right desaturated. (Interesting sidebar: the opening discussion is of Starsky & Hutch, a TV show whose film adaptation would later star Bottle Rocket’s Owen Wilson.)
13. Cousin Ben Troop Screening With Jason Schwartzman (2012)
This one gets an official listing among Anderson’s IMDb directorial credits, and watching it, there’s no doubt that he helmed this promotional short for Moonrise Kingdom himself: it’s got his dry wit, his distinctive compositions, and a very funny Jason Schwartzman. A nice example of how to do a promo that’s in the spirit of a film, rather than merely selling it.
12. AT&T ads (2007)
This series finds Anderson using his lucrative ad gigs to try out new techniques while putting his distinctive stylistic stamp on an otherwise un-hip product. In these spots, Anderson uses an ingenious moving-backdrop method (shades of the hilariously practical effects of Rushmore’s stage productions) to convey the on-the-go lifestyles of his subjects. (Bonus movie nerd joke: “Hi, Klaus.”)
11. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
This transitional work is seen by most as “lesser Anderson,” and there are legitimate reasons for that: there is a slightness about it that his other films seldom have, with a few flat moments and genuine pacing issues, including a second-act drag that makes the picture feel longer than its 91-minute running time. And some of the sideline bits (like Bill Murray’s appearance) are a bit baffling. But if it lacks the clean form and emotional punch of Anderson’s best work, there’s still a lot to admire here. Put it this way: Wes Anderson’s worst movie is still better than most filmmakers’ best.
10. Sony Xperia ad (2012)
This adorable ad began with an eight-year-old Long Islander’s theory of what’s inside a smartphone. Anderson and animation company LAIKA/House (the commercial side of the group behind Coraline and ParaNorman) brought that voice-over to life via stop-action animation, resulting in a surprisingly sweet spot that gives us a glimpse of what an animated Anderson sci-fi movie might look like.
9. Prada: Candy (2013)
Anderson’s French New Wave influence has never exactly been a secret, so it’s nice to see him use a spot for Prada perfume to create a three-part short film in that mold. The two-boys-and-a-girl tale immediately recalls Jules and Jim and Bande a Part (and the shot of the trio dancing is a shout-out to the latter), while the witty whip pans and inventive use of backgrounds nicely merge the two sensibilities.
8. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
Expectations were high for Life Aquatic, Anderson’s first film after Royal Tenenbaums and star Bill Murray’s follow-up to his Oscar-nominated turn in Lost in Translation. When Life Aquatic didn’t top those two films, combined, times two, it was perceived as a “disappointment,” and while it doesn’t match the pathos of Tenenbaums or the hilarity of Rushmore, it’s still a wonderful picture — from the work of the ace ensemble cast to the remarkable undersea creations to those dexterous sliding submarine shots.
7. Hotel Chevalier (2007)
Anderson self-financed this 13-minute prologue to The Darjeeling Limited which is, strangely, more successful than the film it was intended to complement. Schwartzman mentions the failed relationship in the feature that this short brings to vivid life, via a richly evocative encounter between his character and an on-again, off-again girlfriend (a pitch-perfect Natalie Portman). There’s a eroticism and darkness to Hotel Chevalier that the filmmaker has infrequently called upon in his longer works; it points to some very interesting possibilities in the years to come.
6. American Express ad (2006)
Of all of Anderson’s commercials (and, as you’ve seen, there have been many), the best is unquestionably this two-minute mini-movie for American Express, in which the production of a Wes Anderson film is dramatized in the style of a Wes Anderson film. It’s a funny bit of myth-making that proves the filmmaker has a sense of humor about himself; it’s also honest-to-God funny. “Then you mix it all together, and that’s it. Are those my birds?”
5. Bottle Rocket (feature) (1996)
Anderson’s feature directorial debut finds him still working towards his specific style — mainly because the film’s low budget did not yet allow him the full control of design elements that would become his trademark. But his wry storytelling sensibility is firmly in place for this hilarious tale of incompetent criminals, played to full comic tilt by the Brothers Wilson. And there’s something wonderfully rhapsodic about the peculiar romantic sidebars, which already indicate the emotional depths of his quirk.
4. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
That penchant for design is part of what made Wes Anderson such a perfect fit for this delightful stop-motion effort; it’s not much of a jump to infer that he’s the type of filmmaker who would revel in the opportunity to create his own world from the bottom up. What is unexpected is how easily his dialogue and characterizations work in what is, by any measure, an animated picture aimed at a family audience; the characters may be foxes and opossums and rats and weasels, but they have familiar hopes and dreams and insecurities, and they express all of them in clever, sardonic dialogue. In Mr. Fox, Anderson memorably mated his worldview with Roald Dahl’s narrative and came up with a picture that feels absolutely faithful to both.
3. Rushmore (1998)
This 1998 comedy/drama not only made Wes Anderson a bona fide auteur, but jump-started Bill Murray’s career, transforming him from a fading comic star to a character actor of uncommon depth. The script (penned by Anderson and Owen Wilson) is a remarkably adroit mixture of coming-of-age story, revenge comedy, school satire, and mid-life crisis drama. The visuals are snappy, the dialogue is uproarious (and occasionally heartbreaking), and the music is perfection; this is the rare ‘90s indie that only gets better with age.
2. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Anderson’s most recent movie offers the usual pleasures: a stellar ensemble cast, an abundance of laughs, and elegant tracking shots, lovingly panning from room to room and tableau to tableau. But there’s more to it than that: Moonrise Kingdom captures, as few recent films have, the thrilling flush of a first love (or crush, at least), but it also remembers the agony of preteen solitude, of feeling that you have no place, that no one understands you, or ever will. And then it notes, with some regret, that for some people that feeling never goes away.
1. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
But Anderson’s masterpiece remains this beautifully crafted, delicately acted peek at a highly dysfunctional family of geniuses. Featuring one of Gene Hackman’s last performances (to date, anyway) and some of Anderson’s most deeply resonant filmmaking, it mines both the comedy and tragedy of familial discord. The filmmaker shifts between the two (and hits all points in between) with astonishing confidence, and its charged, emotional conclusion still sneaks up on you, even when you know it’s coming.