Wes Anderson, you are the guy who got straight A’s in high school but wasn’t accepted to your first choice school. You are the masked superhero who saves the world, but is dumped by the heroine because you lacked candor.
Anderson’s career has lasted nearly 20 years. Five of his seven films are part of the Criterion Collection, although I suspect that number will swell in the impending years.
He has garnered critical acclaim and has won a handful of passable awards. Nearly every Halloween, his characters come to life, and the memes the minions create could entertain a person for hours. But despite a loyal fan base and critical praise for the majority of his films, Wes Anderson is an under-appreciated director.
Yes, Anderson is nominated for Best Original Screenplay with his latest opus, Moonrise Kingdom. But, the thing is, I’m a betting man, and my money is not on Anderson to win his first Oscar. While it’s true the film did receive the honor of Best Feature at The Gotham and AFI Awards, the latter achievement was shared with nine other recipients. With there being little success during the award season, it’s been a constant disappointment at the box office as well. Unadjusted for inflation, his seven films have only averaged a dispiriting $39 million per flick; his largest grossing film, The Royal Tenenbaums, only managed to earn about $70 million worldwide. More often than not, these trends seem to be the way it is with a Wes Anderson film, but I remain optimistic it can go another way.
I’ll be the first to concede that some of his followers can display a pompous critique of any criticism. The retort, “if you don’t like it, you don’t get it,” is the go-to line for charlatans to respond with, when the wit they do have, expires. Perhaps there’s a kernel of truth to that claim, but I find this judgment irritating and that alone can easily bully anyone out of actually screening one of his films.
Obviously, I do not have a rapport with Anderson, so this thinking is merely conjecture, but I can still say with confidence that Anderson doesn’t share that smug sentiment toward the audience like some of his defenders do. His stamp is accidental, and I don’t recall him ever being cranky about any disapproval; he’s aware that art is subjective. I encourage newcomers to watch his movies, and if you like them, great, and if you don’t, that’s OK too. You’re not an awful, cretinous person. We can still be friends.
It's been well-documented that Anderson doesn’t collect many personal awards. The bulk of the backlash appears to be that his plots are considered twee and excessively cartoonish at times, although I would argue, in this case, this is the intention. Anderson’s worlds are fabricated to fit eccentric characters with sincere problems. Dry humor is accompanied with poignant thoughts and actions throughout all of his films. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, which was inexcusably given a 53% on Rotten Tomatoes, features a protagonist that has disregarded his “son” and is considered to be an imperial, contrived, stale, oceanographer.
The protagonist evolves with an arc that consisted of losing a partner, a wife, a supposed son, and the character's own self worth. Sprinkle in some amusement, some redemption, and this is a recipe almost anyone could endorse.
If one is going to dissect Anderson’s capacity as a filmmaker, his meticulous detail put into each frame has to be discussed. His production design is stubborn, but that’s what makes it so alluring. The Darjeeling Limited, for example, was filmed on an authentic train with most of the props handcrafted or at least adorned. Forks and plates, to the walls of the locomotive, were modified and or constructed to appease the film. It’s details of this scenery that are often overlooked or forgotten, nevertheless, it’s regarded as customary. Another staple in Anderson’s bag is probably the most recognizable, his cinematography. The camera movement is unabashed, yet it doesn’t reek of gaudy desperation for attention.
I can’t drill and probe insider any film jury heads, so once again I can only surmise, but these quirks probably can displease some more traditional cinema spectators. In other words, unless they’re in their own category, comedies rarely win major awards.
A Wes Anderson picture is not everyone’s jigger of whisky, and like the brown, Anderson might have to age a bit longer before he begins to obtain further recognition. There is no need to express pity for this director, as he has already established a reputable career.
All I ask is of organizations, festivals, and cinephiles is to show gratitude for the undervalued Anderson. That means hardware. That means funding. That means the other way.