Has Wes Anderson lost his way?

On my mind

Sorry all, it’s time for a little rant. I tried to bottle it up but it’s going to make its way out eventually. So let’s have it and start with exhibit A, The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Now I haven’t seen it since release, but I rewatched it the other night and have to say, I thought much the same the other night as I did a few years ago… in that it’s just too much. As Hall & Oates say, I can’t go for that.

And here’s why.

Ten years ago I was a big Wes Anderson fan. Huge. But I admit, I came late to the party and didn’t really discover his work until The Life Aquatic (2004). However, this STILL remains my favourite from his filmography. I love it.

Simply put: because it has indie quirk (just enough), emotion (quite a lot, actually) and a wonderful soundtrack (Seu Jorge covering David Bowie). Plus I engaged with the characters, particularly the central pairing of Bill Murray and Owen Wilson. In short, I thought it was cool. Really cool. Like Quentin Tarantino giving us Vincent Vega on the dancefloor kind of cool.

And regarding his other films, I also enjoyed The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) and The Darjeeling Limited (2007), although not to the same level. But whatever, we were still in positive, Wes Anderson-is-great-land at this point. So that was ok.

Then he had a go at stop motion with Fantastic Mr Fox (2009). And, yeah, it was what you’d kind of expect from him dipping a toe into this type of filmmaking, in that it was genius. His style (at this time) was a perfect fit. He’d even got Jarvis Cocker in there, what a legend.

Then came Moonrise Kingdom (2012). Now this was a film I enjoyed, but found that little concerns were starting to creep into the back of my mind. For starters, the cast had grown. A lot. And it seemed Wes was becoming a magnet for them; where every actor from his past projects were like iron filings and getting inexorably dragged into his orbit for every new project. Regardless as to whether they were a good fit or not.

He has also cranked up the quirk factor too. So that now we had every character posing bang in the centre of each shot. With their movements clipped, precise, and oh so Wes Anderson. His signature style – used maybe sparingly a decade ago – was now fully locked down and his de facto approach to directing. It was like discovering sugar and wanting more, and more, and more. Or heroin. Yeah, Wes had become a junkie, shooting up on his own style. The bastard.

In short, whilst I quite liked this film, I was becoming concerned. Was it time for an intervention? Could Wes be saved? Not by me, but whatever. There was more to come…

… in the form ofThe Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). And the nagging feeling flooded back. But this time it was no longer at the back of my mind, but noticeably front and centre and tasted bitter.

Add to that the fact that we’d also entered the Twilight Zone in terms of aspect ratios. So I was now trapped in some perfectly square shot, one which had been cropped by the twee police for the Instagram generation. All complete with saturated colours galore. And there was no escape. Arrgh god, Wes, what had you done?!

Somehow, a director I loved a lot had gone and gorged on his own medicine. And you know what they tell you right? Never get high on your own supply. Well, Wes had. And now he was inflicting his habit on the rest of us. Which, frankly, is unfair.

And the biggest problem was that, in some ways, there was nothing wrong with the core story and characters. There was good stuff in there. I mean, Ralph Fiennes’ M. Gustave was a sublime creation. But it’s just that the sugar coating meant I was constantly taken out of the story. I couldn’t swallow this pill Anderson was serving up, it was too sweet, too sickly.

So the medicine, I’m afraid to say, just wouldn’t go down. But then, maybe I’m out of step with popular opinion? The Grand Budapest Hotel is Anderson’s most critical and commercially successful film to date, so what do I know?

And the rumour is his next film might be another stop motion. So maybe this is a chance for him to cut back a bit on his style and let the story and the characters do the talking instead? We’ll see, but I doubt much will change. From his point of view he’s found a sweet spot and there’s nothing to suggest he intends to stop now.

 

Oscars 2015: As the dust settles

My musings

So that’s the Oscars done for another year. Were they everything you expected? Did the actors and films you’d hope get recognition actually get it? And, more importantly, does it all even matter?

In answer to the last question, probably not, but industry acclaim is often (but not always) indicative of a job well done. And who wouldn’t want a big shiny award for their efforts?

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This year it seems Grand Budapest Hotel cleaned up (production design, best score, costume design, makeup and hair). As did Birdman (picture, director, original screenplay, cinematography) and Whiplash (supporting actor, film editing, sound mixing).

Eddie Redmayne took Best Actor for The Theory of Everything and Julianne Moore Best Actress for Still Alice.

So, were these all worthy winners? Were any overlooked or snubbed?

Yes, yes and yes.

There’s always going to be unhappy people come awards season, but I think Birdman perhaps did a little too well – although it does seem typical Oscar material. Last year my film of the year was Nightcrawler, which got barely a look-in, although it got a nomination for Original Screenplay and it would have been nice to see it beat Birdman, but this was a tough category and all entries there were outstanding ones.

Talking of tough categories, Best Actress was apparently a shoo-in for Julianne Moore for Still Alice. I’ve not seen the film yet but it sounds very ‘Oscar worthy’ in terms of the material and her performance. Literally all of the other nominees could have won in my book, they all were fantastic (Rosumund Pike – Gone Girl, Reese Witherspoon – Wild, Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything, Marion Cotillard – Two Days, One Night).

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I’m pleased Redmayne took Best Actor. His performance was truly astonishing and a thoroughly affecting one as Stephen Hawking, edging out Keaton’s washed up actor trying to reinvent his career in Birdman. And out of a category with five nominated, two were Brits (the other being Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game) which was pleasing to see.

Given the experimental nature of Boyhood or the electric performances in Whiplash it would have been nice to see either take Best Picture, but losing out to Birdman is something I can grudgingly accept with a ‘well played, sir’.

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Best Supporting Actress went to Patricia Arquette for Boyhood. Now I haven’t seen the film but I’d have really liked to see Kiera Knightley take this category for her underrated performance in The Imitation Game, or perhaps Laura Dern for her tender one in Wild.

I could go on and on, but let’s stop there. To sum up, not a bad list of winners. Not too many surprises or upsets. There’s some I would have preferred to win over others, but I’m not too cut up about it all.

What was your reaction to this year’s winners and losers?

Oh, and a final note, The Lego Movie should have won for Best Original Song. In that respect, everything is not awesome.

Until next year.

Top 10 films of 2014

Best Of lists

It’s starting to feel like these lists come round unsettlingly fast. Too darn often for my liking. However, it’s been a good year for those that love cinema. Some great stuff has hit the silver (or, increasingly, digital) screen over the last twelve months. Here’s my pick, from my top ten (you have to be ruthless) to ones on my ‘to watch’ list.

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THE TOP TEN
1. Nightcrawler
2. The Wolf of Wall Street
3. Gone Girl
4. Guardians of the Galaxy
5. Her
6. Pride
7. The Imitation Game
8. The Guest
9. Interstellar
10. Dallas Buyers Club

MY ‘TO WATCH’ LIST
Maps To The Stars
Two Faces of January
Chef
Cold In July
The Babadook
How To Train Your Dragon 2
The Raid 2
Starred Up
Only Lovers Left Alive
22 Jump Street
’71
Locke
12 Years a Slave
Under The Skin
Calvary
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Edge of Tomorrow
What We Do In The Shadows

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So there we have it.

What’s your favourite film of the year? And what’s on your ‘to watch’ list?

Grand Budapest Hotel: should Anderson go back to basics?

Film

grandbudapesthotel-2Is it possible for Wes Anderson to get more Wes Anderson-y? His latest film suggests there’s little direction to go in terms of packing one film with Wes Andersonisms. The director’s trademark flourishs litter the film. Whether that’s a good or bad thing remains to be seen.

Don’t get me wrong though, I love his work. Massive fan and all that. The Life Aquatic remains one of my favourite films. Anyway, as usual I’m getting ahead of myself.

To recap: the plot here largely starts with an old man sitting in a dilapidated hotel recounting the tale of how he came to own it. We flash back to him as a young man; a lobby boy taken under the wing of the enigmatic and exacting concierge Mr Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes).

As a creation, Gustave is a delight. Fiennes, all at once, makes him camp, flamboyant, flirtatious, matter-of-fact and sincere yet somewhat eccentric.the-grand-budapest-hotel-zero-clip640 He seduces his elderly guests and recites poetry to his staff at the start of each day.

The story kicks into life with the death of an elderly patron of the hotel who leaves Gustave a priceless painting, Boy With Apple. The family, led by the snarling Adrian Brody and psychopathic Willem Defoe, are rather unhappy with this decision (to put it lightly). So what begins is a tale of murder, revenge, imprisonment, breakout and more.

Along with Fiennes Anderson has gathered an impressive cast, one that seems to grow with each film. Most have small parts yet – due to the way the film has been marketed – you spend a lot of your time ‘cast spotting’… Or at least I did.

Returning to my earlier point about Andersonisms, a large cast is one of them. Along with his tics and flourishs, this is something that’s beginning to distract me somewhat. This film, for me, will probably improve on second viewing as a result.the-grand-budapest-hotel-ralph-fiennes Same applies to Moonrise Kingdom.

All that aside, the story here remains focused on the two central characters: Gustave and his loyal lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori). The chemistry and interplay between the two is charming and drives the movie. Both are interesting characters with a story to tell. Both need each other – there’s clearly an affection there.

And in terms of quirky world building, Anderson has outdone himself again. The actual Grand Budapest Hotel is an impressive creation: from the quaint little lift up the mountain and its impressive lobby to the sumptuous colours (red for the hotel interior, purple for the staff); the detail and way in which the film was shot (eat your heart out instagram lovers) is classic Anderson and every scene, set and scenic landscape should be – once you inevitably buy this on DVD – savoured and appreciated at length.

My only real reservation in this film lies in the fact that, for all its brilliance, I feel Anderson has reached the end of his creative tether in terms of giving the audience what they want – i.e. more and more of the world through a Wes Anderson lens.grand

For his next project I’d love to see him strip everything back: the cast, the little flourishs and creative oddities, all of it… and then just tell a story in his own unique way.

That could be a refreshing sight to see. Like a full length version of Hotel Chevalier or something. C’mon Wes, make it happen.