The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

2017 #35

Whoa there! Hold your horses! Before The Darjeeling Limited, we need to talk about…

Hotel Chevalier
(2007)

2017 #34a
Wes Anderson | 13 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA & France / English | 15 / R

Hotel Chevalier

The short film that exists as a kind-of-prequel, kind-of-Part-One to The Darjeeling Limited. It’s probably best remembered for its controversies — around whether or not it was attached to the feature’s theatrical release (it was, then it wasn’t, then it was); and around Natalie Portman’s ass, firstly because oh my God you get to see Natalie Portman’s ass, then later about whether or not she regretted baring it (long story short: she didn’t). The former issue annoyed fans at the time for reasons that, a decade later, are immaterial (though if you’re interested you can read about it here). The latter… well, frankly, I guess it got a lot of attention because, a) men are men, and b) what else there is to talk about from the short isn’t necessarily all that obvious.

In it we’re introduced to Jason Schwartzman’s character from The Darjeeling Limited, one of the feature’s three leads, who here is seen lazing about in a Paris hotel room when he gets a phone call from a woman, who shortly thereafter arrives. Then they talk and stuff. All shot with director Wes Anderson’s usual style, because obviously.

Natalie Portman's ass not pictured

Hotel Chevalier exists in a weird in-between state, where it’s almost essential to the main film (the feature includes numerous callbacks to it; some inconsequential, others that I’m not sure make sense without seeing the short), but it also feels like the right decision to have left it out of the film. Its setting and the presence of only one of the trio of main characters mean it feels like a different entity, and if it had been in the feature itself, even as a prologue, it would’ve shifted the focus onto Schwartzman as the primary character. I don’t think that would’ve been right.

So maybe it’s just a glorified deleted scene, then? Or maybe there was something I didn’t get and I’m doing it a disservice. The thing it most reminds me of, watching in 2017, is those Blade Runner 2049 shorts: it informs the main feature without being an essential component of it. So, while I didn’t dislike it, I don’t know how much it has to offer outside of setting up part of The Darjeeling Limited. Unless you just want to see Natalie Portman’s ass, of course.

3 out of 5

You can watch Hotel Chevalier on YouTube here.

The Darjeeling Limited
(2007)

2017 #35
Wes Anderson | 88 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

The Darjeeling Limited

So, the film proper. It’s the story of three estranged brothers (Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman) who reunite a year after their father’s funeral. One of them has organised a train trip across India so they can reconnect, although he also has an ulterior motive…

My impression has always been that The Darjeeling Limited is a lesser work on Wes Anderson’s CV. I don’t remember it making much of a splash when it came out — maybe I’m wrong, but “another film where Wes Anderson does what Wes Anderson does” was my impression at the time — and I don’t think I’ve seen it discussed a great deal since. As someone who still feels new to Anderson’s world and is working through his oeuvre in a roundabout fashion, I don’t necessarily disagree with this sentiment. If you want to find out what’s so great about Anderson, there are certainly other places to start.

Brothers on a train

That said, I did enjoy the film. Anderson’s mannered camerawork, kooky characters, and shaggy dog storylines seem to have gelled well with my own sensibilities. Conversely, finally getting round to this review nine months after I saw the film, I can’t remember many specifics. It’s a movie I’ll likely add to my Wes Anderson Blu-ray collection someday (for comparison, I can’t definitely say the same about Rushmore), and will be happy to revisit, but for the time being I’ve exhausted what little thoughts I had about it.

4 out of 5

Come Together (2016)

2016 #185a
Wes Anderson | 4 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English

Come TogetherChristmas adverts are all the rage these days, thanks to the likes of John Lewis and their beautifully affecting tributes to the holiday season / twee pieces of emotionally manipulative crap (delete as appropriate). This year clothes retailer H&M got in on the act by hiring everyone’s favourite go-to example of an idiosyncratically quirky director, Wes Anderson, to helm a short film-cum-advertisement — the first part of that equation being why I’m reviewing it here.

For me, Anderson pitches the tone just right. Rather than making a four-minute festival of sappiness that rots your brain with its generic sugary sentiment, or a music video for a slow breathy cover of a once-famous song, or a long build-up to a cheap punchline, Anderson instead brings his own familiar style to a brief narrative that comes to a surprisingly heartwarming conclusion. In the process, he’s made an advert that doesn’t feel like an advert — another reason to factor it in here.

I suppose for that same reason it almost fails — I’m no more or less likely to shop at H&M than I was before (in truth, I had to even double check they were a clothes retailer) — but as brand awareness goes, well, it doesn’t make me want to kick their teeth in until they go away and never bother me with one of their stupid adverts every again. Suck on that, John Lewis.

4 out of 5

Come Together can be watched on YouTube here.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

2016 #95
Wes Anderson | 90 mins | TV | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

Moonrise KingdomOn the New England island of New Penzance in the summer of 1965, a troop of scouts at camp discover that unpopular member Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) has fled in the night. Meanwhile, on the other side of the island, troubled kid Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) runs away from home. Unbeknownst to Sam’s scoutmaster (Edward Norton) or Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), the pair of unhappy 12-year-olds have secretly plotted to disappear together. As a violent storm threatens to hit the island, the scouts and police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) hunt for the runaways.

A story of young love, Wes Anderson style, the writer-director has described Moonrise Kingdom as “an autobiography about something that didn’t happen”. That feels like a good way to regard the film. There’s clearly an emotional truth to Sam and Suzy’s discontented lives and their desire to connect with a like-minded individual, especially at an age when romantic feelings are beginning to emerge; but there’s no way the rest of the events — which unfold with Anderson’s typical almost-real / almost-fantastical quirkiness — actually happened. Here Anderson has found a strong marriage of form and content: his idiosyncratic, storybook style suits a narrative about inventive children on an almost-fairytale adventure. It’s like it’s been told from the kids’ point of view, with both an artistic simplicity and an exaggeration of actual events.

I’d also say it maintains Anderson’s penchant for unpredictable narrative development: it reached what I’d presumed was the endpoint a long time before the finale, spinning on in crazy new ways. “You do WHAT to the dog?!”If the film has a fault it’s in this part, where the entire cast engage in a runaround as the hurricane arrives and floods the island; but (to give it the benefit of the doubt) perhaps that plays more smoothly with familiarity. And I don’t know what it is that Anderson has against dogs (nor, it seems, does anyone else, bar theories), but I find myself enamoured of his work in spite of this particular foible.

Moonrise Kingdom certainly has enough else going for it to counterbalance these doubts. With golden cinematography and a story of playful, gentle adventure, Anderson has evoked innocent childhood summers of race-memory: even if you didn’t live them yourself, you kind of feel like you did. Perhaps it is, indeed, an autobiography about something that didn’t happen for anyone who ever felt like an outsider as a kid.

4 out of 5

Moonrise Kingdom placed 18th on my list of The 20 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2016, which can be read in full here.

Rushmore (1998)

2016 #146
Wes Anderson | 89 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

RushmoreThe breakthrough film of cult writer-director Wes Anderson, Rushmore is the story of high school student Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman, making his debut, aged 18 but still looking like one of those twentysomethings-playing-highschoolers you so often see in US productions). He’s a prolific participator in extracurricular activities at the prestigious Rushmore Academy, but is put on notice for his failing academic standard. At the same time, he becomes infatuated with first grade teacher Miss Cross (Olivia Williams) and attempts to woo her by building an aquarium on school grounds. He enlists the support of local business magnate Herman Blume (Bill Murray), but soon Blume is falling for Miss Cross too, setting the men on a path of mutual enmity.

Having only seen Anderson’s three most recent films, it’s interesting to observe the early days of his distinctive style. The squared-off framing and blocking, the mannered acting, the interludes and asides, the not-quite-real / not-quite-fantasy quirkiness of it all… These things have only become more pronounced since, presumably as Anderson has become more confident in his own voice, or possibly as other behind-the-scenes forces have become more comfortable letting him do his thing. There might be an argument for newcomers to ease into Anderson’s unique world via something like this, but I kind of prefer the in-at-the-deep-end way I encountered him.

What do you mean 'quirky'?Part of that is probably tied to Anderson’s own development. It’s not only his very personal touches that have flourished with further films, but I feel like his storytelling and depiction of character has become more sophisticated, too. That’s not to say Rushmore comes up short, but coming to it for the first time with that degree of hindsight, it feels very much like a formative work.

Maybe I’m being unfair to it — it’s amusing and delightfully unpredictable in its own right — but it didn’t excite me in the same way as the other Andersons I’ve seen. Perhaps if I revisit it once I’ve plugged the gap between this and his later work, I’ll be able to enjoy it for itself rather than playing “spot the directorial development”.

4 out of 5

2015 In Retrospect

2015 was, as I’m sure you’ve gathered, the largest ever year of 100 Films — or 200 Films in a Year, as it’s currently known. For 2015 only, I think, because I have no intention of trying to replicate that feat next year (see here for more on that topic).

How better to finally wrap up a year than with a look at the best and worst, right? As always, my picks are not culled from films freshly released in 2015, but from this list of my personal viewing. (For what it’s worth, that list includes 22 releases from 2015, as well as 37 from 2014, some of which others would count as 2015 titles… and some of them have indeed made my best-of list.)

You can also vote for your favourites from my pick, and find out which 50 most noteworthy new films I didn’t see. There might be a few surprise along the way, too.

So without further ado…



The Five Worst Films I Saw For the First Time in 2015

In alphabetical order…

Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher
Marvel may dominate the live-action superhero arena right now, but DC has the edge in animation — and work like this is going to do nothing to change that. An uninteresting story that’s blandly told in every regard, this is a total waste of time.

Blitz
There are a lot of very, very good actors in this Jason Statham vehicle, but it’s a terrible film that’s even below standard for the star, let alone his supporting cast. So bad it feels like a spoof, there is no good reason for anyone to watch this movie.

Jack the Giant Slayer
X-Men’s Bryan Singer is the latest filmmaker to take a fairytale and give it the Lord of the Rings treatment. That formula doesn’t work here, unfortunately. The result is a flat, cheap-looking, overlong bore. Another waste of good talent.

Parabellum
Alfred Hitchcock once said that “movies are real life with the boring parts cut out.” I guess this isn’t a movie, then, because it’s not real life and it’s boring as can be. My least enjoyable viewing experience this year.

Runner Runner
Again, talented stars (Ben Affleck, Gemma Arterton) slum it in a poorly-constructed thriller with no thrills. That it’s from the director of The Lincoln Lawyer, an excellent thriller that made my top ten a couple of years ago, only makes matters worse.



The Ten 20 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2015

Given the extraordinary personal achievement in my viewing this year — doubling my titular goal — I’ve decided to also double my year-end top ten. It seemed appropriate.

Obviously I haven’t done such a percentage-related increase (or reduction) of my list before now, but then no previous year has seen quite so remarkable a change in my viewing total. In other (smaller) years, these additional films may well have made the cut, so this is a way of giving them their due. (Besides which, my list is numbered, so you can ignore #20 to #11 if you want.)

Final point: although this list isn’t limited to 2015 releases, there are six included, so I’ve noted their ‘2015 rank’ too.

2015 #6 After all the behind-the-scenes kerfuffle, Ant-Man probably had the lowest audience expectations for any Marvel Studios movie since Iron Man. Perhaps that’s what allowed it to become the mostly purely entertaining Marvel movie since Iron Man, too.

The Mission series here reconfigures itself as the modern equivalent to classic Bond, washing down espionage thrills with gadgets and humour. The result is fantastically enjoyable, and only so low on this list because of a certain other film a bit higher up…

John Cusack and Minnie Driver have never been more likeable as a guy and the prom date he jilted, brought back together by their high school reunion. Oh, and he’s now a hitman, in town on a job. Consitently funny, this is first-rate action-comedy entertainment.

An idiosyncratic crime drama from writer-director Jim Jarmusch, Ghost Dog stands alongside the otherwise-peerless Léon as a hitman movie that may not deliver enough action thrills for some, but is seeped in distinctive qualities of its own.

Martin Scorsese’s best-regarded works may hew towards the mainstream-intellectual, but here he sets his sights on genre material — specifically, a psychological mystery thriller — and produces a corker. Heavily Gothic in tone, it’s the first of several such films on this list.

A British-made India-set ‘Western’, this beautifully shot Boy’s Own adventure is rollicking old-fashioned entertainment from start to finish. It’s buoyed further by a cast of top-drawer British character actors, topped off with Kenneth More and Lauren Bacall. Magnificent.

One of the most acclaimed films of all time — if we’re talking “the history of cinema”, it’s certainly more important than anything else on this list. Almost 90 years old, it remains surprisingly accessible to modern eyes. An exceptionally affecting experience.

2015 #5 In a year overloaded with spy thrillers, this Bond pastiche stood out by, a) getting in early (it was released last January in the UK), and b) being a helluva lot of fun. Thematically questionable it may be, but the filmmaking verve is a joy to behold.

2015 #4 2015’s highest grossing film, this sequel/reboot of the beloved franchise has proved somewhat divisive. It certainly has flaws in characters and plot, but director Colin Trevorrow has bottled genuine Spielbergian awe and wonder, and that counts for a lot.

If this were only a top ten, I’d’ve slipped this in higher up, as much to recommend it as anything. In many respects it’s a familiar mismatched-people-fall-in-love rom-com (hence why its position dropped), but the uncommon melancholic tone makes it feel unique.

I’d wager it’s impossible to describe a Wes Anderson film without recourse to words like “quirky” and “unique”, both wholly apt epithets for The Grand Budapest Hotel, naturally. Others include hilarious, clever, inventive, controlled, and delightful. The last may be the most appropriate of all: this is a film full of delights, from the performances, to the dialogue, to the locations, to the design, to the camerawork. Anderson is the kind of filmmaker who has a cult following, which can sometimes be a bad omen. Based on this evidence, his fandom might just have the right idea.

2015 #3 There has been an awakening — have you felt it? Well, of course you have. Everyone outside of China has. Half of them twice. The J.J. Abrams-led return to a galaxy far, far away may have received a mixed reception, due to it essentially being the cinematic equivalent of a greatest-hits cover album, dealing in nostalgia more than it does originality… but it’s clearly been made by fans with an eye to crafting something that’s both enjoyable and recognisably Star Wars-y — two balls the prequel trilogy less dropped, more hurled to the ground. It’s a thrilling adventure with likeable new characters and, in my opinion, interesting new villains. There’s scope for the makers of Episodes VIII and IX to produce something even better off the back of this, and that’s exciting.

Terry Gilliam’s 1984 for 1985 is set in a dystopian Britain almost as bad as our current one, where mindless, faceless bureaucracy rules the day. It’s the kind of film where a typo can lead to a man’s death; where Jonathan Pryce fantasises about being a sword-wielding angel fighting a giant silver samurai; and where Robert De Niro turns up as a terrorist plumber. You know, if Wes Anderson is “quirky” and “unique”, I don’t think we’ve yet invented words to describe Terry Gilliam…

I promised you more Gothic and here it is. Director Chan-wook Park places 7th on my top ten for the second year in a row with this dark psychological thriller about a reclusive teenage girl who meets her uncle for the first time when he comes to stay following her father’s death. He’s charming, but mysterious — what are the secrets that everyone seems to know but her? Dripping with style and atmosphere, Stoker is a feast for the eyes and ears; a beguiling, sensuous, classically Gothic thriller.

2015 #2 Director George Miller returns to the Mad Max series after a 30-year hiatus for the stand-out action movie of… well, “the year” seems to undersell it. Once upon a time he was bold enough to make a chase the entire third act of a film; now, the chase is the entire movie. This is action filmmaking elevated to a genuine art form — literally, if the award season buzz is anything to go by. While the done-for-real stunts are busy boggling your mind, there slips by a story that’s surprisingly rich in theme and character. It gives added weight to a type of storytelling that could only be achieved on film — there’s a reason Miller started with a storyboard and only bothered to write a screenplay when the studio insisted.

A third dose of Gothic now, this time with a heavier dose of the “horror” element that’s so often attached to the term. Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan are mother-and-daughter vampires on the run, hiding out in a seedy seaside town, where Ronan tries to lead some kind of normal life as a perma-teen while her mother’s busy doing what she’s always done: whoring. These vampires aren’t glamorous or sparkly, but damaged and discarded. Byzantium is not a very popular film, but its tarnished charms and fatalistic stylings, powered by two strong central performances and atmospheric direction, made me love it.

Selecting these 20 films was tough, then putting them in order was just as hard, but one thing was a lock from the start: these are my top four films I saw in 2015. The only question was the order they went in, which on another day may have been completely different — any one of them could’ve been #1. This little-seen documentary (Channel 4 premiered it in the middle of the night a few months ago, although it’s available on YouTube) takes us to a small, poor town in India where the locals make their own movies, and they’re a roaring success. It’s an inspirational film about living your dreams even when the world won’t let you, though undercurrents of reality stop it from becoming too tweely self-congratulatory. I’m not overstating it when I say I believe this is an absolute must-see for any lover of film, and probably a good many people besides.

I feel like I’m being in some way Awkward with many of this year’s choices, because there’s a notable strand of films that aren’t particularly well regarded by viewers en masse (see: #11, #7, #5, now #3). Well, I’m not being awkward, dear reader: I loved all of them, and I loved this one most of all. Like several of those others, it crafts a unique mood with lashings of style, in this case inspired by ’80s movies and music. Dan Stevens is a mysterious ex-soldier who enters a family’s life and brings a load of trouble in his wake, but is he (anti-)hero or villain? Even by the end, you might not be sure. Witty, exciting, stylish, idiosyncratic, this is one guest I want to stay forever. (Sorry — it seems I can’t end any piece about this film without a terrible pun.)

34 years before Fury Road, there was The Road Warrior. A post-apocalyptic Australian Western, it sees Mel Gibson’s titular drifter drafted into defending an oil-rich community from a violent gang of fetish-attired marauders. While the film has much to offer throughout, the real joy is the third act: a balls-to-the-wall multi-vehicle chase, as Max and co attempt to escape in a heavily-armoured oil tanker and the gang give chase in a fleet of vehicles. Maybe it’s not as slick or extravagant as Fury Road, but it was done without a lick of CGI (for all Fury Road’s “done for real” claims, there’s an awful lot of computer work across that movie) and that added tangibility gives it the edge for me. Not to mention that it did it first — without Mad Max 2, we wouldn’t even have Fury Road.

2015 #1 Not as life-affirming as Supermen of Malegaon. Not as stylish as The Guest. Not as groundbreaking as Mad Max 2. Certainly not as ‘significant’ as a host of films further down this list. But from the moment the familiar beats of the famous theme tune begin to pulse over the company idents at the top of the movie, Rogue Nation engages you in a perfectly-crafted entertainment. It delivers sequence after sequence of finely-tuned action-thriller excitement, both from Tom Cruise’s crazy stuntwork and writer-director Christopher McQuarrie’s Hitchcockian control of espionage scenes. The plot may only be solid rather than any great shakes, but it’s supported by likeable heroes, a menacing villain, and well-pitched humour. It’s all topped off with Rebecca Ferguson, who could hold her own in a stand-off with Daisy Ridley and Charlize Theron for 2015’s most kick-ass heroine. Mission perfected.


As ever, I welcome your opinion on my top ten — not just in the comments section, but also in the form of a lovely poll. Multiple selections are allowed, so feel free to pick several favourites.

And if you feel I’ve made an unforgivable omission, I welcome your scathing criticisms in the comments.


Despite doubling the size of my selection, this was still a really, really tough year for picking favourites. Competition was harder than ever, not just because I watched 200 films (47% more than even my next biggest year) but because I made a conscious effort to watch fewer time-killers and more things I’d really been intending to see. As a result, films that I enjoyed immensely or admired intensely fell by the wayside, leaving several big guns to duke it out for the limited slots.

As if doubling my top ten wasn’t enough, the tightly-fought race got stuck for a while at 30 titles. The closest to making it in was my 1,000th film, Mark Cousin’s epic 15-hour documentary The Story of Film: An Odyssey (so epic that my review draft is still in the form of 4,300 words of notes). It hurt to leave it out, but something had to go. The remainder of those 30 (which I guess would be #22 to #30, then) were, in alphabetical order, The Babadook, Gone Girl, High Noon, Looper, Paddington, Scanners, Spectre, Stranger by the Lake, and Wings. In most other years, any of those could’ve found themselves comfortably in my top ten.

I can’t end this without mentioning the 38 films that earned themselves 5-star ratings this year. 17 of them made it into the top 20 — I won’t list those again, so you can go find the three four-star imposters for yourself (clue: they’re right at the end… or start, in the order I’ve written it). The remaining 21 five-starers were Argo, The Babadook, Boyhood, Boyz n the Hood, Dreams of a Life, Filmed in Supermarionation, Fury, The General, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, High Noon, Interstellar, Looper, The Philadelphia Story, sex, lies, and videotape, Shallow Grave, The Story of Film: An Odyssey, Stranger by the Lake, Whiplash, Wings, and The Wrestler. Reading through those again, there are several I feel should’ve been in my top 30… or 20… but what would I take out in their place? This year’s been too good, clearly.

Finally, on the same topic, there was one five-starer from each of my additional kinds of reviews (I love it when that happens — so neat). They were: non-list review 2001: A Space Odyssey, extended cut X-Men: Days of Future Past – The Rogue Cut, and short Feast.


Naturally, there were a considerable number of notable releases this year that I’ve yet to see. In my annual tradition, here’s an alphabetical list of 50 films — chosen for a variety of reasons, from box office success to critical acclaim via simple notoriety — that were released in 2015 and that I’ve not seen.

As is so often the case, it’s a funny old mix, because there were some films that seemed too ‘significant’ to leave out. This is why, despite recording my progress with these in my statistics every year, I’ll never, ever see 100% of them. For a current example, Minions is the 5th highest grossing film of 2015, so on the list it goes; but I didn’t really like Despicable Me and haven’t watched Despicable Me 2, so what are the chances I’ll ever decide to spend some of my time on Minions? Pretty darn slim, I reckon.

Anyway, the 50 I’ve chosen to highlight — some of which I do very much want to see — are…

Amy
Beasts of No Nation
The Big Short
Black Mass
Blackhat
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn
Carol
Chappie
Cinderella
Creed
Crimson Peak
The Danish Girl
Everest
Ex Machina
Fantastic Four
Fifty Shades of Grey
Furious 7
The Good Dinosaur
The Hateful Eight
Home
Hotel Transylvania 2
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
In the Heart of the Sea
It Follows
Joy
Legend
Macbeth
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
The Martian
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Minions
Pan
Pixels
The Revenant
Room
San Andreas
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Sicario
Snoopy and Charlie Brown…
Spotlight
Spy
Steve Jobs
Straight Outta Compton
Suffragette
Taken 3
Ted 2
Testament of Youth
The Visit
The Walk


And so, after all that verbosity, the largest ever year of 100 Films comes to an end.

Apart from the 21 reviews I still have to post, of course. (In that respect, 2014 isn’t even finished yet.) But no matter, it will be done.

For now, all that remains is for me to thank you for reading, to wish you all the best with your own film-watching endeavours (having spent several days shut away in my own world of statistics and lists, I’ve a few people’s posts to catch up on!), and to say “see you soon” for 2016 — the 10th year of 100 Films! I have some stuff planned…

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

2015 #20
Wes Anderson | 96 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.37:1 + 1.85:1 + 2.35:1 | USA, UK & Germany / English | 15 / R

The Grand Budapest HotelThe latest from cult auteur Wes Anderson, which managed that rare feat of enduring from a March release to being an awards season contender, sees the peerless concierge of a magnificent mid-European hotel (Ralph Fiennes) accused of murdering a rich elderly guest (Tilda Swinton, caked in Oscar-winning prosthetics) and attempting to flee across the country to clear his name. More or less, anyway, because this is a Wes Anderson film and so it takes in all kinds of amusing asides, tangents, and recognisable cameos.

The film has the feel of an artisan confection: candy-coloured, precisely designed and constructed, sweetly enjoyable, but with a hidden bite. Something like that, anyway. There are many praises to sing along these lines. The visuals are the most obvious. As is apparent even from the trailer, the shot composition is tightly controlled, squared-off but using that formalism to its advantage in various ways. I don’t know if this is always Anderson’s style (this is only the second of his films that I’ve seen, but it was similarly employed in the other), but here it works in ways almost indefinable.

The performances are just as mannered, and equally as fantastic for similar reasons: they exist within very specific constraints, but then push at their boundaries. Fiennes displays a perhaps-surprising flair for comedy in the lead role. Apparently Johnny Depp was Anderson’s initial choice — thank goodness that didn’t happen! You can completely see Depp in the part, bringing his rote whimsy to it, but how much more entertaining it is to have Serious Actor Ralph Fiennes going somewhat against type, and playing the role beautifully too. A host of familiar faces turn up in supporting roles that display various degrees of individualistic eccentricity, and there’s no weak link, but Fiennes is the stand-out.

Not suspicious at allI suppose the kooky idiosyncrasies of Anderson’s brand of storytelling and filmmaking will rub some viewers up the wrong way, looking on it all as vacuous affectations signifying nothing. To each their own, but, whatever the merits (or not) of Anderson’s style as a kind of one-man genre played out across his oeuvre, The Grand Budapest Hotel displays a synthesis of contributing elements that creates a movie that’s ceaselessly inventive, surprising, amusing, and entirely entertaining.

5 out of 5

The Grand Budapest Hotel placed 10th on my list of The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2015, which can be read in full here.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

2014 #95
Wes Anderson | 83 mins | TV | 1.85:1 | USA / English | PG / PG

Fantastic Mr. FoxQuirky cult-y director Wes Anderson tries his hand at stop motion animation with this Roald Dahl adaptation, in which an all-star cast voice the tribulations of a gaggle of talking animals — led by the eponymous vulpine — who come into conflict with three vicious farmers.

I’ve never seen a Wes Anderson film before, but his reputation is such that I don’t think you need to have to spot that Mr. Fox has been heavily Anderson-ised. It’s probably for the best I’ve not actually read Dahl for decades, because the purist in me would hate it for that. So it’s Quirky with a capital Q, and yet, miraculously, not irritatingly so — it feels like it should be considered self-consciously Quirky, but somehow isn’t. Instead, it’s almost (almost) charming. Whatever, it works.

Ostensibly a kids’ film, because it’s based on a children’s book and it’s animated, I don’t think it really is a film for kids. Not that it’s unsuitable for them, but only so in the literal sense that it’s an animated movie without extreme violence or swearing. A lot of the humour and the storytelling style, not to mention the slightly-creepy animation, are clearly aimed at a more mature viewer. The aforementioned animation was shot at the half-normal speed of 12 frames per second, to emphasis the nature of stop motion. That’s part of the creepiness, but it’s also the gangly designs, and that the animals look like they’ve been made out of real fur (because they have), which ruffles all of its own accord (accidentally moved by the animators’ hands, of course, but when seen in motion…) Honestly, I think it would give some kids nightmares more than joy.

Fox familyCompositionally, I thought I’d get sick of the squared-off 2D style, but Anderson’s cleverer than that. It might look flat and lacking in dimension at first, but that’s the starting point for variation, including some great bits of depth (farmer Bean trashing a caravan is a particular highlight of this), and when it breaks form (like a rabid dog chase) it’s all the more effective. There’s also a fantastic score by Alexandre Desplat. Not your usual plinky-plonky Quirky Kids’ Movie music (though there are instances of that), but something more raucous. Nice spaghetti Western riffs, too.

The main downside is the ending: it kind of reaches a conclusion, but also kind of just stops. It’s like Anderson doesn’t know how to end it… which, as it turns out, is almost exactly true. The ending isn’t the same as the book, because Anderson and co-screenwriter Noah Baumbach weren’t happy with it, but they couldn’t think of anything else. The final moments they’ve ended up with are apparently based on alternative material found in Dahl’s original manuscript, making it faithful (in its own way) while also settling the writers’ desire for a new finale. As I said, I’m not convinced.

(While we’re on trivia, residents of or regular visitors to Bath may spot the recognisable red facade of the Little Theatre towards the end. Its appearance is indeed based on the real one, though goodness knows why.)

Fantasticer in the future?Fantastic Mr. Fox is the kind of film I feel I may enjoy more on a re-watch. Indeed, some comments on film social networking sites (e.g. Letterboxd) do suggest that it only improves the more you see it. Having parked any desire for faithfulness to the original at the door, then, I feel there’s a chance the film’s boundless originality and almost-incidental outside-the-norm creativity may potentially render it an all-time favourite. But that’s something future viewings (if or when ever they occur) will have to ascertain.

4 out of 5