The Set of 400: #21 – My Favorite Closet Full of Board Games

Today! Because I’ve always been considered an asshole for about as long as I can remember. That’s just my style –

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Directed by Wes Anderson (x4)

Starring Gene Hackman (x5), Angelica Huston (x4), Ben Stiller (x3), Luke Wilson (x4), Gwyneth Paltrow (x6), Owen Wilson (x5), Bill Murray (x11), Danny Glover (x2), Kumar Pallana (x2), Seymour Cassel (x3), Alec Baldwin (x4), Stephen Lea Sheppard, Andrew Wilson (x3)

Back in #267 The Life Aquatic, I posited that Wes Anderson’s distinctive style truly began with that film, but the entire blueprint was in place in The Royal Tenenbaums. While Aquatic often feels like an over-directed showcase of filmmaking more than a cohesive movie, Anderson hadn’t gotten all that carried away with himself when tackling his third film, and first after his big breakthrough on Rushmore three years earlier. It would take a little time after Aquatic to reconcile the manner of hyper-detail oriented production design with large idiosyncratic cast to compelling storylines – arguably until Moonrise Kingdom in 2012 – but the rougher version of this concept is fully on display here.

And while most of Anderson’s films work best due to their expertly crafted screenplays and oddball twists, Tenenbaums might be the only one primarily driven by the slate of tremendous performances across its eclectic cast. Hackman was purportedly a nightmare to work with on this film, but he delivers his career best comedic performance as the half charlatan patriarch Royal, in one of his last roles before retiring in ’04 (thanks for nothing, Welcome to Mooseport!). He was snubbed by the Oscars, thanks to that enduring bias against comedies, but did get a Globe nomination, plus wins at the AFI Awards, the Chicago Film Critics, and the National Society of Film Critics. The rest of the cast is no slouch either – Stiller’s apoplectic track-suited Chas, Paltrow’s morose theater maven Margot, and especially Luke Wilson’s shattered tennis pro Richie – the inspiration for one of my many failed Halloween costume efforts of years past.

It’s okay, I know I look more Bjorn Borg than the Baumer

The film’s lone Oscar nod was for Anderson and Owen Wilson’s screenplay – the first of Wes’s seven nominations to date (as of this writing), of which he’s taken home zero. But across four different categories – producing, directing, screenwriting, and animated film. Coming for you, Clooney! I don’t know if Wes Anderson’s Oscar triumph is as inevitable as, say, Paul Thomas Anderson’s, again due to that academy inclination to shun comedies, but he’ll probably nab a screenplay Oscar before much longer, right? I love his stop-motiony flicks too, but there are far too many Pixar masterpieces rolling out to ever bet on your Isle of Dogs or Fantastic Mr. Fox.

But come on, how great was Isle of Dogs?

I know there are folks who find Anderson’s films a bit insufferable, and I suppose if you’re already locked into that, it’s going to be hard to find one of his movies to change your mind. He’s got a distinct, unwavering style at this point, and one that seems to actually grow more entrenched over time, so my guess would be there is no converting haters at this point. I would just argue that his first three films are a lot more character driven than his next few (again, until he sorted some choices out and we looped around to the greatness of Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel), so I would warn against lumping Rushmore, Tenenbaums, and (to a lesser extent) Bottle Rocket in with the others you might be dismissing.

But this isn’t an attitude or an evaluation I even remotely share. Since Rushmore I’ve been pretty sturdily in the Anderson camp, and that feeling has only grown over time. From the bizarre plot complications to the wonderfully utilized soundtracks to the excruciating details, I’ve got New Wes Anderson Movies circled on the calendar as must-see first-weekend outings. And I find them endlessly rewatchable – I haven’t even mentioned the crazy good turns by Owen Wilson’s hack western writer Eli, or Bill Murray’s psychiatrist Raleigh St. Clair, or Anjelica Huston’s work knitting the group together as Tenenbaum mother Etheline. How great is Kumar Pallana as Royal’s righthand man/former assassin Pagoda?! Or Danny Glover as Etheline’s new love interest Henry? Plus, that go cart race! The BB gun fight! Buckley!

Movie MVP

This might also qualify as a sub-genre I’ve dismissed in the past – movies about writers. Virtually every character in this movie has written a book, and the whole film is structured into chapters. Typically, I don’t enjoy writer movies, as I feel the whole thing is too glamorized or exaggerated as to make any real sense, but here it is a bit to the side of the actual goings on. Sure, it illustrates how smart and accomplished everyone is, but no one’s identity is particularly tied to their writing – except maybe Eli, who is a boob. Looking ahead, I don’t think I have any writer movies still to come, so here you are! Favorite film from a sub-genre I don’t care for!

Plus some magazines

This is Anderson’s fourth film on the list, following The Life Aquatic, #124 Moonrise Kingdom, and #319 The Darjeeling Limited, while virtually the entire cast is at minimum a Three-Timer, with Paltrow’s Sixth (#38 Iron Man, #224 Avengers, #265 Iron Man 3, #109 Hook, and #186 Talented Mr. Ripley) and Murray’s Eleventh (only one back of Sam Jackson’s lead) out in front!

Married, but not sharing a ton of screen time here

Coming tomorrow! Well, if there’s anybody out there that can look around this demented slaughterhouse of a world we live in and tell me that man is a noble creature, believe me: That man is full of bullshit –

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