Tuesday’s 10: Things that remind me of Wes Anderson movies

I spent my 5th of July holiday doing a whole lot of nothing. I had projects to work on and ideas of what I wanted to do to get done, but on the couch I stayed. Even though I felt a little guilty, I couldn’t feel too guilty because it’s so rare for me to even be able to take a day to do nothing at all. So, I spent all day laying on my couch watching Law & Order, Law & Order: Criminal Intent (which has gone downhill , and always has terribly weak female characters compared to the other L&O flavours, but Jeff Goldblum is hot, so I forgive its shortcomings time and time again) and Wes Anderson movies.

Wes Anderson sort of takes a big hit because he’s an “indie-darling” or because there’s such an attention to detail to the point that the detail becomes contrived and unneccessary and people think that the films are style over substance, but to me that’s what gives the films and characters this other meaning.  I’m going to go all film theory and crit. here (that was one of my favourite classes in film school after all) so you may need to forgive it. I see the careful contrivance of not just of the surroundings in which the characters interact, but of the characters themselves, as the desire of the characters  to create the existence that they want to live in and a rejection of the world as it is rather than what it could be.

When Rushmore first came out, I think everyone I’ve ever met who still had my phone number or email address contacted me to say that if I hadn’t seen the movie (I had, 5 times actually) I needed to go find it because I was Max Fischer. This is sort of true, I am sort of Max Fischer, and I also think I identify with Max more than any other fictional character I can think of. This is why I think that the films of Wes Anderson remind me of what would happen if the world of ’60s children’s novels were dumped out into our world. Or more importantly that the people who inhabit these films want to reject to dull, tawdriness of our world and instead, wanting to live in that world of children’s books, where things might be complex and dark and messed up, but they are always interesting and the protagonists always sort of come out okay for it, they’ve tried desperately to do so by constructing it for themselves.  The characters and dialogue and sets seem precious because things that are wonderful in fiction are awkward and self-conscious and slightly pretentious outside of it. (Or creepy if you think about anyone we knew in highschool actually acting the way some of those ’80s romantic comedy protagonists that we all swooned over in our teens do.)

That’s probably more than enough of underlying philosophy of films talk from me. This week’s 10 isn’t so much Wes Anderson films or things that look like they belong in one. Instead, it’s more things that aren’t really related to Wes Anderson, but none-the-less make me think of his films and characters.

1. The Graduate- Directed by Mike Nichols

box art for the Graduate

I’ll admit I saw this on an article about 11 films without which Wes Anderson films wouldn’t exist. And unlike some of the other films on that list (like the truly excellent Local Hero, which I thought was a stretch) as soon as I saw it listed, I was like, ‘Oh yeah totally.’  It’s the whole tone I think and not just the soundtrack that ties this cinema classic to Anderson’s work. It also reminded me that I totally need to buy this on DVD.

2. The Boy Detective Fails by Joe Meno

Cover art for the Boy Detective Fails

This novel has some issues, pacing is a big one. I believe it was Meno’s first novel though and those are usually a little problematic. The feel of the story is very similar in tone to and Anderson film in that there’s this 60s children’s novel character being crushed by the real world in which he is some how living. Plus it came with a decoder ring and secret codes, which, well a lot of Amazon reviewers thought was lame and contrived and pretentious, but was probably the number one reason I bought the book in the first place, because I’m totally a sucker for decoder rings. The other reason is that I completely wanted to be the “girl-detective” when I was in grade school. No I mean really, I wanted to be like Encyclopedia Brown so much I set up a detective agency out of my locker in I think it was grade 4, but instead of getting to find missing diamonds, I just got beat up.

3. From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

cover art to the book

This is one of my favourite books. To this day I want to run away and live in the Met and have mysterious adventures. Of course it makes the list, not just because it’s a 60s Children’s Novel I would like to construct life into, but because running away and living in the Met is such a Tennenbaum thing to do.

4. The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

cover art for the Egypt Game

Another one of those children’s novels I’d totally live in.

5. Pas/cal

Pas/cal album art

I like to think that Max Fischer probably owns a Pas/cal record or two. I never hear anyone talking about this pop group, so I guess that means they are an under-the-radar undiscovered gem.

6. The Science of Sleep directed by Michel Gondry

cover art to Science of Sleep

I could probably write another entire 10 on things that remind me of Michel Gondry films. I think I have cried at every one of them; including ‘Be Kind Rewind’ which was supposedly a comedy. (I say supposedly, because that was the way it was advertised, causing I think a lot of people to be disappointed because while it was at times really hysterical, it was really sort of a love letter to the cultural glue that cinema has the power to be.) Sometimes Gondry makes me think of Chekov, and how he wrote these beautiful and very melancholy plays, all the time insisting he wrote comedies. Anyway, the film is incredibly sad in the end and it reminds me very much of Anderson, particularly ‘The Life Aquatic…’ in the fantastical and just a little absurd, but yet very tragic tones.

7. The Last Days of Disco directed by Whit Stillman

cover art for last days of disco

Whit Stillman is the king of talky drama-comedies about New York preppies in the early 80s. While Metropolitan is the best of his films, I have a special place in my heart for ‘The Last Days of Disco’.  It’s back from the era when Kate Beckinsale actually looked like an individual person instead of a totally generic Hollywood paperdoll with the same face as 20 other women. I wish more people had seen this movie, so that when I quote the ‘Scrooge McDuck is sexy” line, they would know what I was talking about instead of looking at me like I was daft.

8. The Decemberists. Yeah, I know, everyone knows the Decemberists, and it’s super obvious, but the super-detailed children’s noveliness of the Decemberists music (particularly the early albums) is the recording.

9.  The Hudsucker Proxy directed by the Coen Brothers

cover art for the hudsucker proxy

The Coens have such  a specific idea of film. They are probably the only film makers I can think of who make genuine screwball comedies.

10. O Brother, Where Art Thou directed by the Coen Brothers

cover art for o brother where art thou

Details, Details. The Coen’s are so incredibly detailed. Of all their neo-screwball comedies, this is the best.

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