here comes mad men
by request: 12 years a slave (steve mcqueen, 2013)

by request: the grand budapest hotel (wes anderson, 2014)

(Requested by my sister Sue.)

Marwencol was a 2010 film about which I wrote:

Documentary about Mark Hogancamp, who was beaten by five men, suffering extreme brain damage. He concocts his own therapy by building a 1/6th model of a Belgian village during WWII, using dolls and other paraphernalia. Hogancamp seems guileless, which one person in the film points out is crucial: the village would be entirely different if it were informed by irony. Director Jeff Malmberg manages to keep the irony out of his work, as well, leaving a deceptively slight tale.

I’ve written the same thing about Wes Anderson films for many years, and I feel like I shouldn’t just recite those past comments one more time. So I switched, and quoted something I wrote about another movie. Wes Anderson builds his films the way Mark Hogancamp built his Belgian village (without the brain damage). Nothing in his movies is quite like “real” life. He creates entire worlds out of his own creative fantasies, and regularly succeeds at placing his visions on the screen intact. This is not an easy thing to accomplish, and it’s a sign of an artist in full command of his medium.

He receives critical acclaim, which has become more impressive and consistent in recent years. Metacritic ratings for the last three features he directed: Fantastic Mr. Fox 83/100, Moonrise Kingdom 84/100, The Grand Budapest Hotel 87/100.

My response to his movies has been consistent as well. Beginning with The Royal Tenenbaums, I have seen all of his features except The Darjeeling Limited, and have given them all the same 6/10 rating.

I wonder if Fantastic Mr. Fox is the ultimate Wes Anderson film. It’s animated … there is no mistaking it for the “real” world. Yet in some ways, the foxes in that movie are more like the human beings you’ll meet during an ordinary day than the characters in Anderson’s live-action movies. I wrote about Mr. Fox, “But Mr. Fox et al are not foxes at all. They walk on two feet, dress in human clothing, and seem to aspire as much as anything to living the life of an ordinary human being.” One thing you can say about the characters in The Grand Budapest Hotel is that very few of them aspire to living the life of an ordinary human being.

I’m still buried in the ongoing discussion about the importance of “the filmmaking” in movie criticism. I know I’m too much the English professor about movies, that I foreground plot and acting more than “the filmmaking”. But I think it’s no coincidence that the author of the linked-to piece, Matt Zoller Seitz, has written a highly-regarded book about Wes Anderson. Wes Anderson is a filmmaker … he is an artist. He is probably best appreciated when you come to his films with the willingness and expectation to give yourself over to the worlds he creates.

I think I liked this one a teensy bit more than I liked the other Andersons. Mostly, it reminded me of a film scripted by T.S. Garp. But after all of these films, it is clear that more than usual, when it comes to Wes Anderson, your mileage may vary. When I read reviews of his films, when I talk to friends who love his movies, it is evident that for the most part, we see the same things. But then I say 6/10, and they say 87/100. If they explained “why 87”, I’d understand the explanation … I saw it for myself. But I’m unimpressed. Which makes Wes Anderson the King of Taste Preferences. 6/10. For a companion piece, choose another Wes Anderson film (duh), or maybe one directed by Noah Baumbach … I liked The Squid and the Whale more than I like most Anderson films. You could also try Marwencol.