A Guide to Wes Anderson’s Filmmaking Style

MOONRISE KINGDOM (Image Credit: Focus Features)

MOONRISE KINGDOM (Image Credit: Focus Features)

Wes Anderson is arguably one of the most notable directors of the modern cinematic age. He’s granted the title of one of my favorite directors because every single frame of his films is absolutely thrilling. Each moment is a joyous treat of color, character, sound and symmetry. His popularity is from his incredibly distinctive filmmaking style. Each facet of his films seems to be part of his signature.

Anderson’s latest film The Grand Budapest Hotel is nominated for Best Motion Picture at this year’s Oscars — the first time one of his films has earned this nomination — and provides an excellent showcase of Anderson’s style. Here’s what you need to know to fully appreciate and understand this great director’s work:

A Recurring Pool of Actors

When watching Anderson’s films, one basic thread throughout his films is instantly identifiable and it requires no formal analysis to understand. Anderson continually features familiar faces in his films. Bill Murray and Owen Wilson are both involved in all but one of his eight major motion pictures. Wilson isn’t shown in Rushmore, but he did co-write the screenplay with Anderson. Other collaborators include Jason Schwartzman, Luke Wilson and Anjelica Huston. The Grand Budapest Hotel not only has Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Murray, it also stars Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton and Edward Norton, all of whom now have two to three Anderson credits under their belts.


Color, Color and More Color

Anderson’s use of color is the most obvious component to his style because it is so prevalent in every scene. It is the most striking of his trademarks. An entire Tumblr page is dedicated to the color palettes in his films. The colors create the tone of the world Anderson has created for each film. It intrigues the eye and invites the viewer to go on a visual rollercoaster as each frame is filled with dozens of saturated colors — mostly red, yellow and blue — to gawk at. The Grand Budapest Hotel interestingly uses color to distinguish the three different time periods that take place in the film. The 1930s, where a majority of the action takes place, are full of very saturated reds, purples and pinks. Even his use of white is visually striking. The 1960s feature yellows, greens and golds. Lastly, the 1980s seem more natural and unedited.


Writing in Film

Captions and writing are littered throughout each of Anderson’s films. Fun fact, he often uses the Futura font to caption montages such as the awesome extracurricular activities montage in Rushmore and the montage of Margot’s case history in The Royal Tenenbaums. Anderson is considered an auteur, the French word for “author.” He places extra importance in the words and manifests their significance by actually putting them right on the screen. In The Grand Budapest Hotel, writing is seen on Zero’s “Lobby Boy” hat, on the Mendl’s boxes, the hotel’s sign and more while being blatantly focused upon when the camera focuses on a letter or note. On a more obvious note, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Grand Budapest Hotel are told as if the films are simply illustrations of fictitious novels.


A Catchy Tune

Anderson’s use of sound and soundtrack in his films emphasizes the moment in the story. The lyrics of the song will in some way match the tone of scene. One of the most brilliant but haunting examples of this is the use of “Needle in the Hay” by Elliott Smith during Richie’s suicide attempt in The Royal Tenenbaums. Luke Wilson’s performance plus the gut-wrenching song plus the shade of blue that filters the whole scene is breathtaking. Often, the plunking harpsichord and other string instruments are present in the orchestrations made for the film, and The Grand Budapest Hotel is no different. The themes of Mr. Moustafa and M. Gustave are quintessential Anderson films compositions, and they continue the streak of instrumentals played throughout his films that get stuck in my head for weeks.


Common Camera Techniques

Anderson beautifully frames his films, and he typically always uses three techniques: slow motion, symmetry and montage. Slow motion emphasizes a moment in time. When Margot gets off the bus to see Richie for the first time in years in The Royal Tenenbaums, it’s significant so it’s slowed down. They use slow motion in Moonrise Kingdom when Sam, Suzy and the Khaki Scouts leave the tent. My favorite montages are the extracurricular activities one in Rushmore, which I previously mentioned, the one showcasing the villains Boggis, Bunce and Bean in Fantastic Mr. Fox and the “introducing the players” one in The Royal Tenenbaums. Slow motion and montage aren’t as memorably used in The Grand Budapest Hotel. However, The Grand Budapest Hotel is no exception to Anderson’s rule for symmetry in nearly every frame. His worlds are so fantastical that the more realistic, asymmetrical shots wouldn’t make sense. To get a fun look at his use of symmetry, check out the video below that compiles examples from all of his films.

All in the Family

Anderson often looks at themes of family in his films. Fantastic Mr. Fox deals with the tribulations of Mr. Fox’s dissatisfaction with a simple home life and his eventual reconciliation with his family. The Darjeeling Limited examines the issues between three brothers. Moonrise Kingdom focuses on orphan Sam and his attempt to create his own family — not literally but just in terms of love, home and acceptance — with Suzy. The Grand Budapest Hotel continues this common element. Zero has no family, but he finds it in M. Gustave and the hotel and eventually Agatha. The hotel is a surrogate home.


Prep for the Oscars, which will air Feb. 22 on ABC, by fully analyzing one of its Best Picture nominees. Now, you can play Slate’s Wes Anderson bingo!


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