Let’s be honest: 2012 has not been that good of a year for the movies. True, the year isn’t over yet, and the end of the calendar year is typically littered with the films that studios are looking to win Oscars with. But as of now, the year has been terribly underwhelming. Sure The Avengers was a lot of fun, but it honestly wasn’t much better than any other Marvel Comics film. Beasts of the Southern Wild is a solid Sundance film that got far too much hype out of that festival. Ridley Scott’s Prometheus was good, but it was also little more than a retread of his own film from thirty years ago, Alien. Even one of my favorite films of the year so far, The Dark Knight Rises, simply pales in comparison to its predecessor. However, there are two films that have been released this year that stand tall among the rest. Both were made by innovative auteurs. Both of those auteurs made their breakthrough in the 90s. Both auteurs have been praised for their droll sense of humor. Both auteurs have been praised for their utilization of popular music in their films. And oddly enough, both auteurs have the same last name. Those auteurs are Paul Thomas Anderson and Wes Anderson, and their films are The Master and Moonrise Kingdom, respectively.
While those films may not be the absolute best films of either director’s career, they serve as reminders that the Andersons are at the forefront of American cinema. The Master picks up where PTA left off with his 2007 masterpiece There Will Be Blood. It’s a gorgeously filmed and expertly performed epic about the American relationship between commerce and religion. Moonrise Kingdom is a return to live action for Wes, after his hilarious venture into Claymation with his loving adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. Whereas PTA’s recent films have been bleak, Moonrise Kingdom is a touching love story about two runaway kids that highlights his eccentric humor and his stylistic quirks.
Frankly, the two directors are very far apart, at least when it comes to visual style. And while PTA is known for injecting humor into his films, they are unmistakably dramas that touch on subjects ranging from human avarice to drug addiction (Punch-Drunk Love aside). Wes Anderson’s films are tragicomedies, films that maintain a morose sense of humor, typically set against the backdrop of a neurotic/broken family. So while their films are largely different, the two men have some striking similarities apart from their surname.
In 1996, both Paul Thomas and Wes released their debut features, Hard Eight and Bottle Rocket, respectively. For Hard Eight, PTA expanded on a subplot he used in his 1993 short film Cigarettes & Coffee. He was allowed to do this after that short became a Sundance sensation, and investors at the Sundance lab gave him enough to make a feature. In 1994, Wes Anderson directed a short named Bottle Rocket. Academy Award winning director James L. Brooks saw it, and found Anderson the financing to expand his short. Both Hard Eight and Bottle Rocket were met with positive, if unspectacular reviews. It wasn’t until their second films, Boogie Nights and Rushmore, that the filmmakers received the acclaim they are now used to.
Since then, both directors have received Academy Award nominations (although PTA has three more). They also have both been called the next Martin Scorsese by a man that would have some authority on the matter: Martin Scorsese. Both Paul Thomas and Wes would be the first men to admit the influence that the great Scorsese has had on them. Boogie Nights at times feels like the collaborative film Robert Altman and Scorsese never made, while Wes frequently employs the use of Rolling Stones songs in his films (sound familiar?). Paul Thomas is well known for his use of music in film as well. In fact, PTA and Wes mailed each other back and forth on ideas for songs that could be used in Wes Anderson’s most iconic film The Royal Tenenbaums. This is the only time the two are known to have collaborated.
As far as American directors are concerned, Scorsese had quite a few extraordinary directors that he could have picked from as a standard bearer for the new generation of American auteurs. Darren Aronofsky, Alexander Payne and Quentin Tarantino would all certainly qualify. But for many film enthusiasts, the Andersons represent the cream of the crop.
About the author: Zack Mandell is a movie enthusiast and owner of www.movieroomreviews.com and writer of movie reviews. He writes extensively about the movie industry for sites such as Gossip Center, Yahoo, NowPublic, and Helium.
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