Paul Thomas (P.T.) Anderson and Wes Anderson both released films in 2012. The Anderson name is not the only thing these two intelligent storytellers have in common. Born 13 months apart in the middle of Generation X, consider these other commonalities:
- Back-to-back masterpieces to close the curtain on the 20th century and open a new one on the 21st – Boogie Nights & Magnolia (P.T.) and Rushmore & The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes).
- Revolving cast of players – Phillip Seymor Hoffman, John C. Riley, William H. Macy (P.T.) and Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwarzman (Wes).
- Anti-pop culture topics with against-the-grain film making styles: Wes’ Fantastic Mr. Fox is about a rag-tag group of B-list animals done in stop-motion animation in the age of in-your-face 3-D.; P.T.’s There Will Be Blood about a despicable oil prospector in early 20th century shot with old school 35 mm cameras in the economical age of digital.
- Comforting but disconcerting character-driven storytelling with an odd mix of melancholy and humor
And yet their films couldn’t be more dissimilar – compare the decadent San Fernando Valley in the golden ago of porn in P.T.’s Boogie Nights with the surreal private academy in an anonymous time and place of Wes’ Rushmore.
Here are two compelling reasons with supporting video why I’m moved by their films:
First, I’ve see a lot of great ensemble films with parallel running stories all converging for a big bang at the end. But none of these films, including recent Academy Award winners Crash and Traffic, packs the punch of P.T.’s Magnolia – one fateful day in the life of interrelated characters in search of happiness, forgiveness, and meaning. Watch Tom Cruise prance in the role of his career as sex guru T.J. Mackey
Second, and on the similar note, I’ve seen a lot of funny films with funny characters getting into all kinds of funny predicaments – think of Chevy Chase as hapless patriarch Clark Griswold desperately trying to get his family across country to the wonders of Wally World in National Lampoon’s Vacation or Steve Martin’s ambitious idiot Freddie Benson in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
National Lampoon’s Vacation
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
As funny as Chase, Martin and many of their 80’s comedy brethren are, none of them displays the emotional complexity of Bill Murray’s lonely chain-smoking industrialist Herman Blume in Rushmore. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when watching Blume’s competitive friendship with eccentric teenager Max Fischer played by Jason Schwarztman. Watch these frenemies exchange pleasantries at an awkward chance meeting
If you’re new to either Anderson, here is a good starting point:
- Boogie Nights ‘97
- Magnolia ‘99
- There Will Be Blood ‘07*
- Rushmore ‘98
- The Royal Tenenbaums ‘01*
- Fantastic Mr. Fox ‘09
*Watch a few of the quirky Tenenbaum gang discover their wife/sister’s hidden past
With Moonrise Kingdom (Wes) and The Master (P.T.) released in 2012, that’s 15 consistent years of high-quality film making. I’d argue that only the Coen Brothers have a run to parallel this. And after all, there are two of those guys.
And by “run” I mean original, no-compromise film making in an industry where not compromising could mean career death or obscurity. Woody Allen managed it for years but now makes most of his films overseas to secure the funding.
Even the guy who kicked off the whole indie film craze back in ’89 with Sex, Lies & Videotape, Steven Soderbergh, has made a handful of throwaway films, including the 3 hugely successful Ocean films. I didn’t see his edgy male stripper in Magic Mike last year but I strongly suspect the film lacks the stuff that propelled his films like The Limey in the 90’s.
Give me Gene Hackman as the lying, deceitful Royal Tenenbaum or the aforementioned sex-addled T.J. Mackey and you’ll find a character with a real edge – characters created by two very different but equally brilliant minds spinning yarns at the top of their game.