There are, apparently, people in the world who don’t like the movies of Wes Anderson, who turns 44 today. Of course that’s fine and everyone’s entitled their opinions blah blah blah, but we’re unapologetic apologists for the quirky formalism of the director, even if we end up inevitably having to use one of our most despised words — “quirky” — to describe it. But there are other words we use, like “charming” and “stylised,” which are constantly countered by detractors with things like “precious” and “twee.” And yes, his style is so mannered that it walks that line, but to our mind generally the surprise of Anderson’s films is, despite the fetishizable costuming and set design and despite the controlled palettes and contorted dialogue, just how deeply felt they can be — this never more in evidence than with last year’s winning and winsome “Moonrise Kingdom.”
So of course we’re eagerly anticipating Anderson’s next feature, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which may still be in the frame for a possible Oscar-qualifying late-2013 release. But for those who find the meticulous frame compositions and retro styling just too much over the course of a two-hour film, there is still a way to get a little Anderson in your day. While hardly as prolific in this regard as frequent collaborator Roman Coppola, Anderson does occasionally turn his hand to commercials with usually unmistakably Anderson-ian results — but over the course of just 30 seconds to a couple of minutes max. To celebrate the director’s birthday, we’ve picked out five of his best, which serve as a good primer for anyone not familiar with the director’s work or anyone thinking of coming over from the hater darkside.
Naysayers, get ready to roll your eyes and snark “hipster” under your breath repeatedly. The rest of us are gonna slick on some black eyeliner and make sure our socks are pulled up spirit-level-even to just below the knee and dive into Wes Anderson’s 5 best commercials.
5. Stella Artois “Apartomatic” (2010)
Co-directed with Roman Coppola and heavily influenced by his peccadillo for 60s retro-futurism, this Stella ad does not, perhaps, have quite the soul that Anderson can bring nor that other Stella ads have achieved. What it does have, though, is a girl who looks very like a grown up version of Suzy from “Moonrise Kingdom” getting trapped in a super-mechanized, droolworthy apartment and being apparently instantly forgotten about once the bachelor whose pad it is claps eyes on his Stella Artois.
4. Hyundai Azera “Modern Life” (2012)
Anderson directed two commercials for the Hyundai Azera, and despite the loving nods to “The Life Aquatic” and “Fantastic Mr Fox” in the “Talk To Your Car” execution (see below), we’re actually giving the coveted number 4 spot to “Modern Life.” Aside from it being a nice, simple idea for a commercial, it features one of our favorite things: when Wes Anderson, whose instinct is for aesthetic control and symmetry, does “chaos.” And so the kitchen scene is a wonderful tableau of odd, frenetic details, like the baby in the cupboard, the robot in the fridge, the flying helicopter and the kid in the Maurice Sendak-esque headgear playing drums.
3. AT&T “Actor” (2007)
Again this is part of a series, this time of 3 ads, that Anderson shot for AT&T in 2007. In each, the basic idea is the same, as three professional men talk over a series of swinging backdrops and rotating platforms to illustrate the AT&T’s wide coverage. You can watch “Reporter” and “Salesman” below too, but we’ve chosen “Actor” as the standout because of the casting and the greater sense of fluidity and depth to the in-camera effects and scenery changes.
2. Prada Candy “Episode 1” & “Episode 2” (2013)
A little cheat here, as we can’t find much to choose between the first two installments of the 3-part Prada Candy “film” that Anderson directed with Roman Coppola this year. Full disclosure: there’s almost nothing on the face of the planet apart from maybe childhood smallpox that this writer despises more than the average perfume commercial (those aggravating interest vacuums wherein tragic Scarjo pouts and says something fauxnigmatic or Nicole Kidman “lahves to dahhhnce!”), but these are definitely a cut above. Lea Seydoux (who shot a few days on “Grand Budapest Hotel“ as well) is appropriately adorable, especially when stuffing her face adorably, but the ads mostly win us over for actually telling a story, as aspirationally Frenchified as it might be. So aside from the orgasmically fetishized design and accessorizing (oh, the cute way her handbag bounces around as she goes up the stairs!), the whole endeavor is a frothy, witty, mischievous way to sell perfume as a lighthearted lifestyle accessory, as opposed to a philosophical statement on transience and mortality coming from noted philosopher Brad Pitt — Chanel, please take note. “Episode 3” doesn’t have quite the same insouciance and gets a titchy bit smug, but the other two are great.
1. American Express “Wes Anderson” (2006)
And so we come to the undisputed masterpiece of Anderson’s commercials career — not just our favorite of his commercials, but one of our favourite commercials ever, period. And of course, that’s largely because it’s a fond and skewed look at filmmaking itself, simultaneously a send-up and a celebration of the process, in which Anderson fully embraces his image as a whimsical, mercurial, ringmaster (“Can you do a .357 with a bayonet?” “Are those my birds? I need those”) and has great fun in the process. Almost as full of quotable lines as a whole two-hour movie and featuring Jason Schwartzman (whose “Francois!” followed by the hat bit always makes us laugh) and Roman Coppola as Francois himself, the ad might not sell American Express directly, but it does make us favorably disposed toward a brand that would fork over this amount of cash for Anderson to basically goof around. So, job done there. If you haven’t seen this, you’re in for a treat, and if you have, rewatch it and we guarantee you’ll see something new.
An Honorable Mention has to go to Anderson’s 2002 ad for Ikea in which a family has a huge row in an Ikea showroom because they feel so at home there, but we didn’t give a spot in the top 5 here because despite its importance in advertising terms, it’s an early commercial for Anderson and the direction is somewhat anonymous.
Also missing the list is this Japanese ad for Softbank starring Brad Pitt in a Jacques Tati-inspired spot that, while boasting a lot of Anderson flourishes right down to the scout troupe, feels too stiff from Pitt and also ends in that baffling WTF? way that Japanese ads often do.
We felt the performance and the animation in the Sony Xperia commercial felt oddly forced and not as charming as it wants to be.
While this 2005 commercial for Dasani feels more like an Anderson imitator than Anderson himself – perhaps that’s why it’s so difficult to get a hold of and why the quality is so poor.
If you still want a little more Wes, however, you can check out the video below in which he and Jason Schwartzman wander around a Borders store talking about music and movies they love. It’s totally indulgent and hardly essential, but we do enjoy just the very idea that Anderson even watched “300” so it’s worth it for that.