“The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” is easily the most formally adventurous work of Anderson’s career. Unbound by the commercial expectations of a wide-ish theatrical release, the filmmaker imbues the tale of a gambler (Benedict Cumberbatch) who develops the power to see without his eyes with a stylish verve that makes his previous work look almost pat. The major upside to this ability is that he can now see the flipside of every card dealt during a game of blackjack. When Henry grows bored of accumulating massive wealth through dishonest means, he begins putting his fortune toward charitable causes.
It’s a fairly straightforward fantasy, but Anderson tells it with tremendous wit and brio — and, most importantly, he does it in just under 40 minutes (the Academy’s runtime requirement for this category).
Though Anderson has never made a movie that runs over two hours, his quirky aesthetic wears some viewers down fairly rapidly. I disagree strongly with such people (to put it kindly), but this tighter format might get them in and out of an Anderson movie before they cry uncle. They might — gasp! — actually dig what he’s throwing down for once (and he throws a lot at us in this one).
But if they still can’t get with Anderson, there’s another factor working in his favor.