Directed by Wes Anderson starring Gene Hackman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Angelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Danny Glover and Bill Murray.

Tom Hanks winning for 'Philadelphia' and Anthony Hopkins going home empty handed for 'Remains of the Day', Ralph Fiennes in 'Schindler's List' losing out to Tommy Lee Jones in 'The Fugitive', Kevin Spacey in 'American Beauty' chosen over Russell Crowe in 'The Insider', the list of contentious Oscar decisions is worthy of a ceremony in itself. But at least all of the above got nominations, which makes Gene Hackman's omission from this year's shortlist, having won at the Golden Globes, all the more galling.

Some may argue that there's nothing to feel sore about, Hackman having won both Best Actor and Supporting Actor over the years, but at 71 his performance in 'The Royal Tenenbaums' shows that he's still pushing all the right buttons and deserved its chance. Thankfully director Wes Anderson and actor Owen Wilson's script for 'Tenenbaums' has been nominated in the Best Original Screenplay category and after seeing the film you'll be rooting for them on March 24.

In a hyper-stylised New York we're brought to the home of the Tenenbaums, a family of child prodigies who have walloped hard times in adult life. First there's Chas (Stiller), once a ferocious financier but now a widower who frets constantly about his two young sons Ari and Uzi. Then there's Richie (Wilson), the US Open Champion who lost his balls in spectacular fashion and whose love for adopted sister Margot (Paltrow) has sent him into self-imposed exile on a ship doing runs to the Arctic. Margot (Paltrow) herself was an acclaimed playwright but hasn't picked up a pen in years, and is cheating on psychiatrist husband Raleigh St Clair (Murray) with cowboy author, junkie and former boy next door Eli Cash (Owen Wilson).

All the kids' hang-ups in dealing with real life can be traced back to their Daddy, Royal Tenenbaum (Hackman). He walked out on wife Etheline (Huston) 20 years earlier and has lived in a hotel ever since, dodging bills and his family, laying bets and nursing the grudge that Chas got him disbarred after robbing his son's safety deposit box. Royal starts building up an even bigger gripe however when he discovers that Etheline is going to marry her tax consultant, the gentle and solvent Henry Sherman (Glover). Stuck for a place to stay, he tells Etheline he's only got six weeks to live and wants to move back home. Rigged up with heart monitors, vials of tablets and a hotel porter doubling as his doctor, Royal moves in and tries to win back his family.

Those who went head over heels for Anderson's cult classic 'Rushmore' and have pared their fingers to the bone waiting for the follow-up can relax because he's upped his game once again. With added star clout, '...Tenenbaums' manages to be both a far smarter and more mainstream film than its predecessor and a wry reminder of just how funny American comedy can be.

Taking the soap opera staple of the dysfunctional US family, Anderson creates a quirky universe which should have viewers arguing in the aisles about who is their favourite oddball character. Hackman may get the Daddy's share of the best lines ("I'm three quarter Mick, one quarter Hebrew") but everyone has a party piece in the Tenenbaum household but it's a testament to Anderson's skill and sense of teamwork that he holds the whole thing together and balances the gags and drama - even when you think '...Tenenbaums' is going to become too wacky for its own good.

It's a film you really should go and see twice because with the visual gags, literary references and the jumping between characters, it's quite possible you won't get all the laughs you should first time 'round. Apparently Anderson and Wilson worked on the script for two years and in every scene it shows, their creation so detailed and measured that you wouldn't be surprised if writers left the cinema in tears after seeing it. The only question now is whether the duo would try writing a book together - after seeing this your hands couldn't stand another four-year wait.

Harry Guerin