Only within the last 5 years or so have I really grown to love the offbeat canon of director Wes Anderson, no relation. He gets a lot of flack, or at least some anti-hipstery shade, thrown his way for his visual style, which is stereotypically flat like a book, his use of ’60s music on the soundtrack, and his oddball characters and their subdued silliness. It’s fairly easy to mimic (as evidenced by the recent X-Men parody trailer), but that’s only true because Anderson has such a strong auteurist sense. Every single frame of his movies is identifiably his.
It’s incredibly hard to rank his movies, since I truly do love all of them. All eight of his features are worlds and characters I enjoy visiting time and again. And I should also say that, for me, the weirder or more magical his movies got, the more I like them. And so, without further adieu, his eight movies.
8. Bottle Rocket (1996)
I feel like a lot of people discount Anderson’s first feature, and his first writing collaboration with Owen Wilson, because it’s a little meandering and certainly hasn’t yet established his strong visual sense. But, it was his first film! We can’t cut the guy a LITTLE break? While, yes, I’ve put it last on my list, I think that’s only because I like all of his other movies better. So we’re starting with a movie I already love and working forward from there. Owen Wilson’s Dignan has some of the best lines in any of the Anderson’s movies and the botched heist sequence near the end definitely gives us a glimpse of the brilliance that follows.
7. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
I think the only reason this one isn’t higher is because I haven’t watched it that many times. While the first time I saw it, it didn’t do a whole lot for me, the second time was almost like watching a brand new movie. I’m sure if I watched it a third time, it’d go up again. This film is sumptuous and colorful like the best of Anderson, but it’s certainly different in as much as it has a bit more of a cynical view on dysfunctional families, a running theme in his work. It’s the only time to date he’s collaborated on a script with Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola, so maybe that had something to do with it, but it certainly feels less like an Anderson movie as a result. Only slightly. Try not to sing “Champs Elysee” to yourself for the next thousand years, also.
6. The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
What’s the weirdest yet most fitting thing Wes Anderson could have done? How about making a janky stop-motion feature based on a beloved Roald Dahl book that still looks and sounds exactly like a Wes Anderson movie? Anderson is a clear proponent of the “older” style of filmmaking, and making movies seem more like stage plays, or in this case, a puppet show. It’s a throwback in a lot of ways to the fathers of cinema, like Georges Méliès. The character designs are really lovely, in a kind of creepy way, and the way in which they took a children’s story and made it for both kids and adults, due in no small part to silly things like calling a balaclava a “bandit hat,” makes it really special. What a delight, this movie is. I’m gonna go watch this right now before I finish writing.
5. Rushmore (1998)
And I’m back. Anderson’s second film really makes you feel like what’s it’s like to be an angsty, outsider kid trying to be an adult. A lot of us were rushing to grow up faster than we ought, which is exactly what Schwartzman’s character, Max Fischer, wants for pretty much the entire film. It also illustrates the differences between the safe and insular world of private school and the dive-in-and-hope-you-don’t-drown public school realm. It’s amazing how much of Anderson’s visual style was developed in this film. He and his DP Robert Yeoman really solidified the feel of his work in this movie and would only continue to refine it as they went. Also, Bill Murray is in this and he’s a treasure.
4. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
I don’t care what anyone says; this is a great movie. I feel like a lot of people, because it followed what is most people’s favorite Wes Anderson film, and because it was much broader and contained stranger themes, just always call this their least favorite of his films. Why? Because it’s different? That’s preposterous. And given the direction he would go following this movie, I feel like this is much more in line with the kind of thing he wanted to make in the first place. The movie feels like an adventure documentary or Boy’s Life kind of magazine story. The cast is excellent, and Bill Murray especially really proves he fits in beautifully with Anderson’s worlds. Wes co-wrote this movie with Noah Baumbach, who I don’t really like, but it produced lines like “Who the shit is Kingsley Zissou” so how can I fault it? Also, Seu Jorge doing David Bowie songs in Portuguese? Forget about it.
3. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Following The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson continued his journey through nostalgia, specifically cinematic nostalgia, by making a movie set in 1965 and about youth. Even if you weren’t a kid, or even alive, in 1965, you can relate to his two young protagonists’ desire to run away from their humdrummery and live a romantic life of adventure in the middle of nowhere. Of course, it’s very short-lived because of all the people trying to find them, but it’s nice while it lasts. All the adults in the movie are in lives they didn’t expect to have and are much less happy than they maybe once thought they should be. In this way, to them, the kids’ escape is something to which they can relate, but can’t allow at the same time. Like all of his movies, Anderson also creates a soundscape full of a particular style and to induce a particular feeling, in this case, the “learn about classical music” records of Benjamin Britten, a composer known for utilizing children’s voices. Seems perfect to me.
2. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
This is a movie so good, so distinctive, and so permeated into the zeitgeist that it’s the go-to for parody, even still, 14 years later. With only his third film, Anderson established firmly that he was a filmmaker worth paying attention to, and one whose style was distinctly his own. There’s so much to love about this movie, from the cutaway-style of the narration, another nod to Anderson’s love of storybooks, to the almost absurd accomplishments by all the Tenenbaum kids. As great as all the performances are in the movie, the real star of the flick for me is Alec Baldwin’s narration. It’s what really makes the movie what it is. Narration CAN be a bad thing, especially if it’s used in place of good storytelling, but if done well, it can really add a layer, which it really does here. It’s a wonderful film.
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Yep, the most recent one. I think Anderson keeps getting better through reinvention and he really hit on something special with his period-set, fake-World War-era comedy-caper-adventure which featured a narrative within a narrative within a narrative. It’s about legend through the years, and through the different interpretations of people; a girl reads a book written by a writer that was told to him by a hotel owner about his mentor who used to be a concierge. This is a movie that feels like a weird mixture of Tintin, Stefan Zweig, and Ernst Lubitsch, and it seems to perfectly fit his brand of storytelling. Unlike a lot of his earlier films, though, and unlike what critics often deride him for, this is a movie that DOESN’T feel flat in the least but has a very definite depth of field and is most certainly three-dimensional. Even if the hotel itself is just a model, the rest of the setting and its snowy Eastern-European vistas feel both real and dreamlike in equal measure. Much has been said about the changing of aspect ratio depending on what year the story is supposed to be in, and it really does make the main story feel classic. I adore this movie, and its Oscar-winning score by Alexandre Desplat. I hope his next movie bests this one, but if it doesn’t, I won’t be surprised; how can he top this?
This is just my ranking of the films of Wes Anderson. What would your ranking be?