A Ranking of Every Wes Anderson Film


Photo Courtesy of Empire Online.

With his next film, Isle of Dogs, just weeks away, I thought I’d give my ranking of the previous films of one of the most innovative auteurs of all-time.

8. The Darjeeling Limited: The striking detail in Indian decor might just be a backdrop to most directors, but with Anderson, who adjusts every detail of every frame, it seems to be a perfect match. It’s no surprise, then, that he chose to film his fifth film on a train in India. The aesthetics are unsurprisingly dazzling, and the story is strong enough, about three estranged brothers going to see their mother in the mountains to inform her of their father’s death. It’s slightly bogged down by moments of clunky dialogue and glaringly-obvious symbolism, giving another argument for the masses that say Anderson is only style over substance. But, this is a Wes Anderson movie, so can you really go wrong?

7. Bottle Rocket: Being Anderson’s first feature, his entire style had not developed fully yet. The traces are there: eclectic ‘60s soundtrack, deadpan acting, and spurts of profanity. However, this is rather different than what he’s come to be associated with. The story of a man newly released from a mental institution, it quickly becomes a farce heist film. Which is fine, because it’s jokes are rapid fire and it might be his goofiest film.

6. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou: Anderson’s tribute to Jacques Cousteau is a forgotten classic. When it was first released, this sort of epic about a depressed oceanographer meeting his adult son for the first time, baffled audiences and Anderson was dismissed as jumping the shark. However, this is one of his most ambitious works and he pulls it off surprisingly well. The epic, which is a hair too long, combines old ocean documentaries with Moby Dick. Bill Murray gives one of his best performances as a washed-up science personality grieving the death of his best friend by a sea creature. There are moments of surprising action, such as the invasion of pirates on the ship. Of course, the ship is shown like a diorama, most of the sea animals are claymation, everything is color-coordinated, and there is a sailor who plays Portuguese Bowie covers throughout, giving an artificial layer to coat Anderson’s often ignored moments of moving emotion.

5. Fantastic Mr. Fox: The sly nature of Roald Dahl seems to be in Anderson’s wheelhouse, although this is the first time he realized someone else’s work. However, this is pure Anderson. Made with stop-motion animation, for once his set is a literal diorama.The voice cast, led by George Clooney, gives the fuzzy creatures purely human attitudes and Anderson develops the story into something very original. The expansive models, in autumn colors, are gorgeous and worthy of their own picture frame and the soundtrack is stellar, led by The Beach Boys and The Stones. Anderson himself even makes a cameo! A children’s movie might not seem to be a perfect fit for him, but luckily this is an adult movie with sophisticated humor that you can show your kids.

4. Rushmore: Anderson’s breakthrough is perhaps most notable for discovering Jason Schwartzman and saving Bill Murray’s career. About an arrogant prep school student, leading his campus and failing his classes, who befriends a miserable tycoon and falls in love with a kindergarten teacher, this is an essential high school movie. With one of the most famous soundtracks of all-time and about a hundred homages to French New Wave, Anderson had finally found his style. The minor characters are also the strongest, such as the protagonist’s sweet, affable father [Seymour Cassel] and the sadistic Scottish bully [Stephen McCole].

3. Moonrise Kingdom: Anderson’s first romance film, about two 12 year-old misfits who run away together on their remote New England island in 1965, is his most sincere. Featuring great performances by Edward Norton, as a Khaki Scout leader who takes his job very seriously, and Bruce Willis, as a sad cop, Anderson created yet another world. This film, as goofy as it can be, is also very wistful, in which the children are wise beyond their years, but naive, and the adults are immature, but cynical. For once, people were seeing that there was always an emotional depth to these movies.

2. The Grand Budapest Hotel: Decorated like a decadent pastry, The Grand Budapest is anchored by a terrific performance by Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustav, a grand hotel concierge who mourns a bygone era. Taking place in the early stages of World War II in the fictional Eastern European nation Zubrowka, the film has an all-star cast: Saoirse Ronan, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Adrien Brody, Lea Seydoux, and Harvey Keitel. In many ways representative of a Peter Sellers caper, this story about a concierge and his lobby boy on the lam after being framed for murder is hilarious, but a modest sadness of looming war is felt throughout until the end, in which it becomes Wes Anderson’s most tragic film. This might actually be Anderson’s most beautiful film and being his most recent, shows he’s not slowing down.

1. The Royal Tenenbaums: Led by a lively Gene Hackman, a perfect contrast to Anderson’s emotionally broken, deadpan characters, The Royal Tenenbaums is a true classic. Influenced by Salinger and the New Wave, it follows an estranged father who pretends to have cancer after being kicked out of his hotel, to stay with his family and stop his wife from getting remarried. Royal Tenenbaum [Hackman] sounds like an awful person, and he is, but he is so affable, that you love him. Set in New York City, each child has a different view of their father and are child prodigies stunted in their maturity. The film is quietly painful, and you often do realize it’s impact until days after watching it. Many of the actors give career-high performances here, such as Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Danny Glover, and Owen Wilson. Accompanied by songs by Paul Simon, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Nico, The Velvet Underground, Elliott Smith, and Van Morrison, delicately prepared shots, and one of the greatest screenplays ever written [with Owen Wilson], this was the film that truly proved Anderson was a timeless master of his craft.