Anyone familiar with Wes Anderson, knows he is almost as well-known for killing off dogs in his movies as he is for liking things to look symmetrical. He has been so criticized for this canine snuffing, it makes one wonder if the auteur’s latest release, Isle of Dogs, is his tongue-in-cheek response. While we ponder that — and wait around for our local theaters to start showing his new one — why not look back over Anderson’s work? The following is a list of every Wes Anderson feature film, ranked from worst to best.
Honorable Mentions – The Best of the Shorts
Bottle Rocket (1994, which got him the funding to make the feature-length version)
Hotel Chevalier (2007, preamble to The Darjeeling Limited)
Prada: Castello Cavalcanti (2013, a charming piece set in Italy)
Come Together: A Fashion Picture in Motion (2016, basically an H&M ad, but great!)
#8: Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Many Wes Anderson fans consider Moonrise Kingdom a cinematic treasure, so an explanation of this ranking is probably warranted. The main issue with Moonrise Kingdom is that it tries too hard — it is quirky for quirkness’ sake. Non-fans could use it as an example of why they hate Anderson films; in fact, even the movie’s trailer serves that purpose.
Lead character Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) should be someone the audience can empathize with, and ultimately root for. The story as written gives us every reason to feel those things, but Gilman’s portrayal falls short, and Sam is downright irritating. Co-lead Suzy (Kara Hayward), is a more unaffected and “Andersonian” character. Sam and Suzy are basically what would happen if you paired Rushmore‘s Max and The Royal Tenenbaums‘ Margot as a couple who [spoiler alert] marry when they are 12.
While on the subject of age, some of the movie’s situations and images become disturbing when that is taken into account. Many fans consider a scene featuring Suzy and Sam dancing on the beach in their underwear to be Moonrise Kingdom‘s best. To quote Sam, “I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.” The scene is a perfect example of what’s wrong with this movie.
Honestly, even the “worst” Wes Anderson movie is still pretty good, and this has its bright spots: mainly the performances of the people pictured below (along with Tilda Swinton as “Social Services”).
#7: Bottle Rocket (1996)
There is nothing wrong with Bottle Rocket, exactly, it was just made before Wes Anderson was, well, Wes Anderson. A few of his trademarks are present, such as: plans written out in detail and filmed from above, the colors red and yellow, some perfectly-framed shots, and so on. The writing is good, with some quotable lines, memorable characters, and a few whimsical touches. In general, though, it’s harder to tell who made this movie. It almost seems like something a filmmaker inspired by Anderson would create — little nods to the style, but not fully utilizing it.
The pacing also suffers, with parts of the movie feeling like they drag, leading the viewer to tune out a bit. Anderson later re-used some of the more fun “caper” elements from this movie in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, and executed them better there.
The original short film of Bottle Rocket (created in 1992, released at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival) is actually a lot easier to digest. Naturally, an approximately twelve-minute movie doesn’t have many opportunities to get boring. Much of Anderson’s signature style lies in his use of color, so it’s really interesting to see his work in black and white.
#6: The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
Here is where personal preference and objectivity clash terribly. The Darjeeling Limited, though painful to admit, simply shouldn’t rank as highly as other items on Anderson’s résumé. That said, it doesn’t deserve the hate it gets, either. The movie focuses on estranged brothers Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody), and Jack (Jason Schwartzman), who are attempting to mend their relationship via a trip to India. Some dismiss this movie for being a “white Americans visit India” story — homogenized, and ignorant to the real cultures of the country. What many people fail to understand is… that’s the point.
The Whitman brothers are out of touch, (presumed) rich, and used to getting what they want. This is especially true of eldest brother Francis, who controls his brothers’ every move as almost a force of habit (an encounter with their mother reveals where this originated). Francis wants to go on a “spiritual journey” with his brothers, but he wants it done his way. Francis is seeking an experience like one found in a glossy pamphlet in a hotel lobby. Safe, controlled, and generic. Arguably, the truly life-changing experience on the trip is had by middle child Peter, but it certainly isn’t the type he would’ve asked for.
#5: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
If you grew up admiring Jacques Cousteau, as Bill Murray‘s Steve Zissou did, you’ll appreciate many elements, here. There are brightly-colored (fictional) sea creatures, a film crew documenting Team Zissou’s explorations, and a ship cleverly dubbed the Belafonte. Cousteau’s ship was named Calypso, and Harry Belafonte is a legend in the musical genre of calypso.
As per usual for Wes Anderson, the aesthetic charm is mixed with a healthy dose of unhealthy relationships. Virtually all of the human interactions are complicated, which keeps this from being a fun ocean adventure tale. Though, there are pirates (not the “yo ho ho” kind), and a character motivated by revenge against a shark. So it’s got that going for it, which is nice.
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou is considered a classic by many, especially those who love Bill Murray, or Anderson… or David Bowie. Bowie’s songs performed throughout the film by Seu Jorge (acoustic and in Portuguese) are where much of the movie’s magic lies.
#4: Rushmore (1998)
Wes Anderson’s second feature almost serves as a debut redux. Rushmore established many elements that have since defined his style: from a flatter delivery of dialog, to the casting of Bill Murray (who has been in every Wes work since), to the dramatic use of slow motion. It was utilized once in Bottle Rocket, but became iconic because of Rushmore. In fact, some maintain there isn’t a slo-mo shot in Bottle Rocket, so it clearly wasn’t as memorable.
Speaking of iconic, the speech given by Herman Blume (Murray) about the school’s spoiled rich kids is nothing short of perfection. As is the dinner scene featuring Luke Wilson: “These are O.R. scrubs.” “Oh, are they?” (it gets funnier the more times you say it out loud).
As with Moonrise Kingdom, the male protagonist of Rushmore is obnoxious. Truly. The difference with Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman)? He is somehow still likable, either due to better writing, or because Schwartzman is a better actor than Gilman (likely both). There is such nuance to Max — he’s a chronic overachiever, he’s a liar, a bad friend, and he is overly aggressive in the pursuit of his inappropriate crush. And yet, somehow, we’re still happy for this kid when he makes some progress toward achieving his dreams.
#3: Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
This stop-motion, family friendly masterpiece is delightful from start to finish. Let’s discuss casting: the leads are George Clooney and Meryl Streep, for crying out loud! As if that wasn’t enough, we also get the perfection of Bill Murray as a badger Mr. Fox (Clooney) argues with at length, using the word “cuss” in place of… well, cuss words. We also get Willem Dafoe as the most perfect rat voice since Paul Lynde in Charlotte’s Web, and Adrien Brody in a cameo as a very tiny mouse (hilarious, because his voice is not at all mouse-like). Basically, rodent wise, this movie is perfect.
The story is largely based on Roald Dahl’s book of the same name, but it is still Wes Anderson. Hopefully, Isle of Dogs will be just as good, and just as beloved.
#2: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
The Royal Tenenbaums is a movie that even many non-fans of Anderson’s have seen more than once. It stars actors audiences generally enjoy, such as: Gene Hackman, Anjelica Houston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bill Murray, Ben Stiller, Danny Glover, and Owen Wilson. This brilliant ensemble casting helped to draw fans from a deeper well than he could have otherwise.
Speaking of casting, it’s a shame Anderson and Stiller have yet to collaborate again, because Chas Tenenbaum is arguably one of the best characters either of them have fleshed out. There is something about Chas that makes him the “audience character” — meaning the one who questions things the way a viewer would. While other people go about their business in this little world of their own design, Chas calls them out for their actions. Chas lives in the real world, and he doesn’t want his sons drawn into the madness he grew up in.
#1: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Yes, the Anderson movie with the most mainstream acceptance is number one. The Grand Budapest Hotel was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including the most coveted, Best Picture. It won four: original score, costumes, hair and makeup, and production design. It also won Best Picture at the Golden Globes, in that musical/comedy category for which many of us are thankful.
These accolades (and there were many more) seem to have caused a backlash among some of Anderson’s more hardcore fans. Many see it as him selling out, or creating “Oscar bait.” However, despite the hate, this movie is about as good as it gets. The film is captained by Ralph Fiennes, and skippered by newcomer (at the time) Tony Revolori, but virtually everyone in the ensemble delivered a great performance. The Grand Budapest Hotel is charming, hilarious, and heartbreaking… often within the same scene. This blend of emotions is what Wes Anderson does best, and he did it best here.
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