One Man’s Opinion: Ranking Wes Anderson’s Filmography
Our lives are about to get a whole lot twee-er as Moonrise Kingdom makes its way to American cinemas in select cities near you. (Sorry, Alabamian Wes Anderson fans!) It’s the first live-action film Anderson has made since 2007’s The Darjeeling Limited, and it’s quite good: fitting someplace between The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (more on that in a bit). Following a pair of pre-teen lovers as they flee from their constricting lives, it boasts an all-star cast (including regular Anderson players Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray, as well as Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel, Edward Norton, and Tilda Swinton) and excrutiatingly detailed production design. (Seriously, this flick looks like the Brooklyn Flea.) But who can forget Moonrise‘s cinematic predecessors—those movies that convinced us to enable this lanky manchild taken with flights of fancy and whimsy? Here, we take a look at his past films in order of brilliance.
Not only did Rushmore legitimize Bill Murray as a serious comedic actor, it also introduced the world to Jason Schwartzman, who played the film’s anti-hero Max Fischer. It’s the closest Anderson came to a straight-forward romantic comedy, with the two male leads fighting over a lovely British schoolteacher played by Olivia Williams; it may also mark the first film in which the female lead is pursued by two men who are on opposite ends of appropriate dating-age spectrum. With a fantastic soundtrack of British rock bands from the ’60s as well as the classic line, "Pull ya head outta yer ass" (uttered by one of Murray’s psychotic twin sons, and one that is oft repeated by your author nearly four or five times a day), Rushmore is certainly Anderson’s crowning achievement—if only for its early place in his catalog and it’s minimal amounts of stylized twee.
The Royal Tenenbaums, 2001
It’s always refreshing to see Gwenyth Paltrow do something in which she’s not completely pompous and annoying, and her racoon-eyed, nine-fingered Margot Tenenbaum is a great reminder that she wasn’t always full of GOOP. The same goes for Ben Stiller in his role as the melancholy Chaz Tenenbaum. In fact, everyone is a little out of their element here. There’s Gene Hackman as a lovable con-man desperately trying to rekindle his relationship with his estranged wife and children in all the wrong ways, Bill Murray as a cuckolded husband to Paltrow, and Owen Wilson as a moronic writer with a nasty drug habit. (Hmm, maybe that last one isn’t so out of character, huh?) It also has the best soundtrack of all of Anderson’s films, with offerings from The Ramones, Elliott Smith, The Clash, The Rolling Stones, and Paul Simon. And good on him for reminding us all how much we love the sound of Alec Baldwin’s voice. But let’s face it, this movie is brilliant for two reasons: the interior designs and that damn Beagle puppy. (Sorry, I’m gay. Can’t help it.)
The Fantastic Mr. Fox, 2009
Of course Wes Anderson would make a claymation film about talking animals bringing a resistance to their obese, disgusting, British landlords. Based on the Roald Dahl classic, Anderson recruited his usual clan of actors as well as George Clooney and Meryl Streep to lend their voices to this charming little movie. Somehow Anderson’s extreme style works well in animation form, which gives room for aesthetic license.
Bottle Rocket, 1996
It was this little movie that introduced the world to the Owen Brothers: Owen, Luke, and the forgotten (yet hottest) Andrew. Following a crew of bumbling crooks as they manage not to follow their 75-year plan, Bottle Rocket marks Anderson’s single film not to include either Bill Murray or unbridled fancy. It makes sense, given it was Anderson’s first film, based on a short film from the year before. Still, getting James Caan to be in your directorial debut is a pretty impressive feat.
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, 2004
Perhaps Roger Ebert put it best when he wrote, "I can’t recommend it, but I would not for one second discourage you from seeing it." The Life Aquatic sits in an interesting spot within Anderson’s oeuvre. His third feature and first disappointment, the movie serves as a turning point in his career. No, it didn’t encourage him to change directions, to lighten up on the light-heartedness. Rather, it signified that "a Wes Anderson movie" was a style on its own: packed with quirkiness and glee and exhaustive uniqueness. The Life Aquatic is a mess, but it’s a pretty one. It did, however, convince thousands of dudes to don yellow hats and fake beards for Halloween. Exhaustive uniqueness, indeed.
The Darjeeling Limited, 2007
I honestly can’t say I know what this is about other than awkward and unsettling Orientalism. I cut this one off after the first fifteen minutes. The worst, by default! (And no, I did not see the short film / Darjeeling-prequel "The Hotel Chevalier" just because Natalie Portman’s butt is in it. Admit it: it’s the only reason why you watched it!)