The French Dispatch: Wes Anderson’s Previous 9 Films, Ranked

Wes Anderson has been one of Hollywood’s most distinct filmmakers for the past 25 years. His latest, The French Dispatch, was slated for a Fall 2020 release, but delayed a full year due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was released this past Friday to generally favorable reviews, being lauded as “the most Wes Anderson film Wes Anderson has ever made.”

Anderson’s unmistakable style has long been established, thanks to his already voluminous body of work. Here are his previous nine films, ranked from worst to best.

9. Isle of Dogs (2018)

Anderson’s second foray into the realm of stop-motion animation isn’t without its redeeming qualities, but it’s easily his least interesting movie. It boasts a few ironically funny lines and a great indie rock soundtrack, but that’s about all that can be said for Isle of Dogs.

For a film about a young boy’s dangerous journey to find his beloved pup, the film barely explores the bond between man and dog. Although its setting – Trash Island and a dystopian Japan – makes for a somewhat interesting political and environmental metaphor – it also makes for a visually drab viewing experience which wastes Anderson’s talents for meticulous production design and the use of light and color.

8. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

Perhaps it’s a testament to Anderson’s talents that 2007’s The Darjeeling Limited ranks so low on the list, as it’s hardly a bad movie. Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and Adrien Brody are all quite good as three estranged brothers who take a train ride through India to reconnect after their father’s death.

The chemistry between the three leads is quirky and charming, and much of the film is actually very funny. Where the movie runs out of steam – to torture the train metaphor – is in its underwhelming third act, when they meet their mother, played by Anderson-regular Anjelica Huston. A quirky, funny caper film like this deserves a better ending; instead, it goes out with a whimper.

7. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

Following the success of The Royal Tenenbaums, Anderson released The Life Aquatic in 2004. It’s easily his most polarizing film, which some fans consider his masterpiece, and others rank lower in his filmography. The title character, an oceanographer played by Bill Murray, is out for revenge against against a rare sea creature that killed his old pal.

While the film can’t be denied points for originality (Brazilian musician Seu Jorge plays a one-man Greek chorus who comments on the events of the film in the form of acoustic David Bowie covers), The Life Aquatic is perhaps the only Anderson film so quirky and whimsical as to border on self-parody. It’s certainly not boring, but it’s also not quite funny or transcendent enough to fully justify its self-indulgence.

6. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

This is where this list becomes difficult, because from here on out, all of these films are deserving of high praise. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a wonderful film boasting all of Anderson’s signature elements – great cinematography, elaborate sets, quirky humor, and bittersweet melancholy.

What The Grand Budapest Hotel has that, until this point in Anderson’s career, none of his other films did, is the presence of actual evil and malice. The plot revolves around the adventures of Gustave H., concierge at the title establishment, beginning when he’s wrongfully suspected of foul play after the death of one of the hotel’s most esteemed guests. What follows is a classic Anderson-style romp, tinged with the usual dose of humor and whimsy, but also sinister violence and danger.

5. Rushmore (1998)

Because J.D. Salinger never released the movie rights to his classic novel, perhaps the closest we’ll get to seeing such an adaptation is Anderson’s sophomore feature, 1998’s Rushmore. It’s a great coming-of-age story about a rebellious prep school teen who falls for his teacher, and competes for her love against an older and wealthier suitor.

While not sporting the same visual pizzazz that Anderson became known for upon the release of his next film (to be discussed later), Rushmore is a delight from beginning to end. The final shot of the film, a high school dance which fades to black over Faces’ “Ooh La La,” is one of the greatest musical moments of Anderson’s entire ouvre.

4. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

2012’s Moonrise Kingdom is perhaps Anderson’s most underrated film, as it’s rarely thought of as one of his best. And while it’s certainly not his masterpiece, it is easily his most personal film, and one of his most poignant. Fans will see much of Anderson himself in the main character, a young boy who flees his pastoral hometown with the girl he loves.

As the townspeople frantically scramble to track them down, the purity of young love and the dysfunction that all too often comes with adulthood come into stark contrast. Anderson’s protagonists are romantic anarchists rebelling against their elders in thoroughly endearing fashion. For those who may have overlooked it, Moonrise Kingdom is worth a second glance.

3. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2007)

Fantastic Mr. Fox is a triumph in more ways than one. After establishing himself as an auteur of subtle, mature R-rated comedies, Wes Anderson chose to adapt the classic Roald Dahl children’s novel in 2007. At first this seemed like a radical change for Anderson, but what’s most surprising about the end result is how similar it is to all of his other films.

Despite the different subject matter and animated visuals, Fantastic Mr. Fox fits perfectly into Anderson’s filmography, as it contains all of his signature stylistic flairs. It’s one of his funniest and most charming movies that adults will enjoy just as much as any other entry in Anderson’s catalogue.

2. Bottle Rocket (1996)

Martin Scorsese considers Anderson’s debut feature one of the best films of the 1990’s. He isn’t wrong. Bottle Rocket is a fantastically original comedy caper about two friends who embark on a crime spree despite being innocent souls with no earthly idea of what life on the lam entails.

Luke and Owen Wilson are terrific in their respective roles, and though the asthetic of the film is simpler and sparser than what would come to be Anderson’s signature intricate visual style, there are signs of an auteur in the making all over Bottle Rocket. Funny and full of heart, it’s a mini-masterpiece of an indie film that only improves upon repeat viewings.

1. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

In a sense, Anderson has been remaking The Royal Tenenbaums his entire career: on a boat (The Life Aquatic), on a train (The Darjeeling Limited), at a hotel (The Grand Budapest Hotel), and elsewhere. Nonetheless, his third film is a bona fide masterpiece of melancholy and comedy.

Casting Gene Hackman against type as a mischievous, oafish, yet lovable patriarch is just one of the many risks that pay off beautifully in the film. Themes of addiction, depression, loss, suicide, and illness abound in a family drama that’s also miraculously hilarious from beginning to end. Perfectly bittersweet and incredibly funny, The Royal Tenenbaums is undoubtedly Anderson’s masterwork, and one of the best films of the 21st century.

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‘Halloween Kills’ Director David Gordon Green’s First Four Films Are All Underrated Indie Gems

As a filmmaker, David Gordon Green has never been a household name. But since directing the 2008 hit Pineapple Express, he’s been steadily working in both film and television in a number of genres ranging from stoner comedies like Your Highness to political satires (Our Brand is Crisis), and now of course, horror remakes. 2018’s Halloween remake was the beginning of a new trilogy, the second entry of which, Halloween Kills, comes out this weekend. The final chapter, Halloween Ends, also directed by Green, is already in the can and slated for 2022, and he’s currently in pre-production for an Exorcist remake and a Hellraiser TV series.

Before going mainstream with Pineapple Express, however, Green made four micro-budget independent dramas – none of which fared particularly well at the box office, but all of which are great underrated gems in their own way. Here’s a look at David Gordon Green’s four early career indie efforts that movie fans should definitely seek out.

George Washington (2000)

Green’s debut feature began its festival run at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2000. It would eventually go on to gross a meager $283,000 worldwide. The film is as “indie” as it gets: made for $42,000 starring non-professional child actors in a small North Carolina town.

The film is a coming of age story tinged with mature and tragic elements. Its evocative tone made it a hit with critics. Despite its nearly non-existent box office performance, it was sufficient to showcase Green’s talents as a director (he was only 24 years old at the time), and attract funding for his sophomore feature.

All the Real Girls (2003)

Green returned to his southern roots for his next film, the excellent 2003 romance drama, All the Real Girls. Paul Schneider stars as a small town playboy who falls in love with his best friend’s sister, played by Zooey Deschanel in one of her first ever starring roles.

Deschanel would become a major name later that year with the release of Elf, but unfortunately, her star power did little to boost this film’s cache. It recouped less than a third of its $2.5 million budget at the box office, and remains mostly unknown to this day. Nonetheless, it’s a superbly written and directed love story that is achingly authentic and beautifully sincere.

Undertow (2004)

A darker entry in Green’s filmography, 2004’s Undertow is a family drama-turned violent chase film starring Josh Lucas, Jamie Bell, and Dermit Mulroney, and featuring a 13-year old Kristen Stewart. Combining gritty depictions of rural poverty with surrealist imagery and an eerie, dreamlike ending, the movie earned mixed reviews from critics.

It did however get a full endorsement from Roger Ebert, who rated the film a perfect 4 stars and included it on his yearly top 10 list – a major boon for a film that grossed a paltry $159,000 at the box office.

Snow Angels (2007)

Arguably the best of these four films, 2007’s Snow Angels boasts two excellent lead performances by Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell as an estranged couple whose daughter goes missing.

Rockwell is at once a menacing yet sympathetic character, a suicidal alcoholic trying – and failing – to put his life back together. His desperation is as palpable as the cold in the air. Compelling scene writing, terrific acting, and a plot that unravels along with the characters’ psyches make Snow Angels a harrowing and constantly entertaining indie drama. It grossed just over $400,000 at the box office, but has since rightfully gained a small following on DVD and streaming.

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The Many Saints of Newark is Uninteresting, Uninspired, and Unnecessary

Rating: 1.5 out of 4.

For years, showrunner David Chase was reluctant to revisit the Sopranos universe. He insisted that there would be no big-screen followup or small-screen reprise season, and that the now infamous cut-to-black in the series finale would be the last we’d see of America’s favorite TV antiheroes.

Years later, rumors began swirling that a Sopranos movie was in the works, with Chase at the helm. Rather than an epilogue, however, this film would serve as a prequel to the iconic show, focusing on the early days of the DiMeo crime family in north Jersey and the origins of Tony Soprano.

And so the October 1st release of The Many Saints of Newark was an event over a decade in the making. Unfortunately, the finished product serves only to validate all of Chase’s reservations about attempting such a project, as the movie is a bland, boilerplate genre film with none of the mojo of its source material.

The problem begins with the writing. Whereas The Sopranos was equal parts dark comedy, family drama, and crime saga, Many Saints is a straightforward gangster movie that makes no attempt to transcend such a classification. Chase co-wrote the screenplay Lawrence Konner, who wrote a mere three episodes of the series, and whose slow and stilted dialogue is dull as dirt compared to that of the great Terrence Winter, who has dozens of credits associated with the original series.

Aside from weak writing, The Many Saints of Newark also suffers from its lack of a compelling protagonist.

Whereas The Sopranos boasted perhaps the most dynamic and spellbinding main character in television history in Tony Soprano, Many Saints revolves mostly around Dickie Moltisanti, father of Michael Imperioli’s Christopher. Unlike Tony, whose idiosyncrasies, vulnerabilities, neuroses, and everyman sense of humor, make him relatable despite his severe flaws, Dickie comes off more as a nameless, faceless avatar for every generic minor mob character in every forgettable entry to this most storied genre. He has none of the compelling character traits that made Tony such a surprisingly likable lead character. As the main protagonist, he has none of Tony’s redeeming qualities, which makes him a bore to watch and impossible to root for.

Of course, there are certain Easter eggs littered throughout the film that fans of the series will appreciate. Some are more predictable than others, and so without spoiling any here, it suffices to say that none are particularly revelatory or clever. The most effective example comes towards the end of the film, and even that one is weakened by a rushed and ham-fisted final scene.

Finally, one of the things that made The Sopranos stand out from most famous mob movies and TV shows is that it took place in the present day, whereas most classic gangster films are period pieces that evoke a sense of nostalgia. The Sopranos took place right here, right now, which made it much more immediate and relatable than its genre counterparts. Baked into the premise of Many Saints is that it must be a period piece, which gives the material an ‘under-glass’ quality that keeps its audience at arms length.

Given how iconic The Sopranos was (and still is, 14 years later), perhaps making a film that does the series justice was an impossible task. Those are giant shoes to fill, and The Many Saints of Newark doesn’t even come close.

The Subversive Optimism of ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’

WARNING: This article contains significant plot spoilers for Nine Perfect Strangers.

“I mean to fuck with all of you,” says Nicole Kidman’s Masha at the end of the first episode of Nine Perfect Strangers, the new eight-part series from David E. Kelley. Based on the novel by Liane Moriarty, the show tells the story of four individuals, one couple, and a family of three (nine in total) who check into Tranquillum, a mysterious wellness retreat, to purge themselves of their mental and emotional traumas.

The Marconi’s, played by Michael Shannon, Asher Keddie, and Grace Van Patten, are grieving a suicide in the family. Ben and Jessica are a lottery winner and Instagram influencer, respectively, whose marriage is beginning to deteriorate. Bobby Cannavale plays Tony Hogburn, an ex-football star whose battle with addiction has left him estranged from his family. He forms an unlikely bond with Melissa McCarthy’s Frances, a washed up romance novelist whose latest manuscript has just been rejected by her publisher. Lars, played by Luke Evans, is a journalist whose relationship has recently failed. Finally, Regina Hall’s Carmel has a personal axe to grind against Masha, the enigmatic guru who vows to heal them all.

Masha’s treatment protocols are unconventional, to put it mildly. Throughout their stay, the “strangers” are put through the wringer, physically, mentally, and emotionally, and medicated with heavy doses of powerful hallucinogenic drugs. Given Masha’s troubled past of her own, her seemingly cavalier attitude towards the safety of her patients, and her shady behavior towards her own staff, it’s impossible to know her actual M.O.. All we know is that something seems off from the jump, and each episode is filled with a sense of foreboding as we try and pinpoint Masha’s hidden agenda, and the real purpose of Tranquillum.

The series is executed with the skill one would expect given the pedigree of its creative team. Kelley’s dialogue is sharp, efficient, and wittily funny in places, just as it’s been throughout his extensive career as a television writer. Shannon and Cannavale are consummate actors who never hit a false note. Regina Hall gives a fantastic performance as perhaps the most severely tormented character in the show. Nicole Kidman, despite some fans’ qualms with her Russian accent, is also excellent – her character is intentionally impossible to figure out, which makes the job of portraying her all the more challenging.

Great scene-writing and performances aside, perhaps the most notable quality of Nine Perfect Strangers is its surprisingly anodyne resolution.

Even the series’ most chilling scene – the cliffhanger ending of its penultimate episode in which it’s revealed that Carmel is Masha’s stalker who nearly murdered her in a parking garage years prior – is resolved with peaceful reconciliation at the start of the finale.

Later in the final episode, Napoleon Marconi (Shannon) gets a nosebleed, which he thinks is an aneurysm, and we immediately assume that he’s experiencing a fatal side effect of Masha’s mysterious medicinal concoction she’s given him to conjure the presence of his dead son. As it turns out, it’s nothing more than a harmless nosebleed.

When Masha locks six of the nine patients in a padded room and proceeds to set “fire” to their building, we’re finally convinced of her murderous intent. Again, these assumptions are upset, as we soon find out that she only simulated the smell of a fire in order to giver her patients the simulation of a near-death experience, which she believes will prove helpful to their healing process in the end.

In all of these individual examples, and as a whole, Nine Perfect Strangers subverts its audience’s expectations of doom and gloom by essentially validating Masha’s bizarre coaching methods and affirming that her desire to treat her subjects was sincere all along. In the end, all nine of her patients are healed in one form or another.

The series ends with a montage in which we can see each of the characters well on their way to recovery. Finally, we see Masha, all smiles, driving along a beautiful coastal highway in the yellow Lamborghini she stole from Ben (turns out she wasn’t all that innocent after all), with the presence of her deceased daughter riding in the passenger seat. Even as the camera pans out to the ocean, it occurs to us that there may be some final shocking image in store for us that upends this impossibly benign ending. Instead, the shot cuts to black, and the series concludes on an optimistic note that none of us expected going in.

Nine Perfect Strangers is not without its flaws. Some episodes rely too heavily on extended dialogue scenes that become repetitive and formulaic. Others are overly brooding in their emotional intensity to the point where the plot slows to a stand still. Some characters are better developed than others, and the love triangle between Masha and her two staff members unnecessarily distracts from the show’s more intriguing plot elements. All in all, however, it’s an entertaining series that, as promised in its premiere, fucked with all of us and kept us hooked until the final frame.

Malignant is James Wan’s Worst Horror Film Yet

Rating: 2 out of 4.

Despite earning mixed to negative reviews upon its release, there’s no denying that Saw, James Wan’s 2004 indie debut, was a game changer in horror cinema. As if its grisly premise weren’t enough to shock and traumatize audiences, it should also be noted that at the time it came out, the kinds of horror films generating big box office numbers were meeker, milder PG-13 affairs. Whether they were American remakes of Japanese horror movies like The Ring and The Grudge, mediocre star vehicles like Godsend and What Lies Beneath, or higher quality efforts like Alejandro Amenabar’s The Others, it was clear that softer and gentler horror movies were en vogue at the time.

This made Saw all the more a landmark release. In an era when horror films were trending more and more benign (perhaps in the years immediately following 9/11, audiences were less inclined to seek out brutally violent content), out of nowhere came a grimy micro-budget gore fest about a man chained to a radiator and whose only hope of escape is to hack off his own foot. The film would birth not only its own billion dollar franchise, but a whole new sub-genre of horror films informally known as “torture porn.”

Ironically, however, director James Wan didn’t continue to churn out ultraviolent movies, but rather would go on to direct horror films more reliant on traditional genre elements. His follow-up to Saw, the underrated Dead Silence, involved the classic “possessed ventriloquist dummy” trope. He also directed the first two Insidious and The Conjuring installments, all of which were quite scary, but none particularly violent or bloody.

Wan’s latest effort, Malignant, attempts to combine the gratuitous violence of Saw with the more conventional horror elements that defined his subsequent films. In this way, it’s an interesting addition to his filmography. Unfortunately, that’s about all that can be said for it.

The premise of the film is somewhat unclear from the trailer and promotional materials, which is by design, as throughout most of the movie it’s difficult to tell if this is a possession story, a ghost story, a multiple personality story, or something else entirely. What we know from the outset is that Madison, a young woman played by Annabelle Wallis, is haunted by visions of brutal murders being perpetrated by a shadowy figure known as “Gabriel.” Whether Gabriel is her imaginary friend, a supernatural entity, or a long-lost family member, remains a mystery until the bonkers third act, when Malignant jumps the shark and becomes as much a broad comedy as anything else. By the time we know who and what he is, Gabriel becomes more reminiscent of the killer rabbit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail than any of the horror genre’s numerous iconic slashers.

While not a good movie, Malignant is also not a boring movie. Wan is a terrific craftsman who can still build suspense as well as any horror director in the business. He often combines still shots, dolly shots, and handheld camerawork all in the same sequence to create maximum tension. His shot composition is such that we are made to agonize over what lurks just outside the edges of his 16:9 frame. In Malignant, these skills don’t go unnoticed, so much as they just don’t add up to anything all that memorable. Unlike Wan’s other horror films which all contain at least one standout sequence (the final moments of Saw, the nun scene in The Conjuring 2, and the first reveal of the demon in Insidious, to name a few), there’s no such set piece in his latest film that makes anywhere near the same impression.

And for all the online chatter about the ending, the major plot reveal which propels the film into its blood-soaked finale is so random and ridiculous that it can hardly be called a “twist.” In fact, aside from its absurd and downright comical third act, most of Malignant is actually quite predictable. We know when all the kills are going to take place, who the victims are going to be, and, more or less, how they’re going to go down.

While James Wan is talented enough as a director and has sufficient technical tricks up his sleeve to string the audience along for 111 minutes without losing our interest, in the end, Malignant‘s payoff isn’t remotely worth the investment. It’s easily Wan’s worst horror film to date.