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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