Wes Anderson is absolutely one of my favourite filmmakers; I don’t think he’s made a bad film to date. So to as of Isle Of Dogs came out recently I’ve decided to take this opportunity to reflect back on his past works as I rank his filmography. As always this list is just my opinion, and I would love to hear what your favourite Wes Anderson film is in the comments.
10) Bottle Rocket – I don’t think that Bottle Rocket is necessarily Wes Anderson’s worst film, but it’s my least favourite just because it just doesn’t really feel like a Wes Anderson film. Sure some of his techniques are there already, and you can see the blossoming of his oh so distinctive style, but it didn’t truly get there until Rushmore. The film does establish Anderson’s long time working relationship with Owen and Luke Wilson, with Owen Wilson even co-writing the script with Anderson. It’s a solid film about friends who really aren’t equipped to take part in heists but attempt it anyway, and whilst it is fun, and Owen Wilson is great in his first ever film role, it doesn’t feel as polished as Anderson’s later works.
9) The Darjeeling Limited – The Darjeeling Limited certainly isn’t a bad film, it’s just one of the more flawed of all of Wes’ films in my opinion. It follows three brothers, Francis, Peter, and Jack, whose relationships are clearly strained as they withhold information from one another and go behind each other’s backs. I really love the relationship between the three brothers, and Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and Adrian Brody are all fantastic. Set to this classically Wes Anderson kooky backdrop The Darjeeling Limited is, at its heart, a tale of a dysfunctional brother relationship. The reason it’s so far down the list however is that there are a couple of parts of the film that feel a little too slow, mainly in the second half of the film after they are thrown of the train.
8) The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou – The Life Aquatic was Wes Anderson’s chance to put one of his most frequent collaborators, Bill Murray, front and centre as the undeniable star of the show. Inspired by the life and work of Jacques Cousteau The Life Aquatic follows Steve Zissou, an oceanographer making a film about his quest to find and take revenge on the ‘jaguar shark’. It’s a film that has elements of Anderson’s best work, particularly the father son relationship Zissou forms with Ned (Owen Wilson), a young man who may be Zissou’s biological son. It’s the rest of the film that isn’t quite as strong, although unlike The Darjeeling Limited it never feels slow. The rest of the main supporting cast is rounded out by Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Seu Jorge, and Michael Gambon, marking the first time he worked with the likes of Dafoe, Goldblum, and Gambon. One of my absolute favourite aspects of The Life Aquatic is Seu Jorge’s covers of several classic David Bowie songs in Portuguese, which are wonderful covers of instantly recognisable songs such as ‘Life on Mars’ or ‘Rebel Rebel’.
7) Hotel Chevalier – I must admit that I wasn’t even aware of Hotel Chevalier until I went to watch The Darjeeling Limited on DVD and had the option to watch Anderson’s short film, which became a prologue of sorts to Darjeeling. Featuring Jason Schwartzman in a role that became Jack Whitman in Darjeeling and Natalie Portman as his ex-girlfriend as they meet in his Paris hotel room. Anderson never reveals exactly what happened between the two, but there is a lot we can infer from their minimal dialogue, giving us an insight into their histories and who they are as characters. The time constraints of a short film could have forced Anderson to lose what makes his films so special, and so quintessentially his, but he manages to keep it all there, in a charming little 13 minute package.
6) The Royal Tenenbaums – The Tenenbaums may just be one of the best dysfunctional families, and boy are they truly dysfunctional. The film follows Royal Tenenbaum’s attempts to reconnect with his family, having abandoned them in adolescence, he finds himself rejected by his three children who have failed to live up to their potential, and by his former wife’s new fiancée. Gene Hackman is terrific as Royal, as are Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, and Gwyneth Paltrow as his children Chas, Richie, and Margot. These three in particular are some of the most distinctive and recognisable characters that Anderson has created, with great cosplays of all three existing. In many ways The Royal Tenenbaums is one of Anderson’s bleakest films with some truly dark moments in the film, and less comedy than the majority of his work, but most of the character’s are redeemed and grow in some way by the end, and you get a sense that the Tenenbaum family has been brought together, at least partially.
5) Fantastic Mr. Fox – Before Isle of Dogs Wes Anderson’s first foray into the world of stop motion animated films was his adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. And this just works more than any other attempt to adapt Dahl’s books, except Willy Wonka. Anderson and Dahl just feel like a perfect fit. Anderson takes the heist novel and adds his own ideas about the titular Mr. Fox and his family. In Anderson version Mr. Fox is frustrated with his mundane life, whilst his son Ash feels inadequate, particularly next to his cousin Kristofferson. The character of Boggis and Bunce remain fairly one dimensional, however Michael Gambon and Bean is a brilliant imposing presence, whilst Willem Defoe’s Rat is a very fun antagonist. For a first full foray into the world of animated film Fantastic Mr. Fox is wonderful work, maybe not one that will connect with young children, but a brilliant study of family life nonetheless.
4) Isle of Dogs – Anderson’s new film Isle of Dogs is a return to stop motion animation after Fantastic Mr. Fox, and what a great return it is. The main pack of dogs are all great, and the voice cast is packed full of Anderson alumni. But it is Brian Cranston’s Chief, and his relationship with Atari Kobayashi the young pilot who lands on the isle of dogs, that are the main focuses of the film. I do wish some of the other dogs weren’t pushed to the sidelines a little as the film goes on, but I understand why Anderson chose to do it, and they’re still highly entertaining. Whilst aimed more at children than most Wes Anderson films, I would definitely be careful about bringing younger children to it, as it does get quite dark at times. As the film is still very new I don’t want to spoil it, but it’s a fun romp, beautifully animated, and as most Wes Anderson films are, completely charming.
3) Moonrise Kingdom – Moonrise Kingdom may possibly be the most Wes Andersony of all of Wes Anderson’s films. About two 12 year olds who fall in love and runaway from their family and scout camp respectively it is a truly delightful coming of age tale. Wes Anderson has a remarkable talent for find and working with young actors, and he worked with a lot in Moonrise Kingdom. In Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward he found perfect leads for the film, both able to play charming and likeable, but clearly troubled and outsiders as well. Not only that but he managed to discover Lucas Hedges who has since gone on to star in Manchester By The Sea, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, and Lady Bird. As well as staple Anderson collaborators such as Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, and Jason Schwartzman among others, Moonrise Kingdom stars Bruce Willis, in one of his best performances in years, and the always wonderful Frances McDormand. The film is one of his most uplifting films focusing on a genuinely lovely relationship, rather than a broken one that needs mending.
2) Rushmore – For a sophomore film Rushmore is truly an exceptional work. It is notable for so many reasons, not least amongst which is that this marks the first collaboration between Wes Anderson and two of his stalwart performers; Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. For Murray this began something of a renaissance in his career working with Anderson, whereas Rushmore was actually Schwartzman’s feature film debut. Both clearly find working with Anderson excellent, and consistently shine, but I don’t think either is better than in Rushmore. Max Fischer, Schwartzman’s Rushmore student, is such a rich character and very probably what you would imagine Anderson himself to have been like at school. Whilst the film follows him and Herman (Murray’s character) both falling for them same teacher at Rushmore, the film is truly about their friendship, and how these two misfit characters find a kinship with one another.
1) The Grand Budapest Hotel – For me Wes Anderson has continued to grow as a filmmaker throughout his career, and his last film, Grand Budapest Hotel, was his best to date. The film is hilarious, heartwarming, and beautifully constructed, bringing out the very best of Wes Anderson’s directorial traits. It has all the hallmarks of a Wes Anderson film; a simple story of two main character’s friendship, beautiful miniatures, a lot of his recurring cast, and so many of his stylistic trademarks. However it also broke new ground for him, particularly with the musical choices. The Grand Budapest Hotel is the first of Anderson’s films not to feature a soundtrack with many prevalent popular songs. Moonrise Kingdom had strayed a little further from this, but The Grand Budapest Hotel truly embraced Alexandre Desplat’s score, for which he won an Oscar. Finally it would be impossible to talk about the magnificence of The Grand Budapest Hotel without mentioning Ralph Fiennes’ incredible performance as M. Gustave; not only, in my opinion, a career high performance, but one of the greatest comedic performances in recent years. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a just a wonderful, cinematic experience, and proof that Wes Anderson can keep getting better.