Wes Anderson films ranked from least to most favorite

The Miscellany News.

One of my favorite things to do during a school break is to take a deep dive into the works of a particular author. Past summers have been dedicated to Hemingway or Nabokov, winters to Saunders or Vonnegut. It’s a special gift to be able to swim around in an author’s world for a few weeks (or even months!). But this spring break, I was inspired to do something different. Having never seen a Wes Anderson film, and intrigued by whimsical pop-cultural and online references to his work, I set out to watch all 10 of his feature films in a week. I watched them in a completely random order and made a pocket sized review of each film, ranked from my least to most favorite. Without further ado… here is my list.

  1. “Rushmore” (1998)

“Rushmore” is, in a word, okay. It does not bear Anderson’s classic directorial trademarks (animated color grading, fast-paced narration, comically-yet-endearingly-quirky characters, etc.), but it does have a phenomenally irritating central character: 15-year-old Max Fischer. In what can only be described as prepubescent-inspired cringeworthiness, Max’s love interest is Rushmore Academy’s first-grade teacher. The acting is praiseworthy, and the writing, as per usual with Anderson, is consciously humorous. But alas…I was less charmed by this film, hence why it’s the lowest on my list.

  1. “Bottle Rocket” (1996)

Anderson’s feature film debut, “Bottle Rocket,” is the tumultuous tale of two friends (played by Owen and Luke Wilson) who decide to become criminals. A getaway driver, a motel romance and a meticulously drawn up 75-year plan are all part of the journey. One of Martin Scorsese’s favorite films of the ’90s, “Bottle Rocket” is unpredictable and zany, with several hysterically faulty heist scenes. While, like “Rushmore,” it doesn’t yet bear the fully developed Andersonian aesthetic, its pacing and character development are spot-on. Overall, a solid watch, especially if you like seeing people who are terrible at committing crimes.

  1. “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” (2004)

Hop aboard the Belafonte in “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” the story of a heroic mission led by oceanographer Steve Zissou to avenge his partner, Esteban, who was eaten by a “jaguar shark.” It sports a classically Andersonian cast: Angelica Houston, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Willem Dafoe, all of whom make appearances in his other films. My favorite scene was near the very end, when (spoiler alert!) Team Zissou meets the jaguar shark while “Starálafur” by Sigur Rós plays through the darkness of the bottom of the ocean (Anderson has excellent music taste, by the way).

  1. “Isle of Dogs” (2018)

“Isle of Dogs” is a visually unique work of stop-motion that emphasizes bravery and perseverance in the face of disheartening odds. The premise is creative—a fictional Japanese city’s dogs are rounded up and, due to disease spread, are sent to “Trash Island,” where they learn to survive through dog alliances and munching on trash. The film is a little gritty for a movie aimed at children, yet the subject matter simultaneously falls flat for its adult audience in comparison to “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” It’s noteworthy that the film was criticized for both racial stereotyping and white saviorism following its release; when watching this film it’s important to consider what it means for a white director to portray Japanese culture in such a manner. Overall, “Isle of Dogs” is a solid film with excellent stop-motion animation, featuring a courageous journey between dogs and a young boy. I definitely liked it, but it wasn’t my favorite of Anderson’s work.

  1. “The French Dispatch” (2021)

I enjoyed “The French Dispatch”—it’s an engaging, busy story of the final edition of a magazine (based on The New Yorker) with a nearly overwhelming amount of moving parts. The shots are meticulously constructed, with theatrical tableaus that paint a picture of the world of quirky characters that compose each magazine article. It’s not as clean-cut as Anderson’s other films in that it nearly spreads itself thin at times (I found the characters occasionally difficult to identify), but it’s still an aesthetically pleasing and carefully planned movie that feels almost like a play. If you want to see Timothée Chalamet portray a revolutionary, grubby-looking student activist, turn this film on immediately. P.S.: major brownie points for Anderson’s extremely unique and effective usage of color versus black-and-white filmmaking in this movie—I’ve never seen anything like it. 

  1. “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001)

Family dysfunction reaches a new level in “The Royal Tenenbaums,” in which a family of five (plus various grandchildren and a former next-door neighbor) is reunited when their estranged father claims that he has six weeks to live. The film is chaotic and funny, with uniquely interesting characters (the three children were all child prodigies who later crashed and burned) and some crazy love triangles. It’s upbeat and quirky, with a stellar ensemble cast (Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Bill Murray, Gwenyth Paltrow, Owen and Luke Wilson, among others), making it fun for the whole family!

  1. “The Darjeeling Limited” (2007)

“The Darjeeling Limited” is a humorous and occasionally somber film that follows three brothers’ journey through India a year after their father’s death. Francis, the eldest (Owen Wilson), has recently suffered a near-death experience and seeks a spiritual reconnection with his brothers. But tensions rise when his controlling behavior (motivated by a secret plot to bring his brothers to his mother’s new residence in the Himalayas) becomes too much. “The Darjeeling Limited” is colorful, heartfelt and, at times, outrageously funny—I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

  1. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009)

Endearing and lively, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” brings us on a winding journey of mischievous theft and treehouse living, on the noble quest to live one’s very best life. Rarely do I find myself laughing out loud at a movie, but this creative and visually magical Roald Dahl adaptation made me cackle. It may seem like just a children’s film, but it is much too earnestly clever to be reduced to such a limited audience. George Clooney is perfect as Mr. Fox. I will also mention that I was indescribably thrilled to see that the foxes owned a Le Creuset pot.

  1. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014)

It’s no surprise that “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is Anderson’s most critically acclaimed film—it is truly a perfect movie. We sit down to a fanciful dinner to hear the tale of how the Grand Budapest Hotel, a fading European ski hotel, was inherited by its current owner. The whirlwind plot takes us on a journey that oscillates from tearfully funny to drastically dire, tying together a mysterious murder, a questionable inheritance and an unbelievably charismatic concierge. Its actors, comedic timing, gorgeous costume design and visually stunning set coalesce into nothing short of genius. This is a film you absolutely must see in your lifetime—it’s a testament to the joy and power of filmmaking.

  1. “Moonrise Kingdom” (2012)

“Moonrise Kingdom” is an absolute triumph of a film. While most of Anderson’s feature-length films are very strong, “Moonrise Kingdom” is undoubtedly my favorite. This film gives us the very best of the Andersonian universe—gorgeous color grading, vivid sense of place (in this case, coastal New England), outrageously funny moments and wonderful, quirky characters. The adults act like children, the children like adults, and the film builds to an amazing final scene. If, like me one week ago, you haven’t yet seen an Anderson film, this movie is a must-watch—it’s phenomenal.

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