Whether you refer to him brilliant, twee, precious, or visionary, it's hard to deny that Wes Anderson is a true auteur when it comes to modern American cinema. But which of the director's instantly-recognizable films is his undeniable best? Let's rank Anderson's movies from flat to fantastic!
9. 'The Darjeeling Limited' (2007)
While Anderson has proven he's able to explore the beautiful, complicated, heartbreaking, and humorous ins and outs of family dynamics, 2007's “The Darjeeling Limited”; isn't quite as thoughtful as his other works. The convoluted tale of brotherly love (and sometimes hate) gets stuck in mood and loses story along the way, leaving you with an “eh?” instead of ”ah!” by the end credits. We are still, however, very into the 13-minute short film “Hotel Chevalier,” that played with early prints of the movie and serves to set up the Jason Schwartzman character (and explain that very brief Natalie Portman cameo in the actual film).
8. 'The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou' (2004)
Yes, we're all for Bill Murray as an eccentric oceanographer in a small knit beanie (and Jeff Goldblum as his outlandish rival). But despite the quirky cast of characters, dreamy breathtaking imagery (include some delicate stop-motion interludes courtesy of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” director Henry Selick), and some laugh-out-loud moments, “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” is light on heart and soul as it slowly becomes almost a parody of itself.
7. 'Bottle Rocket' (1996)
Just because this early Anderson project doesn't look like it's cut from the same twee cloth as his other work doesn't mean it isn't worthy of praise. This witty romantic thrill ride offers glimpses of the director's visual prowess and chimerical storytelling (plus, regulars Owen and Luke Wilson), yet it maintains a youthful kick. Definitely a must-see for film buffs who want to analyze the evolution of a prolific director and see just how many of his thematic hallmarks and stylistic touchstones are there from the get-go.
6. 'Moonrise Kingdom' (2012)
From the moment you lay your eyes on the opening scene-setting sequence set to a dusty record of “The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra,” you know you're in for a treat. This mini-odyssey of first love will have you rooting for (and perhaps strangely relating to) the two young wayward outcasts, no matter your age or your place in life. If you crave a coming-of-age film that appreciates French pop music (along with, of course, French New Wave cinema) and survival skills over cheerleaders and prom kings, then this one's for you.
5. 'Isle of Dogs' (2018)
It’s hard to think of a Wes Anderson movie more instantly controversial than “Isle of Dogs.” Ostensibly a charming, post-apocalyptic tale of a Japan that has outlawed dogs and one young boy’s quest to reconnect with his lost pet, it came under heavy fire for its cultural appropriation and emphasis on Asian “otherness.” (And, honestly, not all of those criticisms were unfounded.) As a stop-motion Anderson bauble, it lacks much of the emotion and intricateness of “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” but is still rewarding, particularly after repeated viewings. It’s just so beautiful!
4. 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' (2013)
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is something of a Wes Anderson epic, taking place over multiple timelines (with multiple presentational aspect ratios), with each new narrative wrinkle expanding both its scope and its thematic interest (sure, it’s a wacky caper but it’s also about the foundational, pre-war origins of fascism in Europe). This might be his richest and most rewarding movie, but it’s also one of his messier and least lovable films.
3. 'Fantastic Mr. Fox' (2009)
Roald Dahl's imagination knows no bounds, so putting the cinematic adaptation of his beloved “Fantastic Mr. Fox” in Anderson's creative hands was a no-brainer. The meticulously illustrated storybook world he composes is a joy to watch, supported by expert voice acting from names like George Clooney and Meryl Streep (who took over, at the last minute, from Cate Blanchett). But the design of the movie is only half of what makes it so funny; it’s also incredibly funny and one of the director’s most heartfelt efforts. We want to inhabit every nook and cranny we encounter along this fanciful journey.
2. 'Rushmore' (1998)
Max Fischer, obsessive and hopelessly romantic founder of the Rushmore Beekeepers (among many other clubs), is one of the most compelling, odd, and hilarious cinematic characters ever. You have to laugh at the idea of a student so ridiculously immersed in extracurricular activities who is failing school. This film is comic gold, but it's also a canny exploration of identity, adolescence, and what it means to be yourself, with one of the all-time greatest movie soundtracks.
1. 'The Royal Tenenbaums' (2001)
“The Royal Tenenbaums” is the kind of film where the haunting, surrealistic imagery (remember the scene where Gene Hackman is staged so he totally obscures the Statue of Liberty) lingers long after you first see it. Whether it's the perfectly framed conversation in an old board game closet, a gleeful ride on the back of a garbage truck set to Paul Simon, or a stolen kiss in a tent, the moments and feelings stay with you. Delicately written by Anderson and Owen Wilson, this is his American classic. We'll always walk a little bit slower and introspectively to Nico's “These Days” thanks to Margot Tenenbaum.