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Monday, April 22, 2024

The world of Wes Anderson: Exploring, ranking films of a modern auteur

A completely objective, definitely correct ranking of Anderson’s films

Believe me, I’m sure Wes Anderson has heard it all before. I’m positive he has been told he makes movies exclusively for hipsters, people who hang out in trendy coffee shops where they shoot film and frequently restart the French course on Duolingo. I’m sure he has caught wind that people brace themselves to hear his name when you ask a person wearing a Fjällräven Kånken to name their favorite movie. I am sure he is aware of his status in our cultural landscape, and I am even more sure he does not care.

 Why? Because the man is the definition of an auteur: someone who has enough talent and vision to hone a style that is all their own. Indeed, his filmography is varied, but all his films carry the same playful edge to them. What follows is a completely objective, definitely correct ranking of his films. 

9. “Isle of Dogs” 

It’s not that “Isle of Dogs” is bad per se, it’s just that there are so many more vibrant Anderson films that “Isle of Dogs” just feels like a bit of an afterthought. “Isle of Dogs” is a fun romp, with a bunch of animated dogs, through dystopian Japan. Using Yoko Ono as a plot device is kind of genius, but this definitely sits at the bottom of the rankings. It misses the magnetic qualities of his other films — half the fun of a Wes film is seeing the uncomfortable but hilarious body language of the characters he writes. An ensemble voice cast and painstakingly high-effort visual style give it points, but not much. If there was ever an Anderson flick you could skip, this is it. 

8. “Bottle Rocket” 

Ah, and here is where we will begin to get controversial. “Bottle Rocket” was Anderson’s first film, released in 1996. Again, not by any means a bad film, “Bottle Rocket” feels like a bit of an origin story for Wes — utilizing some of his favorite players, the Wilson brothers, he weaves a narrative of offbeat adventure with plenty of laughs. Because it was his first film, “Bottle Rocket” is missing some trademark elements that put Anderson on the map, mainly his visual language, one that permeates the screen in later works. Still, “Bottle Rocket” will always be a fun Saturday matinee. 

7. “The Darjeeling Limited” 

Released in 2007, “Darjeeling” was firmly in the realm of Anderson’s signature style: beautiful colors, layered characters and symmetrical camera work, not to mention the music too. A tale of three brothers trying to reconnect, it’s a tender meditation on family ties, heavy on both dialogue and the infighting that stems from it. India is a vibrant, beautiful country, and Anderson’s direction shows you that in pretty much every shot — even the interiors, which have as much going on as the characters do. 

6. “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” 

Inspired by the exploits of Jacques Costeau, Bill Murray plays the titular Captain who sets off to find the shark that killed his best friend. A story of revenge juxtaposed with a father trying to reconnect with his son, “Zissou” is a visual feast for the eyes. There’s a reason so many people don the red cap and baby blue jumpsuit for Halloween. The sonic aspects, however, are the best part of this film. Seu Jorge as Pelé dos Santos covers David Bowie tracks with a gentle bossa nova leaning, ones that pop up in the film during moments of levity. That, along with the classic rock soundtrack, propelled “Zissou” into greatness. 

5. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” 

Never have I wanted to transport myself into a world of stop-motion animated anthropomorphic animals until I saw “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” George Clooney and Meryl Streep provide the voices of the titular fox and his wife Felicity with an almost timeless cadence to them. This is one of the funniest Wes flicks, abound with zingers, although most of them are either animal puns or jokes that might as well be. The humor makes up one half of the magnetism of this film, with the other being the sheer beauty of the visuals. Textures pop off the screen, from the corduroy of Mr. Fox’s jacket to the fur on a Badger’s exterior (played by Bill Murray). This is a real treat, one that is deeply rewatchable. 

4. “Moonrise Kingdom” 

A gorgeously curated experience, “Moonrise” is the first Anderson film I had the pleasure of seeing not on a big screen. And in many ways, that is how it should be seen. Intimate and tender, “Moonrise” is a tale of young love, almost a Romeo and Juliet-esque story, save the whole star-crossed lovers thing. Star performances across the board, but the kids are really what make it: Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward as Sam and Suzy incredibly and believably depict pre-teen romance, sexual initiation and most of all, first love. The bright, warm color palettes only add to his most youthful flick yet. Influences from the likes of Francois Truffaut and Agnes Varda are apparent as well, from the soundtrack to the sharp, incisive dialogue of our two juvenile lovers. 

3. “Rushmore”  

I saw “Rushmore” on a second date, a sort of “bias test” in the world of modern romance. I absolutely loved it, and my date… was less than enthused. I couldn’t understand it! “Rushmore” is the lovingly crafted, witty tale about Max Fischer, an overachieving highschool student who falls in love with a new teacher. Sprinkle that in with Bill Murray as Blume, Fischer’s best friend and eventual romantic rival, and you have a recipe for success. A story about love, and ultimately letting go, this is arguably the most fun of Wes Anderson’s filmography, even if it sometimes feels like the most grounded, with no crazy visuals or mesmerizing color schemes. I never saw the girl from the aforementioned date again. But I try to see “Rushmore” whenever the opportunity arises.

2. “The Royal Tenenbaums” 

There is something about cinema that no other medium can capture. The mix of audio, visual and emotional aspects all get thrown into a jar, shaken up (sometimes roughly, sometimes softly) and whatever comes out of that jar is what we, the audience, see on screen. “Tenenbaums” nails everything from its depiction of childhood excellence to the familial dynamics of a (deeply) dysfunctional group of people brought together only by blood. The chemistry between the actors is something rarely seen in film — it seems as if every actor has known each other their entire lives, as if they really are the family of Tenenbaums depicted on screen. The beautiful cinematography Wes is known for is here, but so are his best forays into dialogue and relationships. More than anything, this is a tale of redemption. 

1. “Grand Budapest Hotel” 

What happens when a director fully realizes the vision they have? What does it look like when they sail past limitations, both technical and creative? Well, it may very well look like “Grand Budapest Hotel.” This is Wes Anderson concentrated and firing on all cylinders: an all-star cast, sublime symmetry in the camerawork and a world that is expertly crafted, down to the smallest details. Indeed, this vision of an early 20th Century Eastern European hotel is a story of love, loss and the wacky misadventures of M.Gustave and Zero, played expertly by Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori respectively. Good cinema is, plainly, enjoying yourself while watching a movie. Great cinema, however, is feeling lucky enough to even have the privilege of watching artistry at work. Poetry in motion, “Grand Budapest” is a staunch example of the latter. 

Written by: Ilya Shrayber — arts@theaggie.org


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