(My) Ranking of the Wes Anderson Filmography

Wes Anderson’s movies have a style like no other. All his shots are perfectly symmetrical and brimming with color. No other director has a style quite like Wes Anderson.

At the end of the week, the world is going to be graced with a new Wes Anderson movie: Isle of Dogs, a stop-motion animated film about a boy trying to find his dog on an island full of dogs. Plus it’s got an all-star voice cast and looks hilarious. So, in preparation for Isle of Dogs, I decided I would write a totally objective and biased ranking of his movies, like I did for Christopher Nolan last year.

Disclaimer: Yes, I forgot Bottle Rocket. I found that Wes Anderson’s first – or second – movie is just difficult to find/access. I promise to update this post as soon as I see Bottle Rocket, (the feature length film) but for now, a ranking of 7 of 8 Wes Anderson movies will have to do.

This post is SPOILER FREE

7. Rushmore

None of the movies on this list are bad by any stretch of the imagination. But Rushmore is certainly the weakest. Stylistically speaking, this is Wes Anderson’s least “Wes Anderson” movie, to put it simply. If you saw the other movies on this list and then this one, you could be forgiven for thinking it wasn’t Wes Anderson. Basically, Rushmore is an early iteration of the template for what a Wes Anderson movie would be, but doesn’t quite radiate with his signature style like the subsequent movies did.

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The performances are great, with Anderson regulars Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray bringing their usual quirky charm. The characters are fun and quirky and the plot is amusing, but this movie just never quite feels like it’s more than the sum of its parts. In my last ranking post, I said similar things about Nolan’s FollowingRushmore is a fine first effort from a visionary director, but that’s about as much as I can say about it.

6. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

Like Rushmore, this is another movie from Wes Anderson that is probably just all right by most estimations but has found a place in pop culture because the design of its character is so impressive. In terms of character design, Steve Zissou is the Boba Fett of Wes Anderson movies – looks really interesting, not quite compelling enough.

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The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou sounds like a much better idea than it ends up being. The premise of an oceanographer bringing a documentary crew on his Moby Dick-style quest to kill a tiger shark which killed his friend while trying to connect with a man who might be his son sounds like it could be a lot of fun either ironically or in earnest. But again, it ends up just being pretty good rather than something spectacular.

One issue I have is that neither Bill Murray’s or Owen Wilson’s performance does anything tremendous. Bill Murray has a few passionate moments, but for the most part he seems like he’s sleepwalking through most of his lines.

That being said, Life Aquatic hinges on an incredibly emotional moment and an absolutely beautiful shot – the one I’ve put above. While this movie is often considered to be one Anderson’s weakest, that moment is one of his best.

(Also, the movie’s most hilarious moment might be a bit of a *spoiler*, but I nearly died of laughter when this happened.)

5. The Darjeeling Limited

The Darjeeling Limited succeeds in being a fun adventure story where Life Aquatic kind of missed the mark. But the movie is less about the places they go and the things that happen, but instead is about the way Jason Schwartzman’s, Owen Wilson’s, and Adrien Brody’s characters – three brothers who embark on a trip across India one year after the death of their father – interact and grow.

The three brothers fight and bond like real brothers. And that’s something that I find rather pleasing about Darjeeling Limited; it’s comfortable with putting aside plot and focusing just on character. The whole premise of these characters taking a train across India a year after their father has passed away is really just a box for these characters to grow in. And Darjeeling Limited has the kind of exceedingly vibrant color palette, comedic timing, and quirky characters that Wes Anderson’s movie are known for.

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(People criticize the film’s relationship to the short film “Hotel Chevalier,” which serves as sort of a short prologue to the film. The plot of that short film does eventually pay off within the plot of Darjeeling Limited, which makes me wonder why they didn’t just include the 13 minutes of “Hotel Chevalier” in Darjeeling Limited, which is only an hour and a half long. The DVD seems to fix that, as you can watch the two consecutively, which is the way it probably should have been from the very start. Man, I just don’t get it.)

(Also, a lot has been written on this movie and race. For more educated perspectives on that, click here, here, or here.)

4. Fantastic Mr. Fox

Now we’re finally into the Anderson movies which are truly great. Fantastic Mr. Fox is a delightful adaptation of the Roald Dahl children’s book that builds upon the themes of family, responsibility, and personal identity. This setup is taken above and beyond by beautiful stop-motion animation, an all-star voice cast, and Wes Anderson’s signature symmetrical cinematography, and you’ve got a real winner. Plus the pacing is just about pitch perfect – there’s a good deal of episodic build-up, but once the plot enters the third act, it gets going and doesn’t stop.

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The real standouts in the cast is Jason Schwartzman as Mr. Fox’s son Ash, and Wallace Wolodarsky as Mr. Fox’s timid accomplice, Kylie. Really everyone is great, so I feel like picking my favorite voice actor is a little moot, but still. Schwartzman wonderfully conveys fear, jealousy, and affection, and Wolodarsky wonderfully conveys – well, mostly he’s just really funny.

I’d like to highlight some of the best scenes in the movie, but they take place in the third act, so they’d be a bit of a spoiler, but I’ll link to them for those who have seen the movie. My first favorite is this scene at the start of the showdown, in which the music shifts to a western-standoff soundtrack to a fun and mischievous choral composition. This is where Anderson’s frequent collaborator Alexander Desplat’s score really shines. My other favorite scene is this one, which takes place towards the end of the movie. This is where Anderson’s stop-motion art style highlights the theme of personal identity and wildness.

3. The Royal Tenenbaums

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What I said above about The Darjeeling Limited is exceedingly true for The Royal Tenenbaums. The movie is less about plot and more about character. I’m not sure if I could accurately tell you the sequence of events in Royal Tenenbaums, but I can tell you all about the various characters who appear in the film. This movie has such a deep ensemble cast with an abundance of talent. Even actors who I don’t particularly rave about, like Owen Wilson or Gwyneth Paltrow, really shine in this movie. And there’s only so much I can say about Gene Hackman’s performance and arc as Royal Tenenbaum, but I think it’s safe to say that he is the most important part of this story.

Here’s another case where character design is notable. Are any of these characters nearly as memorable if they don’t have such vivid design? How much does this movie’s reputation hinge on Ben Stiller and his sons wearing track suits and Owen Wilson looking like a drugged-out cowboy? It’s hard to say.

2. Moonrise Kingdom

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Allow me to pose a question to my readers: What’s the best child actor performance you can think of? And while the lead performances of Jared Gilman and Kaya Hayward might not be the best ever, I think that they are the heart and soul of this excellent film. Again, Wes Anderson finds tremendous success in directing an ensemble cast, and the fact that these two excel in a cast that includes Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, and Jason Schwartzman, that the two best performances are just two kids who hadn’t appeared in a feature film before.

The film tells the story of an enamored young couple – a troubled girl who runs away from home and an orphaned boy who runs away from summer camp – trying to escape the adults who just don’t get them. It might sound juvenile when described like that, but it’s probably one of the cutest, happiest, and most wholesome movies I’ve ever seen. As an adventure movie, it’s better than The Darjeeling Limited. As a romance, it’s better than Rushmore. Personally, when I watched this movie, I found myself feeling like a kid in such a way that no other movie than maybe The Sandlot can do.

1. The Grand Budapest Hotel

I genuinely believe that this is Wes Anderson at this very best. It’s also him at his most idiosyncratic. Everything is so wonderfully orchestrated in this movie. All of the typical Wes Anderson staples are there: symmetrical cinematography. Beautiful colors. Wonderful performances. Quirky and sympathetic characters. Bill Murray. A fun story.

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All the characters are so incredibly memorable. That includes the brief appearances like Jeff Goldblum’s bookish lawyer, Harvey Keitel’s garish prison inmate, or Tilda Swinton and the army of aging prosthetic to make her look as old as she did. But the main cast is outstanding. The relatively young Tony Revolori and Saoirse Ronan are wholly loveable as the two romantic leads. Adrien Brody makes for an entirely despicable and menacing villain and meanwhile, manages to be absolutely hilarious. His henchman is played by Willem Dafoe, who gives the creepiest and most sinister performance. But the movie would likely be nothing if not for Ralph Fiennes, who does some of his best work. He’s so charming and eloquent and, well, colorful that at a certain point it becomes hard to imagine anyone else playing this character.

The movie brims with emotion in so many ways.  I’ve watched this movie at least three or four times, and every time I see it, it grows just a little more hilarious and a little more heartbreaking. All in all, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a moving story, full of heart, quirk, and color. This is Wes Anderson at the top of his game.


Also, this video came out while I was working on this post:

Let me pose a few questions to you folks:

  1. What’s your favorite Wes Anderson movie?
  2. Which movie has the best Bill Murray performance?
  3. Are you upset I left Bottle Rocket off this list? (Nobody talks about Bottle Rocket. Maybe I’ll update this post if/when I get around to watching it.)

7 thoughts on “(My) Ranking of the Wes Anderson Filmography

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