Wes Anderson is indisputably one of the most easily-recognizable directors of all-time, which is perhaps the reason I was so immediately drawn to his work. It’s cool to have a favorite director, and he’s an easy choice for the untrained eye. I wouldn’t argue that I’m fully trained now, but I’m definitely better than I was three years ago, and having recently finished Anderson’s entire directorial filmography, I would actually still argue that he’s one of my favorite directors, if not my favorite. For that reason, I think it’s only fair to recap his films in case anyone else wants to dive in before his newest movie, The French Dispatch, drops later this year (or next year, or in 2023). Respectably, I find each of his nine feature films to be within only a star or two of each other ranking-wise, so we’ll cover them chronologically instead of going from worst to best.
Bottle Rocket (1996)
This was my most recent watch—mainly because I kept putting it off due to the fact that I like doing things when I feel like it and not when I have an article deadline to meet. Coincidentally, it was also my least favorite of Anderson’s films, which I think can be attributed to a number of factors. Firstly, it was his first full-length feature, which is very evident due to the lack of what anyone would normally consider his stylistic shooting and editing style. It is definitely his plainest-looking movie, and that does it no favors. Secondly, Bottle Rocket catches the Wilson brothers relatively early into their careers, and I felt like they weren’t really filling in their own shoes yet. I also found their characters to be relatively unlikable and the plot—a group of three amateurs attempting to pull off some heists, essentially—to be just OK. A fun fact for my less-enlightened friends: Owen Wilson (most famous in my peabrain for playing the miniature cowboy in Night at the Museum) was roommates with Anderson in college, and he and his brother have a role in almost every film Wes has ever made, with varying degrees of significance. Luke Wilson is hot, so I have to assume that is why he’s allowed to tag along.
Rushmore is an absolute gem and a must-watch for any wannabe Anderson fanatic—despite the fact that, like its predecessor, it’s not as immediately-recognizable as his work to someone not familiar with, say, his favorite actors to cast. We get our first tastes of Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray partnering up with the director here, and it’s obvious why he stuck with them in his following films. The two are outstanding, and Schwartzman especially delivers, which is made all the more impressive by the fact that he was only 18 (I did mental math, so correct me if I’m wrong) when Rushmore was filmed. The plot, which is also funnier and more enjoyable (though not any less awkward than Bottle Rocket) follows Max (Schwartzman) as a pubescent private school student who loves only one thing more than his school—the new first grade teacher. Bill Murray portrays his randomly-acquired father figure, who ends up falling for the same woman and pitting himself against Max in a bid to win her heart. The movie is as ridiculous as it sounds, but it is wonderful, loveable and easy to re-watch a million times, just like many of the other titles on this list.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
It took me three tries to get through this—which was probably due to untreated ADHD—but it feels necessary to acknowledge, nonetheless. On the third try, I made it all the way through in one go, and I found myself crying with 20 minutes or so left of the film, much to my surprise. Through the first act, it’s a bit hard to figure out the direction we’re taking—there are a million characters to follow, and it’s hard to distinguish any sort of protagonist or antagonist because everyone is so multidimensional (this is by no means a con). The cast, by the way, is an absolute treat: Ben Stiller, the face of GOOP herself Gwyneth Paltrow, the Wilson brothers, Bill Murray, Gene Hackman, and the queen Miss Anjelica Huston, who is delightful. There are a lot of really, REALLY, weird twists and turns in this movie, many of which are inappropriate (including one especially vivid depiction of self-harm that came out of nowhere and drew a bit of criticism). I admit that it was a bit of a setback, because I can see how someone might be turned away from the movie because of it, but by the time everything had tied up at the end, I was enamored with everything about The Royal Tenenbaums. Above all, it’s a story of a dysfunctional family putting aside their dramatic differences in the name of love. And it’s a good one.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
My FAVORITE! My favorite Wes Anderson and one of my favorite movies of all-time! I absolutely ADORE The Life Aquatic. This is the first truly Anderson-y of his films, and it is just gorgeous. I truly don’t mean to gush, but if I lived alone, my walls would be covered in framed stills from this movie, and I don’t think I’d even be picky about which ones. Pause it anywhere, and it’s a work of art; that’s that certain something that makes Wes Anderson so special. Anjelica Huston comes back and is wonderful, Bill Murray stars and is equally wonderful as her complicated husband, Cate Blanchett makes an appearance which nearly sent me into cardiac arrest, Willem Dafoe shines like a star in the night sky, Jeff Goldblum merely has to exist, Michael Gambon (Harry Potter crossover—and not the last one!) is there for some reason, and we get a glimpse of a youthful Matthew Grey Gubler as an unpaid intern, which makes sense. Could you ask for a better (or more eclectic) collection of A-listers complimented by stellar character actors? NO! I’m going to re-watch this tonight. If I was going to a deserted island and could only bring five movies, this would be one of them. I don’t even remember the whole plot aside from Zissou being a delinquent aquatic operator, but I hope this was enough to sell you.
The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
I didn’t think about how hot Adrien Brody was until this movie, and that’s pretty much all I focused on—which perhaps accounts for the fact that I don’t remember all of it, and maybe explains why I didn’t like it that much. It was a nice watch for a quiet evening in, but it wouldn’t be close to the top of my list of Anderson titles that I would return to. I’ve made peace with that. Brody, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman play three estranged brothers who meet up in India to find themselves, each other, and their mother (Anjelica Huston, smiley face), who inexplicably packed up her shit and moved there years before. They spend the majority of the movie on a train and it’s a little claustrophobic, but in an artistic way, I guess. I don’t have much else to say! There’s a snake involved, if you like snakes. I do.
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
Growing up, my number one phobia was claymation. As an adult, I still find it terrifying. If you put Wallace and Gromit on the TV, I have to leave the room. I could only sit through Coraline once, and I will never do it again. Fantastic Mr. Fox is special for a lot of reasons, but the main one is that I watched it and liked it. Depending on who you ask, it’s both claymation and stop motion, but regardless of my inherent biases, it is beautiful and entertaining from start to finish. This is in large part due to the genius that was Roald Dahl, but Anderson meets the challenge he presents as a writer with directorial and artistic finesse, and the result is nothing short of a masterpiece. Anderson pulls out the big guns for this one, which only adds to the appeal; George Clooney and Meryl Streep voice the Fox family along with Jason Schwartzman, and regardless of the rest of the movie, it would be fun to listen to the three of them talk for 87 minutes about literally anything. To quote my editor Ralph Compiano‘s Letterboxd review; “[Fantastic Mr. Fox] is the aesthetic version of a muscle relaxer.” He’s right.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
If there is one thing this movie does well, it delivers on the casting front. I am an absolute sucker for good child actors—I think they authenticate films and add to the emotional value, even in the case of something as intentionally quirky and seemingly implausible as Moonrise Kingdom. In this meticulously-crafted world, we follow two 12-year-old children who fall in love and then plot to escape together into the wilderness that surrounds their small town. A storm is brewing simultaneously off the coast, and their friends, family, and troop members band together to track the two down before they are caught in its midst. Moonrise Kingdom is a refreshing story of young love that genuinely tugs at the heartstrings—mainly to the credit of such a sympathetic cast. Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are outstanding as leads, but the supporting cast—including Lord Edward Norton—boosts the film from something good to something great.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Did someone say ANOTHER Harry Potter / Wes Anderson crossover? You heard right! Ralph Fiennes himself stars in The Grand Budapest Hotel, and by God, can the man put on a SHOW! And for my more deeply entrenched Potterheads, we get Jude Law here, as well, but I’m still not sure if I’d count him or not. Back along with them are Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, and Jason Schwartzman. As a treat, we also get a young Saoirse Ronan, who is infinitely more beautiful and more talented than anyone I’ve ever met. All of that aside, the true shining star of The Grand Budapest Hotel is none other than Tony Revolori, who you may recognize as Flash from the MCU Spiderman movies. He’s innocent, charming, and funny, and I think those three words really encompass the film as a whole. It’s one you could watch three times over the span of a day—if you’re like me and into that sort of thing. The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of the most Wes-y Wes Anderson films, and that’s only one of many reasons that it’s special. If you’re going to start his filmography from scratch, this would be a great place to start.
Editor’s Note: The Grand Budapest Hotel is as delicious of a treat as the Mendl’s cupcake that Gustave loves and adores, for Saiorse Ronan’s Agatha is the chef behind the delicately crafted treat. What Agatha is to the cupcake, Anderson is to film. He is soft, delicate, charming, colorful and loving with his craft, and The Grand Budapest Hotel is the best example of his adoration for cinema. I was shown this movie several years ago, and I haven’t looked back since. It has maintained its place in my catalog of top-ten lists over the years. I showed it to two of my best friends—who will go unnamed—nearly a year ago while they were under the influence of a drug which will also remain anonymous, and the movie was everything and more to them. It’s two hours of pure joy, but it isn’t without challenges that our heroes, Gustave and Zero, must overcome. It’s another one of those movies that defies genre and is simply just a great film. I love every little bit of it, from F. Murray Abraham narrating the story, to Jude Law over what is perhaps the loveliest dinner in the history of movies, to Zero and Agatha’s relationship (which is perhaps the cutest relationship to ever grace the silver screen), all the way down to Monsieur Gustave having a fetish for rich, older woman like the unrecognizable Tilda Swinton. It’s a perfect movie, and the best introduction to Wes Anderson that a casual movie-goer can have.
Isle of Dogs (2018)
In a manner similar to Fantastic Mr. Fox, Isle of Dogs is claymation / stop motion filmmaking that is so well done that you (I) forget to be scared. I watched this with my entire family, and the only one who didn’t like it was my dog Fred, who growled the entire time; I think that speaks volumes about the realism the animators managed to achieve. As always, the cast is filled to the brim with stars such as Brian Cranston, Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray, just to name a few. We follow a 12-year-old boy from Japan who ventures alone to the literal wasteland that is an Isle of Dogs to recover his best friend after the mayor banishes all of the dogs after a canine flu pandemic. Rather ahead of its time, no? The story is fun and fresh (if not a little depressing) just like the characters, and the movie is an easy re-watch regardless of your mood. I’ve never understood why some people are so emphatically opposed to watching animated shows and movies targeted towards adults. There is so much to enjoy out there in the wide world of cinema, and Isle of Dogs is a genuine treasure, for its pure, unfiltered cinematic beauty, if nothing else.