What is more magical than the magic of life itself? What more is to be said of the about the groundbreaking filmmaking style of the legendary Wes Anderson? His movies are wondrous rollercoaster rides of fast-paced comedy through the very realistic, often tragic and melancholic vales of human life. Anderson’s unique style of direction has resulted in many critics dubbing him as a modern-day auteur. His extremely contrastive style coupled with an excellent selection of the 60s’ and 70s’ music for the background score allows him to bring to life something truly special.
The magnificent director has made nine full-length feature films and some short films. None of his work is bad or even mediocre. So, ranking it has been a tough task. We present to you 9 films of Wes Anderson, all of which are his best works:
9. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is the kind of film you either love or hate. No middle ground in this one. It is an epic comedic and parodical biography of Jack Costeau, the famed marine explorer. The story is centered around him and his crewmates hunting for a jaguar shark that killed his friend. We are presented with an against-all-odds adventure that takes us through an epiphany of underwater majesty and greatness.
But the film does lack on one particular front. The representation of human emotion and connection. Since the movie also deals with the relationship between Costeau and his estranged son, one would expect a great deal of emotional depth. But Anderson completely subverts our expectations and provides us with the image of a failed father. This was most probably done purposefully to evoke that very image. And I must say, it worked marvelously. Unfortunately, many were not ready for such a dry comedy variant. Nevertheless, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou was a fresh departure from the usual Wes Anderson style, while maintaining a character to itself which paradoxically screamed Wes Anderson.
8. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
The Darjeeling Limited is one of the deepest comedies ever made in Hollywood. The movie is a journey in search of spirituality. But, in their egoistic wisdom, the brothers aim to bottle up some of India’s spiritual value and take it back with them. They act like tourists in a place that slowly becomes their family. The film well explores the familial bonds that the brothers share and cherish. At the same time, it blurs the line between family and friendship.
The film is a fantastic work of art. It utilizes the upbeat adventurous music that was a trademark of Satyajit Ray‘s filmmaking style. The artistic capacity and imagination of the director, as well as the actors’ ability to disassociate from the ‘self’ is vigorously tested and vehemently illustrated in what is essentially an epic cross-country road trip.
7. Bottle Rocket (1996)
Bottle Rocket is a crazy heist movie brimming with the usual Wes Anderson energy. This movie was his debut film and gave us a clear indication of the glorious times that were to come. His signature traits like the whip-pan, elaborate plans (75-year long plan to be exact) and many infiltrations and escape missions find their original bearings through this very film. This, perhaps, is Anderson’s most natural piece of work, wherein, he lets the camera take in the entirety of the world in front of it. He later abandoned this naturalistic tendency. Compared to this, his later movies feature a lot more control over the environment and for good reason.
The atmosphere he creates, alone has the ability to tell a story. And the camerawork he implements is brilliant and very confident. Yet there is something very casual about this movie, especially. The tightness that is typical of other movies is missing. The flow is much freer and spontaneous. But that does not subdue the greatness of the movie by any means. It is a masterstroke of a debut that dwells on the lives of two men who decide to rob banks for a living. The comedy is hard-hitting and tragic, like in many of his other works.
6. Isle of Dogs (2018)
This magnificent stop-motion animation is set in the futuristic fantasy-land in Japan. In Megasaki City, an authoritative mayor Kobayashi uses an outbreak to exile the canines. When 12-year-old Atari, the mayor’s ward, crash-lands on the banished dog’s new home ‘Trash Island’, it sets in motion an epic quest. Wes Anderson, as always, is superb at concocting a wonderfully whimsical narrative. Isle of Dogs, aesthetically is Anderson’s most ambitious feature to date. A highly impressive voice cast (including Jeff Goldblum, Bryan Cranston, Greta Gerwig, etc) enlivens the narrative to boot.
Fantastical imagination fuels the film. And consequently, it leads to the birth of art in utter chaos. The artistic ability to question the wrongs in the world through such a poignant piece of tragicomic satire points directly at us. It asks us questions regarding our existence and purpose in this grim and desolate world. Nothing stands in Anderson’s way as he plows through established social norms and creates a kingdom that rises from the chaos of humanity. It is clearly one of the best dystopian fictions ever to be made.
5. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
The Royal Tenenbaums at #5 might come as a surprise to many. Critics and fans, after all, hail it as his most loved film. Why then have I decided to put it so low on the list? The reason is simple – control and execution. Wes Anderson comedies are designed to make you laugh while evoking a seething discomfort and awkwardness from his underlying and sometimes over-the-top themes. His initial works do display some hints of this dry comedic style but it comes off as a bit crass, here. That is not to say that this is not a good film. In fact, it is a great one.
The story encompasses the fears of failure and unbridled ambition. It is centered around a dysfunctional family of geniuses and their exiled failure of a father, who plays the role of the anti-hero in the movie. The film has everything in it from romance to revenge and redemption. It is a nostalgic treat and has remained an enduring 21st-century classic.
4. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
There is something special about Moonrise Kingdom. And the most beautiful aspect is that this special factor is quite subjective. For some, it is the uncouth freedom of youth. For others, it is the rebellion against the boundaries placed on youth. This multidimensional perspective that is quite paradoxical in nature was achieved with the help of an amazing story, touching performances and remarkable direction and execution. Moonrise Kingdom is a movie about children but is not for children. It is a deep psychological debate on how the things that we want to distance ourselves from are the ones that end up engulfing us.
Words alone can’t justify the sheer joy and hopefulness coupled with great desolation and defeat the film leaves us with. The story follows two kids who run away from their lives but find it difficult to escape since they live on an island. But the movie draws our focus away from the obstacles in the path of escape towards the things that we can never escape even if we tried. Undoubtedly, Moonrise Kingdom is one of the best depictions of pre-pubescent love curtailed by the eccentricities of society.
3. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
Fantastic Mr. Fox is a stop-motion animated comedy based on a novel of the same name by Roald Dahl. This was Wes Anderson’s first animated film and also his first film adaptation. And considering those two factors, one must say that the man did an excellent job. This wonderful comedy came after critics had voiced their opinion about Anderson’s repetitive style. Fantastic Mr. Fox was a fitting answer where Anderson sheds off his previous naturalistic style for a more cramped, controlled environment.
The movie gives off a distinct flavor. Each and every action is deliberate, more so emphasized by the effects of the stop-motion animation style. And these purposeful inflections in the visual art allow for the creation of a world that not only appears fabricated but truly is. This gives Anderson full control over each and every minute aspect and is proof of his artistic brilliance.
2. Rushmore (1998)
Where Moonrise Kingdom seeks to invent a magical space, The Grand Budapest Hotel seeks to show the sorrow behind its deconstruction. And Rushmore is just a free-flowing amalgamation of the two. At its core, Rushmore is a self-reflexive and self-referential masterpiece of the post-modern film genre. It takes into account all the tropes of Wes Anderson and utilizes them to the fullest.
It valorizes all that had been critiqued as recurring in the Anderson filmmaking process. This coming-of-age tale about a precocious kid and his budding relationship with a grown man that has its ups and downs continuously pays homage to the very elements that constitute its existence.
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
The Grand Budapest is #1 on this list. But #3 and #2 are equally worthy of this spot. They’re all great films and express Wes Anderson style with different flairs.
Wes Anderson’s style isn’t for everyone. But one can’t resist the charms of The Grand Budapest Hotel, where he takes a completely different style of filmmaking. The performances are generally excellent; the movie is a mix of class, humor, romance, and absurdity. The music of the movie seems to intensify those themes. People may argue whether it is the best Wes Anderson movie or not. But there’s no debating the fact that The Grand Budapest Hotel is the most Wes Anderson movie.
The pacing is perfect. The set pieces are beautiful. The direction is of the highest form. It’s Wes Anderson, so I wouldn’t expect anything less.
There we are! This was our list of the best Wes Anderson movies. Which of these are your favorites? What are your #top3 films of his? Let’s talk in the comments below.
(Additional writing by Arun Kumar)