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Ranking the Films of Wes Anderson: From ‘Bottle Rocket’ to ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’

Written by on March 7, 2014 

There are only two or three frequently provided answers to the question of Wes Anderson’s “best” film, the overlap herein less indicative of the oeuvre than the work’s uncommon ability to evolve (sometimes to the point of outright change) on subsequent viewings. Whereas the excellence of Rushmore is, to many eyes, evident on no more than a first pass, there are others which take a second, even third glance — so if you’re wondering why that 1998 classic isn’t even in the top three here, chalk it up to the effects of subsequent viewings.

But the biggest pleasure in compiling this list was having certified a long-suspected thought: he’s never made a bad film. Some click more elegantly and eloquently, yes, but their fabric is all so of a piece — not repeats or retreads — that my love of one can’t help but transform into, at the very least, moderate affection for another. The cohesion which can be seen between these various titles is relatively astonishing, and a larger view would, if nothing else, solidify Anderson as the most wholly consistent auteur working in American cinema today, up to and including this week’s much-ballyhooed release.

Check out our rundown below and for more on his latest work, read our feature on the films that influenced Anderson:

8. Bottle Rocket (1996)

This is not necessarily Wes Anderson’s “worst” film — it’s one of the sturdier debuts of the ‘90s, plays loose without seeming inchoate, and functions well as an object that foretells what would come. A fine thing, yes, but it’s also the selection that feels the least anything about, however well this might speak to the film’s relatively even-keeled attitude.

7. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

Taken by many as the first stumble and, to this day, surrounded with the “overzealous failure” narrative (Anderson has expressed regrets about facets of the production), but a touching and playing-unique-without-enervating failure, in that case. Although its hermetic world — complete with Mark Mothersbaugh’s expectedly odd score and Eric Chase Anderson’s unexpected stop-motion sea creatures — would forbid widespread love, even the most deficient of its characteristics have magic to them: career-best work from Bill Murray, here striking the right balance between pathos and drollness; the David Bowie soundtrack, in spite of some too-cute covers it also makes way for; Anderson’s willingness to attempt an action scene, no matter the lack of complete coherence; or the final encounter with Zissou’s white whale — a moment so telling of its maker’s pathology that I’d present as little to someone who wishes to know what makes the man tick.

6. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

My full review of the film can be found here. Consider this placement, then take the last paragraph to heart.

5. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

Although the narrative surrounding Life Aquatic isn’t quite as charmed as most other selections herein, perceptions of The Darjeeling Limited are even less favorable — a storyteller-cum-aestheticist at their nadir, directionless at all points except when they aren’t spiraling, quickly, into their own asshole. But there’s true beauty at play, some of it obvious and some of it indefinable: the location work, most obviously, but I’m more smitten with how its take-things-as-they-come-even-when-you’re-shattered business involving three brothers (and the search for more family) work in tandem with this new setting to emotionally reconfigure what, to the director’s eyes, might otherwise prove a spot familiar. Retread? Hardly. Having felt Budapest suffers from some slight sense of gigantism, I’m inclined to think more films of this accord would serve Anderson well.

Continue to the top four Wes Anderson films >>

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