Total Recall

Rank All of Wes Anderson's Movies

In this week's Total Recall, we reflect on the filmography of the Isle of Dogs director.

by | March 21, 2018 | Comments

It certainly isn’t every day that we get a stop-motion feature about a young man’s quest to rescue his dog from government-imposed island quarantine, but when it does happen, there isn’t a working director better equipped to handle it than Wes Anderson — which makes it an awfully good thing that Anderson’s latest feature, this weekend’s Isle of Dogs, tells exactly that story. In celebration of Anderson’s latest return to theaters, we’ve decided to take a look back at the films that brought us here, while once again asking you to rank your personal favorites. You know what that means: it’s time for Total Recall!

1. Moonrise Kingdom (2012) 93%

(Photo by Niko Tavernise/Focus Features)

Three years after he made an animated detour with Fantastic Mr. Fox, 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom found Anderson focusing on a New England island in 1965 where of a pair of tweens (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) run away together, causing a kerfuffle that throws the lives of the boy’s scoutmaster (Edward Norton), the girl’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), and the local sheriff (Bruce Willis) into chaos. “The usual complaints and caveats about Anderson — he’s precious, his characters have no grounding in the real world — can be made about Moonrise Kingdom,” admitted the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Steven Rea. “But so what?”

2. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) 92%

(Photo by Fox Searchlight courtesy Everett Collection)

These days, it’s a rare animated film that doesn’t boast a star-studded cast, but most of them don’t attract the sort of award-hoarding talent that Wes Anderson lined up for Fantastic Mr. Fox, is stop-motion adaptation of the Roald Dahl book about a rascally fox (George Clooney) whose devotion to his wife (Streep) is tested by his need to have the last laugh against a trio of bloodthirsty farmers. Rounded out by an eclectic list of co-stars that included Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, and Owen Wilson, Fox thrilled critics like Elizabeth Weitzman of the New York Daily News, who called it “A visual treasure that successfully blends deadpan quirkiness with a wry realism rarely seen in any film, let alone one for children.”

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) 91%

(Photo by Bob Yeoman/Fox Searchlight Pictures)

He’s made movies that drew more critical applause, but there may never be a film that encapsulates Anderson’s strengths quite as solidly as The Grand Budapest Hotel. Combining the director’s detailed aesthetic, love of symmetry, and knack for juggling quirky ensembles, Hotel serves up a madcap confection about a hotel concierge (Ralph Fiennes) desperately trying to prove his innocence after being framed for murder — and the result was an Oscar-nominated, critically lauded effort that played effortlessly to the mainstream without sacrificing a whit of Anderson’s singular appeal. “Grand isn’t good enough a word for this Budapest Hotel,” wrote Time’s Richard Corliss. “Great is more like it.”

4. Rushmore (1998) 89%

Rushmore broke Anderson through to a larger audience, essentially redefined the quirky high school movie for a new generation, and reaped scores of awards and nominations for its trouble — all while opening the second act of Bill Murray’s career, in which he pivoted from playing sleepy-eyed shysters into more finely nuanced dramatic roles. Though it was never anything close to a box office hit — its gross stalled at just over $17 million, below its $20 million budget — Rushmore has grown into a certified cult classic among an increasing legion of viewers taken by its cockeyed coming-of-age story about a troubled teen (Jason Schwartzman) who competes for the affections of an older woman (Olivia Williams) with his mentor (Murray). “If happiness is finding something you love to do and doing it forever,” mused the Orlando Sentinel’s Jay Boyar, “one of my somethings might just be watching this oddly uproarious little flick.”

5. Bottle Rocket (1996) 85%

(Photo by Columbia Pictures courtesy Everett Collection)

Anderson cut his cinematic teeth in style with 1996’s Bottle Rocket, an indie darling that not only kicked off his big-screen directorial career, but found him co-writing the first of three highly regarded screenplays (followed by Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums) with actor Owen Wilson. Although it was a blip on the commercial radar, this cheerful crime comedy about a trio of Texans (Wilson, his brother Luke, and Robert Musgrave) whose rather inept first foray into armed robbery leads them into the path of an older, wiser thief (James Caan) was a favorite of critics like the Washington Post’s Desson Thomson, who called it “A hilarious, inventive and goofy breath of fresh air.”

6. The Royal Tenenbaums (2002) 80%

The third leg of a cinematic hat trick of critically lauded screenplays Anderson co-wrote with Owen Wilson, The Royal Tenenbaums tells the story of a mind-bendingly eccentric family whose overbearing, insensitive patriarch turns the lives of his children upside down — a clan portrayed by an eyebrow-raising ensemble cast that included Wilson as well as Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bill Murray, and his brothers Andrew and Luke. While it wasn’t a huge hit at the box office, Tenenbaums fared well with most critics, including Geoff Pevere of the Toronto Star, who called it “An eloquent, eccentric and surprisingly touching tribute to the comic dignity of failure.”

7. The Darjeeling Limited (2007) 68%

(Photo by Fox Searchlight courtesy Everett Collection)

Reuniting after the six-year layoff that followed The Royal Tenenbaums, frequent collaborators Owen Wilson and Wes Anderson paired up for 2007’s The Darjeeling Limited, a typically quirky dramedy about three eccentric brothers (played by Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman) who struggle — not always entirely successfully — to reconnect by taking a train ride across India in order to reunite with their mother (Anjelica Huston). While a disconcerting number of critics felt Darjeeling found Anderson settling into a rut, the majority argued that even if he was treading somewhat familiar ground, he managed to do it with style. Suggesting it might be “Anderson’s most compassionate, mature film,” Nick Rogers of Suite101 credited it with “[dancing] around disconcerting what-ifs: If they weren’t your brothers and sisters, would you voluntarily befriend them, or do you tolerate quirks and annoyances because blood links you?”

8. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) 56%

(Photo by Touchstone courtesy Everett Collection)

Wes Anderson has had a fairly easy time of it with critics over the course of his film career, but it hasn’t all been wine and roses — his fourth feature-length effort, 2004’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, represented a fairly steep comedown after the highs of Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, suggesting he’d indulged a little too deeply in his fondness for quirky characters in the depths of ennui. Still, a person can only be so upset with a well-cast dramedy about an oddball oceanographer (Bill Murray) out for revenge against the “jaguar shark” that murdered his partner, and even if Aquatic is the critical laggard in Anderson’s oeuvre, it still has its fans among the pundits — like Bill Muller of the Arizona Republic, who wrote, “It’s too fragmented, lacks pace and is filled with so many eccentricities that it’s hard to discern the point, if Anderson is even trying to make one. But watching Anderson fail is still more rewarding that watching other filmmakers succeed.”

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