Director Ranked: Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson is one of my favourite directors of all time. From his beautiful cinematography, his incredible folky/early-rock soundtracks, his deeply developed characters exploring our many personal flaws, to his use of brilliant actors outside of their typical roles, many of whom are seen frequently in his work, his work is always sublime.

Here are my rankings of all of his films.

1. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Based on Roald Dahl’s children’s novel, an urban fox cannot resist returning to his farm raiding ways, but must help his community survive when the farmers’ are forced to retaliate.

“That was pure wild animal craziness.”

Starring (voices): George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Michael Gambon, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe, and Bill Murray

A personal favourite of mine is Anderson’s adaptation of the classic Roald Dahl book, Fantastic Mr Fox, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2009. As one of his most recent pieces of work, it was hard to guess whether his style of film-making was going to work as well as a stop-motion animation, but we obviously should never have doubted.

With a brilliant voice cast, including many of Anderson’s regulars, this really is a fantastic film. George Clooney voices the lead fox and adds a huge charm to his character with his cheeky wit, whilst Meryl Streep adds a pinch of class as his wife. The dialogue is comical, the characters are individually brilliant, the soundtrack really compliments the film’s visual style, and the animation itself is stunning. Most of all, Anderson pays such close attention to detail that he has created a film with very little flaws, if any at all.

You can buy the DVD on Amazon here.

2. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

The adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous hotel from the fictional Republic of Zubrowka between the first and second World Wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.

“You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilisation left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that’s what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant… oh, fuck it.”

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Saoirse Ronan, F. Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Mathieu Amalric, Tilda Swinton, Jude Law, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman

Ralph Fiennes is hilarious and Wes Anderson’s film-making charm shines throughout this colourful and funny adventure.

You can buy the DVD on Amazon here.

3. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

A pair of young lovers flee their New England town, causing a local search party to fan out and find them.

“We’re in love. We just want to be together. What’s wrong with that?”

Starring: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, and Jason Schwartzman

A wonderful Wes Anderson classic and always one of my favourites to watch (as well as being another critic favourite which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 2012).

Yet again set around a detached reality, which is sometimes Anderson’s biggest downfall in his work, the naive qualities and simplistic structure works at its best here with the boy scout premise. It’s quirky, has stunning cinematography, and it is incredibly well scripted.

And let’s not forget the cast, one of the most stand out qualities of Anderson’s films, which is probably at its best here, this time including a number of brilliant additions to Anderson’s originals, including Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, and Tilda Swinton. It’s the young stars that deserve the credit here, though, as Moonrise Kingdom is undeniably Anderson’s most innocently charming film to date.

You can buy the DVD on Amazon here.

4. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)

With a plan to exact revenge on a mythical shark that killed his partner, oceanographer Steve Zissou rallies a crew that includes his estranged wife, a journalist, and a man who may or may not be his son.

“Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go on an overnight drunk, and in 10 days I’m going to set out to find the shark that ate my friend and destroy it. Anyone who wants to tag along is more than welcome.”

Starring: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Willem Dafoe, Michael Gambon, and Anjelica Huston

This was the first Wes Anderson film that I watched and, because of that, I was left not knowing what to think of it at the time. Having seen more Anderson films since then, however, I appreciate this film a lot more, especially the quality of the cinematography which you quickly come to love about Anderson’s work. With a number of stunning underwater scenes, as well, which were created using stop-motion animation under the direction of Henry Selick, the man behind The Nightmare Before Christmas, it is definitely one of Anderson’s more visually striking films.

As usual, the cast is great, especially with the addition of Willem Defoe and Cate Blanchett to the Wes Anderson regulars, and the character developments are some of the best. I was thoroughly impressed by Owen Wilson in this, too, as this was the first time that I was able to start taking him seriously.

Whilst the film is immensely enjoyable to watch, I wouldn’t recommend it as the first Wes Anderson film to watch. You need to appreciate some of his quirks and eccentricities before you can really admire this film, which was trashed by many critics for being “smug, ironic and artificial” at the time of its release.

You can buy the DVD on Amazon here.

5. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

An estranged family of former child prodigies reunites when one of their members announces that he has a terminal illness.

“Look, I know I’m going to be the bad guy on this one, but I just want to say the last six days have been the best six days of probably my whole life.”

Starring: Gene Hackman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, and Anjelica Huston

Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 2001, The Royal Tenenbaums is a brutally honest family drama about an estranged family of former child prodigies. With more brilliant cinematic sequences and a soundtrack that fits the film to a key, this is another of Anderson’s best, and is probably his most critically acclaimed to date. What Anderson’s films do well is the way that they will always fill you with a sense of joy, though sometimes with a sense of sadness at the same time, and that’s what shines through this film as it serves as a great feel-good film.

Yet again with a brilliant, mainstream cast stepping out of their comfort zones into a not-so-mainstream film, Anderson is able to create such magnificent characters. Gwyneth Paltrow gives a brilliant performance, one of her most definitive, I feel, but the cast is also welcomed by the hugely comical Gene Hackman and Ben Stiller.

With more brilliant cinematic sequences and a soundtrack that fits the film to a key, as well, it’s no wonder that this is one of Anderson’s most acclaimed films.

You can buy the DVD on Amazon here.

6. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

One year after their father’s funeral, three brothers travel across India by train in an attempt to bond with one another.

“I wonder if the three of us would’ve been friends in real life. Not as brothers, but as people.”

Starring: Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Amara Karan, and Waris Ahluwalia

The Darjeeling Limited is often seen as one of Anderson’s most disappointing films, largely because it explores the same themes without really pushing any more boundaries. To sum the film up perfectly, I like to use a quote from the film itself: “I wonder if the three of us would’ve been friends in real life. Not as brothers, but as people.” It’s one of the greatest quality of Anderson’s work – the way he explores relationships and the characters individually at the same time, and that’s what I personally love so much about this film. Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman have a brilliant chemistry as brothers and each give superb performances. The Indian setting also suits Anderson’s style of filming really well, as his use of rich characters and colours really bring out its cultural characteristics.

You can buy the DVD on Amazon here.

7. Isle of Dogs (2018)

In the future, an outbreak of canine flu leads the mayor of a Japanese city to banish all dogs to an island that’s a garbage dump. The outcasts must soon embark on an epic journey when a 12-year-old boy arrives on the island to find his beloved pet.

“We’re a pack of scary, indestructable aplha dogs.”

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Liev Schreiber, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, and F. Murray Abraham

A really stunning animation and I love that the idea came from Wes Anderson spotting a road sign directing to the Isle of Dogs while shooting Fantastic Mr. Fox.

I love Wes Anderson’s style, but I think this is a difficult film to get into if you’re not a fan of his already. It’s definitely one of his more out-there and bolshie films, making it hard to engage with in the beginning, but the adventure is thrilling once it gets into the story.

You can buy the DVD on Amazon here.

8. Hotel Chevalier (2007)

Prequel to The Darjeeling Limited, this short prologue follows one heartbreaking history of love.

“If we fuck I’m gonna feel like shit tomorrow.”

Starring: Jason Schwartzman and Natalie Portman

This short captures Wes Anderson’s film style perfectly in only thirteen minutes. Jason Schwartzman and Natalie Portman are brilliant, and their dialogue and chemistry make an interesting bit of viewing. And then you get to see Portman’s bum, what’s not to like?

9. Rushmore (1998)

The king of Rushmore prep school is put on academic probation.

“Maybe I’m spending too much of my time starting up clubs and putting on plays. I should probably be trying harder to score chicks.”

Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, and Olivia Williams

I can’t help but place this near the bottom of my list. Sure it has everything that’s good about a Wes Anderson film, but I just didn’t engage with it as I have with his others. I’m finding it hard to see the film’s appeal, as it’s quirkiness is more on an unrelatable level, which, for me, is its biggest downfall. I’m not saying it’s a bad film, but this one wasn’t for me.

You can buy the DVD on Amazon here.

10. Bottle Rocket (1996)

A trio of friends put together an elaborate plan to pull off a simple robbery and go on the run.

“Isn’t it funny how you used to be in the nuthouse and now I’m in jail?”

Starring: Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Robert Musgrave, and Ned Dowd

As Wes Anderson’s debut feature, Bottle Rocket shows the very early, rough-around-the-edges stages of Anderson’s quirky directorial qualities. It doesn’t have the same feel as his later work, although it does share many similar characteristics, but it is definitely one of his funnier films. Owen and Luke Wilson are great together but, apart from the occasional few laughs they give, I didn’t enjoy much else.

Unfortunately, it was also a commercial failure but, despite this, the feature was enough to draw attention from critics and win Anderson and his collaborators a reputation among the biggest names in Hollywood. It may have been a failure in its day, but both the short and feature play a huge part in launching Anderson’s career and, for that, it’s hard not to appreciate them for their progressive qualities alone.

You can buy the DVD on Amazon here.

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About Charlie Morris

Proofreader and film blogger living in Cornwall.

5 Responses

  1. I’ve not seen Bottle Rocket (great name) or Rushmore, but I’ve counted myself a Wes Anderson fan since first seeing The Life Aquatic – which, incidentally, is my favourite. My order would go: Life Aquatic, Moonrise Kingdom, Fantastic Mr Fox, Royal Tenenbaums, Darjeeling – the others I’ve not seen. Hotel Chevalier is next for me. Also, saw Brothers Bloom recently. Not Anderson but really similar style from director Rian Johnson.

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