Wes Anderson is a director with an unmistakable visual style. His camera movements are deliberate, with frequent pan and zoom shots that create a unique energy to his films. The Wes Anderson world is one of highly saturated colors and meticulously planned scenes that feel like a stage play. It is so distinctive fans will often creatively mimic this look and feel in memes, photos, and short videos of their own on social media.
Anderson’s visual style is not the only consistent element of his work. His characters and themes share similarities as well. The acting is often deadpan with amusing results, the families are frequently dysfunctional but not irreparable, and the characters are quirky and unique.
Anderson is also consistent with his collaborators, utilizing many of the same individuals in front of and behind the camera. He regularly works with actors Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Angelica Houston, Jason Schwartzman, Jeff Goldblum, Adrien Brody, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Willem Dafoe, Francis McDormand, Bob Balaban, Saoirse Ronan, and Waris Ahluwalia. Anderson also co-writes all his films with a rotation of the same collaborators, including Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Roman Coppola, Noah Baumbach, and Hugo Guinness.
Anderson’s Style Continued…
Additionally, while his production designers vary, which suggests how much Anderson’s style is tied to him, he has exclusively worked with two cinematographers. Robert Yeoman is the director of photography for Anderson’s eight live-action films. Tristan Oliver is the cinematographer for his two animated efforts. These collaborations create a collective unit of creativity that shows up on screen and give these films a cohesive tone and style.
Lastly, while the photos and videos inspired by Anderson are fun, they don’t capture the essence of his brilliance. Because Anderson’s films have such quirkiness, they are deceptively profound. There are often severe moments, creating a fascinating juxtaposition to the fanciful world his characters live in. Consequently, a Wes Anderson movie is like a confectionery fairy tale, equally sweet and melancholy, colorful but dark. His brilliance cannot be overstated.
Therefore, this ranking of his ten full-length films isn’t the best to worst. Each one is enjoyable. But I guarantee that, much like his films, my ranking is not typical.
1. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Moonrise Kingdom is Wes Anderson’s crowning glory with a sweet-natured, thoughtful, dreamy, somber, and hopeful story. Set in the summer of 1965, off the coast of New England, the story is about two 12-year-olds and the innocence of young love. Sam is an orphaned Khaki Scout who feels no one likes him. Suzy is a morose girl who feels neglected by her by-the-book lawyer parents. The two agree to run away together, leaving a search party searching for the wayward pair.
Anderson’s films often showcase childish adults and mature children. Such is the case with Moonrise Kingdom. But the brilliance lies with the actual truth being somewhere in between. Sam and Suzy are exceptionally prepared but fail to consider their actions’ ramifications. But their feelings are true, and their motivations are pure. The pangs of adolescence are keenly displayed here. And the adults learn some apt lessons never to underestimate a child’s intelligence, determination, or feelings.
The movie captures the thrill of first love and the desire to find a place where you feel accepted exactly as they are. It’s a touching, warm, witty movie that is Anderson’s absolute finest.
2. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
Capturing the whimsy and wit of author Roald Dahl is challenging, but Anderson accomplishes the task. This stop-motion animated film follows the mischievous and confident Mr. Fox, who begins to feel complacent with life and can’t resist returning to his thieving ways. When he puts together a team to pull off a heist, little does he dream of the wrath that would befall his family and community.
Fantastic Mr. Fox more than lives up to its name. The animation is dazzling with a beautiful autumnal color palette. The humor is sharp, clever, and laugh-out-loud. And the themes of self-reflection and family are deep and wholesome.
3. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Family dysfunction and eccentricities are given humorous and heartfelt life in The Royal Tenenbaums. This film tells the tale of Royal, who was not the best father or husband. He wants to make things right with his family, which includes his three grown children, all going through personal issues, and his ex-wife, who finds herself courted by her kind financial manager.
This film is so worthwhile because it’s the perfect blend of genuine heart and sharp satire. The character’s costumes and personalities are as distinctive as the meticulous production design, from Margot’s sullen demeanor and fur coat to the grieving and intense Chas and his son’s matching red tracksuits.
Moreover, the performances, particularly from Gene Hackman, Luke Wilson, and Ben Stiller, are imbued with humor and touching vulnerability. The Royal Tenenbaum’s was the first Wes Anderson film to prove that his movies are more than merely quirky characters. They have a colorful and fancy sheen, but there’s a genuine heart underneath.
4. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
If you want to introduce the Wes Anderson world to someone, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is the perfect film. This movie solidified his visual and thematic style. It’s a movie that combines a fanciful world of sea life with a much harsher reality.
The story follows Steve Zissou and his team as they search for the shark that killed his partner and mentor. Aboard his custom vessel, along with his intrepid group of explorers and unpaid interns, is a son he’s only just met and a pregnant reporter who tries to hide her admiration and skepticism.
The Life Aquatic has twists, hearty laughs, and genuine danger. The juxtaposition between the whimsical ocean life and the realities of pirates and tragedy makes this movie fascinating and compelling. With a fantastic cast of characters and a David Bowie soundtrack, The Life Aquatic has cool and wild energy, making it one of Anderson’s most compelling efforts.
5. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
Out of all of Anderson’s films, The Darjeeling Limited captures the theme of the existential crisis the most profoundly, but with warmth and subtlety. Each of his movies has offbeat characters struggling with identity, insecurities, or feelings of loneliness or isolation. This film has all of these but with the most uncomplicated plot.
A year after their father’s death, three brothers travel to India to reconnect with each other and find their mother, who has joined a convent. Francis is recovering from a motorcycle accident and is obsessively trying to control everything. Peter is plagued with self-doubt about his impending fatherhood. And Jack is struggling with letting go of a toxic relationship.
On their travels, their struggles bleed into their collective journey in a moving and beautiful way. The film’s use of symbolism is also very effective as the brothers are carrying around their father’s luggage, a symbol of their grief, pain, and issues they’re learning to let go of. The Darjeeling Limited is a movie showcasing age-old wisdom- it’s not about the destination but the journey.
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Admittedly, it took a second viewing for me to fully appreciate the greatness of The Grand Budapest Hotel. Though I don’t rank it as highly as others, it’s easy to understand the tremendous praise this film receives. Anderson has a specific set of stylistic elements he typically employs. In this film, these elements are put into overdrive to incredible results.
The main plot line follows the unlikely friendship between a bellboy and the head concierge, a refined man accused of murder. The film is a flashback within another flashback relaying the story of a hotel and its remarkable history. Featuring engaging relationships, gorgeous, colorful costumes and design, and an inspired performance by Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel is an exceptional exploration of seizing life and living each day with enthusiasm and integrity.
7. Bottle Rocket (1996)
Wes Anderson’s first film, which he co-wrote with star Owen Wilson, is a sweet and funny film that establishes the tone and feel he would soon develop. The plot is simple. Three inept thieves try to plan the ultimate heist. Still, they are distracted by love, hindered by obnoxious brothers, and thwarted by their lack of skills.
While the visual style that the director is now known for is much more subdued, the themes, characters, acting, and dialogue are pure Wes Anderson. Bottle Rocket is his lightest film, but it’s a worthy and delightful directorial debut.
8. Rushmore (1998)
Rushmore is one of the funniest of Anderson’s films and one of the most thoughtful. The story follows the incredibly inventive, eccentric, and seemingly mature 15-year-old student at Rushmore Academy, Max Fischer. He develops a crush on a sweet and kind teacher and forms a friendship with a bitter factory industrialist. But when these two adults become involved, Max’s adolescent behavior comes out in full force.
Some of Rushmore’s plot is unhealthy by today’s standards, particularly Max’s borderline obsessive crush. But the journey his character goes on is a rather inspiring one. The film is a funny look at growing up and letting go, regardless of age.
9. The French Dispatch (2021)
The French Dispatch is Wes Anderson’s most unique and inventive film, which says something. The plot tells three stories surrounding a weekly magazine in France and its fearless, matter-of-fact, supportive editor-in-chief. With the magazine’s impending end following his death, a colorful array of characters gather to remember and honor this man.
The film is brimming with creativity as each story is presented like an article in the title magazine. There are artists, young revolutionaries, chefs, benefactors, criminals, love, passion, tragedy, and triumphs.
Each story has its virtues. But the most inspired segment transforms into a thoroughly engaging animated sequence. The combination of stories may be disjointed. Still, in the end, the film comes together for a genuinely touching moment.
10. Isle of Dogs (2018)
While I would call Isle of Dogs Anderson’s weakest of his film, it’s still an enjoyable effort that has fantastic animation. In Japan, a deadly dog-flu forces every canine to be sent to an offshore island. When a young boy defies his uncle and sets out to find his beloved companion, an adventure begins, and truths are revealed.
Given its subject matter, the story is difficult to watch in a post-pandemic world. But putting that aside, the film has its delights and depth. The animation style will dazzle audiences, and dog lovers will be moved. Isle of Dogs is ultimately sweet and incredibly thought-provoking.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Marianne Paluso is a freelance writer and artist and holds a Masters Degree in English and Children’s Literature. Inspired by her favorite films, television, theme parks and all things pop culture, she especially loves Disney, classic films, fairy tales, period dramas, musicals, adventures, mysteries, and a good rom-com. She joined Wealth of Geeks in 2021, and has also contributed to The Nerd Machine, Catholic News Agency. She writes on her own website TheGirlyNerd.com, creates art that is sold on Redbubble and Etsy, and also partakes in the occasional Disneybound, cosplay, and YouTube video