9. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
Like Rushmore, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a story about revenge. A renowned oceanographer, Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) gathers a team to hunt down the shark that ate his partner.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou has all the right ingredients for a classic Anderson movie: elaborate setting, eccentric characters, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and some visual treats. Plus, red bobble hats, blue wetsuits, and stop motion animation – albeit less sophisticated than what the director moves on to later in his career.
The film was a bit of a box office flop and received mixed reviews from critics. It now has a solid cult following but lacks some of the warmth and charm of Anderson’s later films.
8. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) is the eccentric head of an eccentric family. His children (Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow and Luke Wilson) were once child prodigies but are floundering in adulthood. For the first time in years they return to the same house as Royal is dying. Or so he says.
The characters are quirky and instantly recognisable thanks to the costume design of Karen Patch. Chas Tenenbaum (Ben Stiller) and his two children in their red sweatsuits are striking and memorable. However, something about the Tenenbaums is less likable than some later Anderson characters.
This is Wes Anderson’s third film and the first time he introduces a much wider ensemble cast. The quick cut editing helps to build this jumble of jigsaw pieces into a complete story. It is also the first time he really delves into what a dysfunctional family could look like and, wow, does he achieve that.
7. The French Dispatch (2021)
Arguably the most Wes Anderson film of all the Wes Anderson films. A whole degree could be compiled studying the intricate detailing of this film.
The French Dispatch is a veritable who’s who and features many of Anderson’s previously used actors – Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Adrian Brody and Tilda Swinton, to name just a few.
It is visually stunning, absurd, surreal, unique and poetic. It is Anderson’s love letter to journalists, and The New Yorker in particular. It is a short story collection of a film.
Anderson is a master storyteller and, by the very nature of this film, it cannot be one satisfying tale, so it falls short compared to his other more rounded, more complete movies. By including multiple short films too, Anderson takes the risk that some segments won’t appeal as much as others. Though Benicio Del Toro and Adrian Brody’s section of the film is as good as any feature-length offering.
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