Ranking Wes Anderson’s Movies: A Definitive, Quantitative, Scientific Analysis

Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel (review here) hits theaters in limited release today, and thus, what better time to take the multi-faceted art works of the Anderson oeuvre and boil them down into a single unit so that they may be incorporated into a crude ranking system? I can think of few better ways to start fights among friends. Bottle Rocket over Rushmore? Put up your dukes, you philistine! (*throws carnation to the floor*)

In any case, as we like to say, KNIVES OUT, PANSIES! IT’S TIME TO QUANTIFY INTANGIBLES! Just remember that these rankings are all in good fun, I wouldn’t want anyone to spill a soy chai.

1. Royal Tenenbaums

It’s a tough choice between this and Rushmore, but those are the two standouts, the only real possibilities for one and two. It’s easy to be annoyed with Royal Tenenbaums 13 years after the fact because of the easy Halloween costume possibilities (somehow the same phenomenon doesn’t detract as much from The Big Lebowski, I’m not sure why), but the first time I saw it, that scene with Eli Cash’s paintings made me laugh probably harder than I have at anything else in a Wes Anderson movie. By the way, my personal theory is that Eli Cash was intended as a dopey knockoff of Cormac McCarthy. The whole bit about the obsolete vernacular, and the reading – tell me this doesn’t sound like a Cormac McCarthy parody:

Vaya con dios, muchachos.

Royal Tenenbaums established most of the tendencies we now know as Wes Andersonisms – slow motion, yellow text, young love, people in uniform, the master/protege relationship, tracking shots, visual staging humor – but it also has the most overlap between the visual staging he’s become known for, and the naughtiness of his earlier work. The rebelliousness is muted compared to Rushmore, but all of the Gene Hackman scenes are still pretty amazing. I know the rumor is Gene Hackman was supposedly a pain in the ass on the set, but it was so, so worth it.

2. Rushmore

This is a great scene to put on any time I want to be in a good mood.

As visually masterful as Wes Anderson is in later movies, like Moonrise Kingdom and Grand Budapest Hotel, I watch Rushmore and miss the days when the visuals were second to the content. The best thing about it was that it was a movie about two shitheads. It was legitimately rebellious, Wes Anderson’s later movies seem so mannered by comparison. Rushmore has easily my favorite Bill Murray performance in any Wes Anderson film, and it actually made me like Jason Schwartzman.

Anderson is so pretty and precious now – I think he still was back in the Rushmore days, but pretty and precious staging goes great with characters acting like total pricks. It’s that salty and sweet combo. Rushmore had that “f*ck you” edge to it, and I miss that.

And of course, no bad pun has ever been delivered so witheringly as in the dinner scene.

These are OR scrubs.

Oh, are they?

3. Fantastic Mr. Fox

Anderson’s lone foray into animation makes me wish he’d do it more. Maybe this makes me old, but the stop-motion, traditional animation with practical effects looks a thousand times cooler to me than any computer animation (and is undoubtedly much harder).

I love Fantastic Mr. Fox, but, judging by his post-Fantastic Mr. Fox output, part of me wonders if this was the movie that led Wes Anderson to start treating his flesh-and-blood actors like an animator treats figurines.

4. The Life Aquatic, With Steve Zissou

Probably Wes Anderson’s strangest film. Life Aquatic tends to be polarizing, because it’s almost entirely production design driven. I like it, but even for me, there are entire scenes that don’t work at all (the amphibious assault, for instance). The idea of an entirely production design-driven film doesn’t seem that odd after Moonrise Kingdom and especially Grand Budapest Hotel, but I put The Life Aquatic above those because it was so unexpected at the time. It still felt slightly subversive.

5. Grand Budapest Hotel

As a commenter in my review put it, you just want to live inside this movie. The sets, costumes, and choreography are about as good as any movie has ever been. It’s so rich in texture, it would probably amazing to watch on mushrooms. That said, it feels even more mannered than Moonrise Kingdom, and the only thing unexpected about it is how good it looks (even if you expected it to look amazingly good, it still looks better than that). And really? Another stupid little kid wedding? Puke. Part of me wishes there had been no dialog except F. Murray Abraham narrating the entire thing as a story book. I would download that guy reading a tampon box as an audiobook.

6. Moonrise Kingdom

Like Richie and Margot running away to a hotel, but expanded to a whole movie! Moonrise was strange for me, because I hated it throughout a bulk of the middle of the movie, especially that beach scene. That felt like a Stella Artois commercial. But the ending was so perfect that I almost came back around. Still, as amazing as it was to look at, it was still about little kids falling in love, and I hate watching little kids fall in love. At least in Royal Tenenbaums there was a quasi-incest angle.

7. Bottle Rocket

I know, I know, I didn’t have the foresight to recognize Wes Anderson as a genius auteur back when he was fresh out of film school. It’s just that Bottle Rocket kind of nails every film school trope – two regular guys having witty conversations about nothing, someone’s in a psych ward because everyone’s got issues, a half-baked heist, an unconventional romance, and someone has a gun for some reason. There’s good stuff in it, but on the whole it’s sort of an aimless ramble.

8. The Darjeeling Limited

Seriously, does anyone remember anything about this movie? They were in India and there was a train and Owen Wilson had a bandage on his face for some reason? I think the moral of the story was, “Wes Anderson really likes India.”