Too few filmmakers pair a very specific visual style with a unique sound to make something wholly original and unmistakably theirs. But one who does this brilliantly is Wes Anderson. You don’t even need to see the credits to know the creative origins of The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic, or any other Wes Anderson classic.
While Anderson’s earliest entries were punctuated by vintage electric pop from both sides of the pond, his musical palate has evolved along with his cinematic approach, incorporating original songs and scores from a host of musical talents. No matter where he draws his influence, Anderson seems to know exactly what it will take to move a particular scene from good or great to memorable and unforgettable.
Considering we celebrated the 15th anniversary of The Royal Tenenbaums last week, it is time to take a look at some of the best-scored scenes from his career so far, which, when assembled, come together for the perfect Wes Anderson mixtape.
Bottle Rocket: Love, “Alone Again Or”
In Anderson’s feature film debut, Bottle Rocket, he showed off his ability to tell a whole story inside of just a few minutes. Backed by a song from semi-obscure psychedelic flamenco band Love, Anthony Adams (Luke Wilson) swims in a motel pool while he gazes at, meets, and then falls in love with Inez (Lumi Cavazos), one of the maids on staff. While Anderson’s distinct shot composition and affinity for perfect symmetry was still being developed, his ability to use a pop song to narrate a sequence was already fully realized.
Rushmore: The Faces, “Ooh, La La”
As the curtain starts to close on the saga of student playwright Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), The Faces’ “Ooh La Lah” puts a perfect bow on a movie defined by mod fashions and a British invasion soundtrack. Featuring a rare vocal performance from guitarist Ronny Wood, he sings about a conversation between a grandfather and his grandson, the kind that’s chock full of the kind of wisdom that can only be acquired by hindsight. As the movie’s cast of characters all come together to fill the final frame while Max and Rosemary (Olivia Williams) share a dance, the song’s infectious refrain seems to sum up the movie completely.
The Royal Tenenbaums: Nico, “These Days”
Chances are, this is the first scene that comes to mind when you hear the words ‘Royal Tenenbaums,‘ and for good reason. Following Margo Tenenbaum’s (Gwenyth Paltrow) slow-motion exit from a Green Line bus while her step-brother, Richie (Luke Wilson), eagerly anticipates her arrival, Nico’s rendition of Jackson Browne’s ode to regret seems to tell us the entire story between these two characters in the span of just a verse or two. As Richie stands smirking in silence while Margo stands there making small-talk, the song lets us know just how much these two characters mean to one another while underscoring the aching, semi-requited love the two have struggled with their entire lives.
The Life Aquatic: Seu Jorge, “Rebel Rebel”
One of the most charming aspects of The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou was musician Seu Jorge, who played safety expert Pelé dos Santos and would pop up occasionally to sing absolutely beautiful renditions of David Bowie songs in his native Portuguese. While a handful appear throughout the film, it’s when Santos is sitting atop a crow’s nest outside the Zissou compound, strumming away at his acoustic guitar and playing a melodic rendition of Bowie’s anthemic “Rebel Rebel” that stands out. As Pelé sits back, watching the plane carrying Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) land on the beach, this almost incidental interlude has a kind gentle fragility that’s eventually echoed by the film’s emotional climax.
The Darjeeling Limited: The Kinks, “This Time Tomorrow”
It’s all-too-appropriate that Anderson’s colorful road trip epic, The Darjeeling Limited, which follows three brothers at various stages of crisis as they try to reconnect, starts out with The Kinks’ 1970 ballad about lamenting the distance felt after spending too much time away from family. Written back when Kinks’ frontman Ray Davies was starting to resent his life as a road-weary rock star, the idea clearly connects with all three of the movie’s lead characters, who are all wondering where they’ll be the next day as they wander rudderless through life. It’s a real shame that Bill Murray missed the train, though.
The Fantastic Mr. Fox: Jarvis Cocker, “Petey’s Song”
As a fan of British rocker and former Pulp frontman, Wes Anderson gave Jarvis Cocker a role in his stop-motion adventure The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and even tasked him with coming up with a song that brings us up to speed with Mr. Fox’s (George Clooney) numerous schemes and tunnels and such. While the song’s humdrum vocal delivery isn’t entirely out of place (the song is mostly a narrative tool) it isn’t until Franklin Bean (Michael Gambon) creeps out of the shadows to scold Cocker over his lazy songwriting that it becomes Anderson’s first musical moment to break the fourth wall. It also elicits a huge laugh.
Moonrise Kingdom: Francois Hardy, “Le Temps De L’amour”
Anderson’s tale of a summer camp, circa 1965, features an original score throughout, with only a handful of scenes getting a more traditional pop music soundtrack. One of those scenes is when Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) dance on a beach to this song from Francois Hardy’s 1963 debut album Tous Les Garçons Et Les Filles (which translates to All The Boys And Girls). Suzy calls it her favorite album of all time, and the only one she brought with her to play on her portable record player. It’s a delightfully awkward, supremely touching moment that captures a burgeoning romance between two characters on the cusp of adolescence.
The Royal Tenenbaums: Van Morrison, “Everyone”
As Alec Baldwin’s somber narration starts to bring the film to a close, the camera surveys the Tenenbaum family as they gather silently around Royal’s (Gene Hackman) grave, allowing us the chance to see the poignant, playful inscription on his headstone, boasting that he “died tragically rescuing his family from the wreckage of a destroyed sinking battleship.” Then, slowly, the clavinet intro to Van Morrison’s “Everyone” slowly starts to fade into the background, while his vocals muse about a hopeful reunion between old friends.
As we watch the Tenenbaum family exit the tiny fenced in area of the graveyard in ever-so-slight slow-motion, Morrison’s lyrics come with a breath of confidence, even suggesting that their best days may still lie ahead. And as the gate swings closed, suddenly you realize that the inscription on Royal’s gravestone might’ve been more than a small bit of hyperbolic indulgence.
Stream the full playlist below or via Spotify