Part One: The Epiphany

All my life, I have thought of myself as a film lover — a cinephile, some might call it. I inherited this love for movies from my parents. Growing up, they shared the movies that were so important to them with me. Some of the ones that stuck with me are Stand by Me, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Sixteen Candles. Watching these movies helped me feel more connected to my parents and I learned about how these films could capture a specific feeling, speaking to a shared experience with the viewer. Movies are powerful because they have the ability to make you feel something. Though I love watching movies, I admit that I don’t know much about the history of film, and I think that now is the time to change that. I have never fully immersed myself in a specific director’s full body of work. Cue my stroke of convenient genius: “Why don’t I pick a famous director and watch all of their films?” Here we stand, at the edge of the ocean, ready to embark on a voyage of film.

To start this journey off, we have Wes Anderson. I have always heard film bros* refer to him as the God of filmmaking, worshipping the very ground he walks on. I decided to watch all his work, in chronological order. Prior to this experiment, I had only seen three of his movies: Fantastic Mr. Fox, Isle of Dogs and The French Dispatch. I remembered these movies as artistic and charming, so I was excited to expand what I knew about his filmography. Still, I felt nervous, as he has quite a substantial body of work — 10 films in his arsenal, to be exact.

Be warned — slight spoilers of Wes Anderson’s movies ahead. Since the objective of this piece is to introduce you to Anderson’s films and hopefully inspire some to watch, I will try my best to give away as little as possible. 

* A film bro, as defined by the ever-reputable Urban Dictionary, is “an arrogant and often condescending person who pretends to know a lot about film.”

Part Two: Classic Wes

Wes Anderson has been refining his craft for quite a while now. Every Wes Anderson movie includes a few distinct trademarks. He employs the use of symmetry, drawing the viewers into his whimsical universe. Shots of interest include bird’s-eye views of peculiar spreads of things, a unique panning and tracking style and x-ray shots of his maximalist set designs. These sets are full of lively colors, yet limited to specific color palettes, and the font choices in each film are absolutely scrumptious to the eye. The characters are quirky and imperfect, which humanizes them to the audience. These characters are typically played by a recurring group of actors — some of the usual suspects being Owen and Luke Wilson, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Anjelica Hutson. 

These particular style choices make his films instantly recognizable. There is a certain charm to his style — the universe he has created is immersive and indescribably his own. Watching his films in succession lets you see the way his style has changed over time, which makes it even more enjoyable. I went into this project skeptical as I had heard a lot of hype. However, I have come to appreciate him as an auteur. His films contain little quirks that he minutely micromanaged in order to align with his overall view, and I recognize how much vision and creativity that takes. His movies are so full of his style that they are practically overflowing with Anderson-ness. Wes Anderson movies transcend genre, and there is one for every kind of person. 

Part Three: Which Anderson Film is For You?

When I was first going into this project, I was planning on doing a ranking, and then talking about each film in the order I decided to rank them. As I continued to watch, I noticed that after every movie I said pretty much the same thing: “That one was my favorite!” Each movie had unique elements that captured my heart. I learned that all of Anderson’s films are my favorite in their own unique way.  

At the end of it all, I failed to create a ranking. What I have decided on instead is a list to help you find the movie that would suit you best. I truly believe that every Wes Anderson movie is good — I did not feel like there was a single one not worth watching. Without further ado, here is the list, in no particular order.

The one everyone should watch: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Set in 1930s Europe, The Grand Budapest Hotel combines comedy and crime to create 100 perfect minutes of excitement and laughter that you just can’t take your eyes off of. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a formerly bustling and extravagant ski resort operated by the ever-accommodating host Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) and his best pal Zero (Tony Revolori), next-in-line for the job. The story is exciting and adventurous. Anderson has such a humor to all his films without them being just a comedy — there is so much more to it than just a laugh. I just really loved how this one made me feel. I was completely invested in it the entire time. If you don’t take anything else away from this list, I hope you at least watch this movie. ★★★★★

The one for those with the broken family you can’t help but love: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

This one rings more true to Anderson’s classic story-telling, as it is full of character development. The Royal Tenenbaums is a character study of a family that has fallen apart at the hands of its patriarch, the titular Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman). The three Tenenbaum children, Chas (Ben Stiller), Richie (Luke Wilson) and Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) are all child prodigies in their own fields — business, tennis and writing, respectively. They now all live under the same roof for the first time in over a decade, following the news that their father is dying of stomach cancer. Royal is characterized not as an “asshole,” but instead as “kind of a son of a bitch.” He is also a pathological liar. Hijinks ensue. This is definitely one to watch if you can because the film is both visually pleasing and comical. It must be mentioned that it features a very important scene set to a song by Elliott Smith, who is one of my most favorite musicians of all time, so that was a lovely treat. I highly recommend this one. ★★★★★

The one for those picked last in dodgeball: Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

This is a movie that is after the hearts of formerly friendless children. Maybe they lingered on the outskirts of multiple friend groups, but never felt comfortable or safe in any one place. They always felt different, sticking out like a sore thumb — the ones who quietly fell behind the group on the sidewalk when there was not enough room. Alright, I might be projecting here a little bit, but this movie felt like a warm hug. Moonrise Kingdom is the story of two young outcasts and their naive, forbidden love. The characters are charming underdogs, and you really root for them all the way through the movie. It has a pretty intense climax — which was a nice change of pace, as many critics argue that Anderson’s movies typically tend to be about nothing. The ending is also delightful.

Without giving too much away, this movie has a few pretty intense scenes where something unexpected happens. Anderson makes the interesting choice to not show the action of the scene, just the sound effects of the occurrence followed by a visual that displays the aftermath. He is taking hold of the art of the implied, which I found piqued my interest and added power to what could have been gruesome to watch. He is basically telling the viewers, “I’ll spare you the grim details, you get the idea.” This was the first time I noticed this in one of his films, but I think it is a cool trademark to add to his arsenal. ★★★★★

The one for the mischievous child at heart: Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Anderson’s style shines its beautiful light on the audience in Fantastic Mr. Fox. This is a stop motion film, so with that, every little detail has been very carefully planned through, and it shows. Based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name, Fantastic Mr. Fox is about a charming fox’s extravagant, three-part raid of his fox-hating human neighbors. This movie is full of whimsy and wit. I love the character design, the coloring and the set design. Every single aspect of this film is just so insanely pleasing to look at. It was such a treat to watch — truly a joy. I remember watching this as a kid too, which added a nice layer of nostalgia for me. I would love to see Wes Anderson’s take on other Dahl stories, as their styles meld together quite nicely. ★★★★★

The one for those with baggage (physical and emotional): The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

The Darjeeling Limited is easily one of Anderson’s most underrated works. It opens with a chaotic and funny scene where we watch Bill Murray chasing after a train, only to be bested by one of our main protagonists. This opening was great in that it throws us into the world of Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack Whitman (Jason Schwartzman), brothers who have grown apart in the years following their father’s death.

All three brothers have a strained relationship with their mother. This manifests in Francis having a peculiar maternal relationship with Peter and Jack. I would describe his love as smothering, the kind that makes your cuddly pet squirm out of your clutches when you just want to hug and snuggle them so much. I found this very realistic portrayal of complex familial love to be interesting to watch unfold. ★★★★½ 

The one for those who use humor to mend their grief: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) is one of those characters that you hate to love, and I think that those characters are the ones that typically stick with me the most. I am starting to notice a trend with this kind of Anderson character, the ah-he-sucks-but-why-do-I-kinda-like-him type. I love the moral conflict that Anderson puts on the viewer by focusing on characters like this. People are not perfect — they contain multitudes. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou paints an interesting picture of a once-great researcher who is dealing with the loss of his best friend. I was surprised by the emotional turn this movie took. I also loved the small stop-motion animation segments and the soundtrack, which consists of acoustic David Bowie covers sung in Portuguese. These touches add a sense of magic to the film as a whole. ★★★★½ 

The one for the prankster who hated high school: Rushmore (1998)

Looking back, this one may have been more forgettable than I thought. I enjoyed it, but it doesn’t really stick out very much. However, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an entertaining watch. Rushmore is about Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), an overly ambitious prep school student who falls in love with a teacher. Yeah, the plot might be a little problematic, though what sticks out to me most from this film is Bill Murray’s performance. His hilarious physical comedy made this movie for me. And who doesn’t love a classic prank war between a middle-aged father and a 15-year-old boy, right? ★★★★

The one for the Wes Anderson buff: Bottle Rocket (1996)

Since I decided I would watch these movies in chronological order, Bottle Rocket was the first movie I watched. It starts when protagonist Anthony (Luke Wilson) leaves a voluntary mental hospital, faking an escape so that his best friend, Dignan (Owen Wilson) thinks they are about to start a life of crime. They are charmingly bad at being self-proclaimed criminals. 

The movie is definitely fun to watch. You can see here and there the seedlings of classic Anderson. Particularly, I noticed the beginnings of his now-classic comedic style, eccentric characters and interesting bird’s-eye views. This one may not be his strongest film, but that is understandable — it was the first film he directed. It is a great film to watch if you are looking to see the origins of Wes Anderson. ★★★½ 

The one for those who cry watching TikToks about man’s best friend: Isle of Dogs (2018)

I have a soft spot for this one. I have seen it only once before and it is a fond memory. I saw it with my dad at a pre-screening in 2018. It was so cool to experience a brand new film with such a small group of people.

I rewatched Isle of Dogs for this article, and it was just how I remember it. Though it is arguably one of Anderson’s weaker pieces, I still enjoyed watching it. It has beautiful stop-motion animation, the same that was used in Fantastic Mr. Fox. If you enjoyed Fantastic Mr. Fox and feel like you can’t get enough of that style, I would recommend this one. It is full of adventure and contempt for the government, as well as a heartwarming story about dogs that may make you shed a tear. Or maybe it is just really easy for me to cry watching stuff about dogs, I just love them so much. (Cut me some slack, I’m a Pisces moon!) ★★★½ 

The one for the artsy film (or journalism) major: The French Dispatch (2021)

Being that The French Dispatch is Anderson’s most recent release, I was very excited to see it in the movie theater. However, I was a tad bit disappointed. I actually watched this movie twice just to make sure I felt the same the second time around, and I did. After having watched every other Wes Anderson movie, I think I liked it less on the second viewing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still an enjoyable movie that depicts the journalistic process in a very interesting and accurate way. Yet, knowing Anderson’s expert storytelling skills, I was left wanting more. The format of this story was interesting, but as a viewer, I wish I could have learned more about the other characters in the newsroom rather than some random stories for the magazine.

With that being said, this movie is Anderson gloating and flexing his cinematic muscles for all of us to gawk at. It is practically overflowing with technical skill, always offering something to look at — almost too much to look at. I remember during my first watch, I felt overwhelmed, like there was so much on screen that I did not know where to look. Watching this movie again, with prior knowledge of what was going on, I felt more confident to focus on some of the minor intricacies of each scene. Still, a cool movie to watch if you are particularly interested in Anderson’s cinematic style. ★★★

Part Four: I think I’m a Wes Anderson film bro.

10 movies and just under 17 hours of watching later, I have officially watched every Wes Anderson movie made thus far. I am ecstatic to be able to have those bragging rights. It is so interesting to see his films develop over the course of his career. I especially like the way certain style choices that appear to be minute are recurring throughout his body of work. For instance, the organization of Dignan’s itinerary in Bottle Rocket is showcased by an overhead shot — a type of shot we then see appear regularly in every subsequent film. Little details like this make me smile to myself when watching, especially now after seeing all of his films. My favorite thing about Anderson’s films is how emotional they make me feel. From first glance, his movies might just appear to be quirky and aesthetically pleasing. However, underneath the surface usually lies a profound emotional story about imperfect characters.

His films remind me of this made-up word I saw on an Instagram post once — sonder. Sonder is the realization that every person that you see in passing is living a life just as complex as your own. They have their own classes, jobs, love interests, traumas and worries — just like you. Anderson’s films capture this phenomenon by focusing on a character and giving the audience a glimpse into their nuanced life.

Without this project I would not have gotten to watch what are now some of my favorite movies, specifically The Royal Tenenbaums and The Grand Budapest Hotel — though I genuinely enjoyed every single one of his movies. I hope you found at least one movie you want to watch out of these 10, and maybe you will find your new favorite movie like I did. Happy watching!


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