Wes Anderson: Most Divisive Director Ever or Celebrate His Whole Catalogue?

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Wes Anderson: Most Divisive Director Ever or Celebrate His Whole Catalogue?

By Mike Roorda | Comment Diversions | September 13, 2013 | Comments ()


When talking with some friends recently one of them floated the theory that Wes Anderson is the most divisive director of our time. Not because he’s so avant garde or edgy that he makes us uncomfortable and confused, but because if you get ten people in a room who all like his films you will have ten very different opinions of his work, its high points and which ones were his clunkers.

I work with some pretty awesome folk, so at lunch we put this theory to the test. We figured out who had seen all of his feature length films; it helped if you could tick them all off without using IMDb. (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox and his most recent Moonrise Kingdom.)

Sure enough, my friend was right. NONE of us could come to consensus on his best/worst films. Not only did everyone have different views on the subject but they apparently were views that we all held with unreasonable and unrelenting fervor. Lines were crossed. Things were said. Some thought Darjeeling was a turd burger with stink sauce and that nothing would ever top Rushmore. One person insisted that The Royal Tenenbaums was clearly his best work and that Moonrise Kingdom was too cloyingly cute to be of any use to anyone.

Like I said, things got heated. So, why not unleash the same whirlwind here? Have at it folks. Of the movies one associates with Wes Anderson, which were his best and his worst so far? Give reasons. Irrationally passionate and incorrect as they may be, I wanna read them. For the record, if anyone says Rushmore didn’t blow goats and that the shot composition in Darjeeling wasn’t the most perfectly framed thing ever put to film they’re wrong, and stupid, and wrong.

(Publisher’s Note: Everyone knows that Bottle Rocket is the most rewatchable Wes Anderson, and that Life Aquatic is the most disappointing. How is this even a discussion! — DR

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • the dude

    4:bottle rocket
    5:moonrise kingdom

    These I LOVE, in that order.

    6:life Aquatic
    7: mr fox

    These I liked but didn't love

  • Jared

    I will admit I have not seen Rushmore so I'll take that off the table. My favorite is either Fantastic Mr.Fox or The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. It took fantastic mr.fox to make me a fan of Anderson in the first place and then it allowed me to go back and watch some stuff and watch films like Life Aquatic. I never liked his films before that point.. But I am older and wiser now. I still don't like TRT and the others I'm just ok on except Moonrise Kingdom which I also like.

  • Josh

    The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is my absolute favorite, because I felt that it was the best use of the ensemble, that and Bill Murray as the lead. I loved it. As for the worst, that's a loaded word. I thoroughly enjoy Rushmore but it is my least favorite of Anderson's movies. While I think Max Fischer is the shittiest shit to ever shit, but it was incredibly entertaining to see him evolve. I love them all. Here is my order: Zissou, Moonrise, Darjeeling, Tenenbaums, Fox, Rocket, and Rushmore.

  • Tommy

    1. Royal Tenenbaums (A+)

    2. Rushmore (A)

    3. Fantastic Mr. Fox (A)

    4. (Tie) Darjeeling Limited (A-)/Life Aquatic (A-)

    6. Bottle Rocket (B-)

    7. Moonrise Kingdom (C-)

  • Heather Mooney

    For me, The Royal Tennenbaums is the "best" but The Darjeeling Limited is a close second, with The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Rushmore right behind. I've never seen Bottle Rocket and never made it through The Life Aquatic.
    But, oh, Moonrise Kingdom . . . the movie that charmed my depressed, closed off and emotionally shut down 12 year old daughter back to life will always hold place in my heart like no other. She now wants to be a filmmaker and go to UT just because she read that Wes Anderson was the projectionist there when he was in college.

  • Helo

    I think he's a fine craftsman, but I need to see something beyond stray-culture kitsch to anoint him as anything beyond the aforementioned description.

  • TheFatling

    1. Rushmore
    2. Royal Tenenbaums
    3. Rushmore
    4. Rushmore
    5. Royal Tenenbaums
    6. Rushmore
    7. Bottle Rocket

  • Ninja_Toes

    Fantastic Mr. Fox is his best, because I am an animation nerd at heart and it features some of the best throwback stop motion work this side of the new millennium. I don't know how much of a say he had in the actual animation art direction, but some of the shots in that film are the perfect marriage between animation and live action traditions. Just...delicious!

    Can I say that none of his other films are the worst? they are all second to Mr. Fox to be sure, but I think they all fit their own particular niche.

  • Rushmore through Darjeeling, it's all hard to decide which is my favorite in any given moment.

  • J. Thunder

    For me, The Darjeeling Limited is my least favorite. It's not a bad movie, but it's one I haven't revisited since its theatrical release. I prefer Life Aqautic over it easily. I think his first three (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, Royal Tenebaums) were as good of a streak any director could hope to have. Bottle Rocket's probably holds this most sentimentality for me. I discovered that film in college shortly after its debut and related to Anthony, Dignan. Not trying to sound like one of those jerks who proclaim they were onto something before everyone else, but I liked the fact I saw that movie long before Owen Wilson patented his schtick and Anderson 's aesthetic was still fresh and raw. I wish Anderson and Wilson would collaborate again on another script.

  • Wigamer

    I understand why some might see his films as overwrought and hopelessly twee, but I enjoy them because there's a lot of heart at the center of them. There are so many moments in each movie (even the ones I like less) that are quiet but reveal sadness just under the surface of the weird or silly. A lot of his characters begin the films in states of profound loss (Max's mom is dead in Rushmore, Chas' wife in Tenenbaums, the father in Darjeeling, etc.) and I like the various ways his characters manifest the pain of those losses. While I get that the clothes, situations, and environments he puts his characters in usually strain credibility, I always like the characters themselves. Especially Gene Hackman as Royal Tenenbaum.

  • Spacerobot

    Best Technical Execution: Moonrise Kingdom
    Most Emotional: The Darjeeling Limited(I admit this is a little personal as I'm the oldest of three brothers who don't get along and have a complicated relationship with our parents)/Royal Tennebaum's "I've had a rough year dad"
    Most Andersony: Life Aquatic
    Most Overrated: Rushmore, the characters had no engaging qualities to them.
    Most Underrated: Life Aquatic
    Personal Fave: The Darjeeling Limited
    True Masterpiece: Moonrise Kingdom

  • Jezzer

    Wes Anderson can go straight to Twee Hell, and take his nostalgia-bait soundtracks with him.

  • Benjamin

    My two cents:
    1) Rushmore
    2) Bottle Rocket
    3) Royal Tenenbaums
    3) Fantastic Mr. Fox
    4) Moonrise Kingdom
    5) Life Aquatic
    6) Darjeeling Limited

  • yesknopemaybe

    Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom, and Rushmore are all on my list of favorite movies. I enjoyed Fantastic Mr. Fox and Darjeeling, was indifferent to Life Aquatic, and actively dislike Bottle Rocket. I don't get why everyone seems to love Bottle Rocket. I hated pretty much everything about that film.

  • Bea Pants

    If you'll allow me to digress for just a bit:

    When I was little, Mama Pants would take me to the local branch of the St. Louis County Library and let me pick out two items. Usually I would pick out one book and one record. My favorite records were the ones where a woman with a sort of scratchy but comforting voice would read Maurice Sendak books. There was something very warm and cozy and fulfilling about sitting in my room, reading a book and listening to that woman read "Chicken Soup with Rice." Something about my favorite Wes Anderson films evokes that same feeling in me. I'm not sure if it's the overall tone of the films or the somewhat dated nature of the technology and fashion that exists in his movies that takes me back to the early eighties, but some weird sense memory kicks in when I watch them. The Royal Tenenbaums, which may be my favorite movie period, gives me this feeling the most. I think it's the book format of the film and the Alec Baldwin voiceover. It's got some heavy themes, what with the suicide attempt and all, but there's something so comforting about that movie. The Life Aquatic, Rushmore, The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom all give me that same feeling to a lesser degree. The Darjeeling Limited, possibly due to the foreign setting, does not so much and it is my least favorite.

    I've never seen Bottle Rocket and I've been told that's a damn shame.

  • elirt

    RUSHMORE!!! It's the catalyst for everything else. It's the film that brought Wes Anderson into our lives. Most people hadn't heard of Bottle Rocket before Rushmore. Most people had forgotten about Bill Murray. Teen angst has never looked so poetic, flawed, petty, creative and beautiful all at the same time. Max Fischer's relationship with his father is tragic and touching. Love it!

    With that said, my list of fave to meh is:
    1. Rushmore
    2. Life Aquatic
    3. Royal Tennenbaums
    4. Fantastic Mr Fox
    5. Bottle Rocket
    6. Darjeeling Limited

    (I haven't seen Moonrise Kingdom...)

  • llp

    The Fantastic Mr. Fox is an excellent, excellent movie. It is by far my most favorite of his films, but I think The Royal Tenenbaums would be second.

    My least favorite to watch is The Darjeeling Unlimited, but I don't hate it and I appreciate some parts of it.

    I am totally going to watch Fantastic Mr. Fox again this weekend. It's a clustercuss!

  • Wigamer

    I say clustercuss twice a week at least.

  • llp

    Me too. "You cussing with me??"

    I love Clooney in this. LOVE.

  • Sharktooth

    You suck DR, for saying Life Aquatic is the most disappointing when in fact, its last shot on the submarine is one of the best shot compositions ever.

    Other than that, I dont think any suck. LA and MK are my favorites. Darjeeling is the one i liked least, and i still like it. 3 stars of 5.

  • Dance to the music.

  • I live on a boat named Belafonte, so I've got a fairly large soft spot for Life Aquatic. But don't make me choose! I love them all, for all their peculiar glory.

  • Antonio Rodirguez

    1. Royal Tenenbaums
    2. Moonrise Kingdom
    3. Darjeeling Limited
    4. Life Aquatic

    GOOD (Amazing)

    BAD (Less Amazing)
    5. Fantastic Mr. Fox
    6. Rushmore
    7. Bottle Rocket

  • TenaciousJP

    I don't know how you could say Life Aquatic was the most disappointing, with that amazing Seu Jorge soundtrack and all.

    It still amazes me that some of my favorite music is a bunch of acoustic David Bowie covers sung in Portuguese by one guy on a movie soundtrack. I don't think you can get much more specific than that.

  • bonnie

    I've seen Bottle Rocket twice now...and just didn't like it. I *love* the others, though. I think Moonrise Kingdom just might be my favorite, but then I get uncomfortable for ranking it above The Royal Tenenbaums or Fantastic Mr. Fox.

  • manting

    not even future man? Best name for a dick older brother ever.

  • I've seen the one where Bill Murray is Jacques Cousteau(I'm pretty sure that's 'Life Aquatic')and half of the one where the Wilson that's not Owen has the hots for his sister(I think that's the Tennebaums. As you can tell, I didn't bother to look any of this up).

    I saw them both because of a girl. I fell asleep during 'The Tennebaums' and only missed doing so during 'Life Aquatic' due to devious and lascivious means employed by said girl to keep me awake. Everything I've heard about Anderson's other movies leads me to believe I'd rather watch the local government public access channel. It'll still be long and boring and nothing will happen, but at least no one will try and convince me it's art.

  • cj

    One of the first things that my fiance and I bonded about was that we were the only ones of our friends to love Darjeeling Limited. But when you ask us were it ranks in our 1-2-3, we start to disagree. I love Tenenbaums, Moonrise, and Darjeeling, he loves Life Aquatic, Darjeeling and Rushmore.

    Long story short, Wes Anderson is great and I think that the fact so many people disagree one which movies are his best just adds to it. I can't think of many directors like that.

  • sjfromsj

    I haven't watched any of his movies in a while (and haven't seen Moonrise at all yet), but I feel like my feelings for all of them balance out to liking them all about the same amount.

    I specifically remember one of my best friends in my freshman year of college (who was a hoity-toity film major) said I wouldn't like The Royal Tenenbaums. I watched it a few years later and concurred that I would not have liked it as my college freshman self. However, when I did watch it, I love love loved it. I really want to revisit all of them now to confirm feelings. Damn my DVD collection being in storage!

  • Bert_McGurt

    I've seen them all. The Royal Tenenbaums is a goddamn treasure and it remains my absolute favourite (even though I actually hated it the first time I saw it). I had to come to terms with so much silliness in what's ultimately a fairly dark film. It's also the ONLY film besides the Iron Man series that doesn't make me actively seethe at GOOP, and one of the few Ben Stiller films I like as well. Of course Gene Hackman is just f*cking perfect as Royal.

    I also adore The Life Aquatic. It's definitely a bit disjointed, but Bill Murray and Willem Dafoe, along with Seu Jorge and his Bowie covers just do it for me.

    My least favourite is probably The Darjeeling Limited, but I still enjoyed it. I think Adrien Brody threw me a bit because he just didn't seem to "fit" right with Schwartzman and Wilson.

    With that said...let's shag ass!

  • Josh Brown

    Like to love them all. But The Royal Tenenbaums will always be the best. Moonrise Kingdom comes in at second since there is just nothing wrong with it. Unfortunately, Life Aquatic is my least favorite, even though it has the most Bill Murray in it. And a sensitive German Willem Dafoe! How is it not better!?

  • TheOriginalMRod

    Royal Tenembauns is probably the best... no Moonrise Kingdom... wait, why do they both have the dog dying...

    I've always said that it is obvious that he is a big fan of J.D. Salinger and John Irving. clearly.

  • June Velcro

    LOVE The Darjeeling Limited, The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom and like all the rest. Probably Bottle Rocket is the most "Eh" but I still liked it. I don't get why anyone hates The Darjeeling Limited -- I thought it was hilarious, sad and lovely in every way. And Moonrise Kingdom? That was a like a perfect little microcosm of sweetness and charm. I get why people don't like his films, but I wouldn't call any one of them their "worst". They're all good, I think.

  • My order with two tied at #1... My favorite of the two depends on which one I've seen most recently, which as of now is Royal Tenenbaums.

    On the Donnie Darko scale of Fear and Love: 1-5 are love, 6-7 are fear. Moonrise in particular was a huge disappointment for me, especially after seeing how widely celebrated it was. What did I miss that was so great about that movie!? I even rewatched a couple months after the first viewing because I thought maybe I'd get something more out of it, but liked it even less on the rewatch.

    1a. Royal Tenenbaums - "I'm very sorry for your loss. Your mother was a terribly attractive woman."
    1b. Life Aquatic - "Don't point that gun at him, he's an unpaid intern."
    3. Bottle Rocket
    4. Rushmore
    5. Fantastic Mr. Fox
    6. Moonrise Kingdom
    7. Darjeeling Limited

  • zeke_the_pig

    That is all.
    Now time to go get drunk.

  • thebluestepside

    Here's the ranking for me, with one caveat: I haven't seen Bottle Rocket (I know, right?).

    1. The Royal Tenenbaums
    2. The Fantastic Mr. Fox
    3. Moonrise Kingdom
    4. The Life Aquatic (I'll never understand the hate on this one)
    5. Rushmore
    6. The Darjeeling Limited (Agree with the majority of folks on this one- meh.)

  • DarthCorleone

    Here is the definitive ranking.

    1) The Fantastic Mr. Fox - This movie is perfect. The end.
    2) The Royal Tenenbaums - This movie is perfect as well, but it's less lovable than talking animals.
    Here lies the demarcation between "greatness" and "good."
    3) Bottle Rocket
    Here lies the demarcation between "good" and "having various merits (as well as Bill Murray) but not personally affecting to me."
    4) The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou
    5) Moonrise Kingdom

    6) Rushmore
    7) The Darjeeling Limited

  • hindulovegod

    I found The Darjeeling Limited offensive. It fetishized non-white people, posited white men as saviors of the savages, and generally felt like the Anthropologie version of Brando in the hut. That said, I loved Rushmore and think The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou is the most rewatchable, for the "Search and Destroy" scene alone.

  • Joe Grunenwald

    RUSHMORE came to me at a time in my life when I needed it more than I ever could have realized. I was in total unrequited love with a girl and had been for a few years and it, combined with an as-yet-undiagnosed chemical imbalance in my brain and the fact that I was 20 years old, was slowly driving me next-level bananas. And there was Max Fischer, outcast, theatre kid, with the same problem I had, going similar levels of crazy. I still felt broken, but it made me feel like I wasn't completely alone, and when Max ultimately moved on at the end of the film it gave me hope that I could do the same. God, this is the lamest story ever.

    For that reason, I will always say that RUSHMORE is Wes Anderson's best film, even if I know it's actually THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS.

    I've only seen THE DARJEELING LIMITED once and it severely underwhelmed me. It felt like all style and no substance. I'd say that's his weakest film.

  • watoosa

    Not a lame story--I'm feel as though I might cry just picturing Max's final scene in my mind. I agree with all you've said here.

    I must add that I really appreciate Fantastic Mr. Fox because I introduced it to my son when he was 3, and he can quote the whole thing. Last year he went as Ash for Halloween, and he often interrupts dinnertime conversation by just yelling, "Are you cussin' with me? The cuss am I! Don't cuss and point at me!" It's just nice to have some Wes Anderson for the whole family at this point.

  • Hollyg

    Alec Baldwin's narration. The actors' intro. Pagoda. Ben Stiller and his tracksuit. The suicide scene. Goop getting out of the bus. EVERYTHING. The Royal Tenembauns is EVERYTHING.

    Followed quite closely by The Darjeeling Limited not only because of EVERYTHING but mostly because of the opening, closing and the shot composition scenes.

  • I do love his shot composition in everything. I will say that.

  • Thinking more about this, and reading the other comments - Bottlerocket is getting really overlooked here, probably because it lives a little outside of his catalogue because it's more of a Movie than it is a WES ANDERSON movie. Which is one of the reasons that it's probably in the top third of his output (of what I've seen). That is a much tighter story than the others he would go on to tell, which is always something that resonates with me, although it's still a little cute for it's own good.

  • Lovely Bones

    I regret to say that I still haven't seen Bottle Rocket, Rushmore or The Life Aquatic. Of those that I have seen, I'd say Moonrise Kingdom might be my favorite and The Darjeeling Limited my least favourite, but I still love that film. Moonrise is his most visually and audibly (that amazing soundtrack) beautiful work, and I love its reflection on childhood in a fairly fresh way and how it sort of epitomizes his style while taking it to new places.

    Tenenbaums might still be objectively his best, though. Man, I cannot commit to anything on this.

  • emmalita

    You need to see the three you haven't seen because they are amazing.

  • Lovely Bones

    I know, I know. I'm sorry.

  • emmalita

    Don't be sorry! You have so much delight before you. And if you don't love Owen Wilson, you will understand why people fell in love with him. "Ca-caw"

  • Lovely Bones

    I hated him for the longest time, but then I saw Royal Tenenbaums, Darjeeling, Mr. Fox and Midnight in Paris in close succession, all of which (but mostly the Anderson films) have completely endeared me to him.

  • WAIT how can you call Life Aquatic disappointing?

    Who the shit is Kingsley Zissou?

  • Gigi

    Fantastic Mr. Fox and Rushmore are tied for his two best ones for me, Rushmore I personally related to and I've seen it more than a dozen times, I just think the characters are very well-defined, even the minor ones Fantastic Mr. Fox is just a warm tickle of a movie so maybe it's just my girly side showing here. The Royal Tannenbaums is great as well, the soundtrack is perfect! Moonrise Kingdom was a bit plodding but I wouldn't say it's his worst. I don't really remember Darjeeling Limited for some reason, I guess maybe since I don't remember it really well, there was nothing that really stood out for me. I may have to re-watch it though.

  • Uriah_Creep

    I also absolutely loved Fantastic Mr. Fox and I don't even have a girly side (I had it surgically removed some years ago.)

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Huh. I read the post title and thought, that can't be true - but the comments do appear to be bearing you up. Rushmore was the first of his that I saw, and it felt so fun and new while still having a heart, having a great soundtrack and killer quotables. Moonrise is full of whimsy - I didn't think I would enjoy it a second time, but I did. Even my 70+ year old parents enjoyed Moonrise, which surprised me.

    Life Aquatic I wanted to love. It too was full of whimsy - which isn't inherently bad - but didn't go anywhere for me. And The Royal Tenenbaums...I might need to revisit. I just have a vague recollection of feeling bummed by it. And my father saying "that was weird." Of course, it was probably the wrong movie to choose for a family holiday excursion.

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    I've seen a few of those and I think *snore*

  • Moijojojo

    I adore Tenenbaums, Life Aquatic & Fantastic Mr Fox, and DESPISE Rushmore, Darjeeling Limited & Moonrise Kingdom. It amazes me that I can feel that way about one director's catalogue.

  • Thenoodlebrain

    The Royal Tenebaums is clearly the best, the Darjeeling Limited was utterly utterly delightful and Rushmore is a turgid, bloated douche-canoe of a movie.

  • AudioSuede

    It's an unpopular opinion among my friends, but honestly, The Darjeeling Limited is my favorite of his movies. The characters have such a fantastic dynamic and the family drama is so heartfelt.

    The worst is probably The Life Aquatic, BUT it's still pretty great.

  • BendinIntheWind


    Ahem. I mean... civilized discussion.

  • Fredo


  • googergieger

    I'm indifferent!

  • cruzzercruz

    I've thoroughly enjoyed all of Anderson's movies, and while Rushmore is up there, The Life Aquatic is my personal favorite of his. Although, I'm sure I'm in the minority.

    "Do the interns get glocks?"

    "No, they all share one."

  • BWeaves

    I haven't seen a single one of those movies. No wonder I'm confused when his name comes up. I keep thinking he's a director of slasher films. Am I thinking of somebody else with a similar name?

  • JenVegas

    Wes Craven...he did the Nightmare on Elm St (Freddy) movies.

  • BWeaves

    THAT'S IT! Thanks.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    Ok, well now clearly Anderson needs to make a Last House on the Left reboot. Where the house is really quirky and filled with knickknacks like stuffed chipmunks wearing bright sweaters and obscure French pop albums from the 1960s.
    And the killers can discuss their problems connecting people and blame their distant fathers as they disembowel their victims.
    I can see it so clearly...

  • Robert

    Your opinions are bad and you should feel bad.

  • To be honest, I haven't seen Darjeeling, Mr. Fox or Moonrise. I would have seen the last one but I have gone into movie hibernation since my kid was born, so it's not like I'm purposefully avoiding his work or anything. Honestly, beyond a great use of music and some serious talent on display by the people who cut his trailers, Anderson is just not a director that excites me very much and I always approach his movies with a bit of weariness knowing that the characters featured will be people I do not like and would never spend time with outside of his world.

    I did like The Life Aquatic quite a lot though and have rewatched it several times. But I find that to be the exception rather than the rule. Rushmore is complete shit. I'm the only one I know that thinks either of those things, so I'm perfectly willing to admit that the problem is me.

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