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Survey: The Best of Wes

Critics pick their favorite Wes Anderson movies, and struggle to call any his worst.
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Jason Schwartzman in "Rushmore"
Jason Schwartzman in "Rushmore"

Every week, the Criticwire Survey asks film and TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday morning. (The answer to the second, "What is the best film in theaters right now?" can be found at the end of this post.) Send suggestions for future questions to sam at indiewire dot com.

Q: What is Wes Anderson's best movie? What's his worst?

Keith Phipps, The Dissolve

I usually feel like the last Wes Anderson movie I saw is his best film, and that hasn't changed with "The Grand Budapest Hotel." It's at once his briskest, lightest film (outpacing even "Fantastic Mr. Fox") but also, to my eyes, his saddest. Time ravages everything in the film, which takes as its heroes a few who are determined to wage a lonely battle against encroaching barbarity. Come for the trifle-light caper, stay for the heartbreak.

Jason Osder, "Let the Fire Burn," The George Washington University

That's an easy one. Anderson has made some good movies and some interesting movies but only one masterpiece: "Rushmore." "The Darjeeling Limited" is a distant second for me, but that is just quirky. Nothing compared to the ode to alienated youth that is "Rushmore." 

Carrie Rickey, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Most: What I respond to most in Wes Anderson (besides the color yellow, the most intense since Vincente Minnelli) is the striking mix of musical cues and dramatic moments, thus "Bottle Rocket," "Darjeeling Limited" and "Moonrise Kingdom." Least: "The Royal Tenenbaums." I know, I know. Keep the knives in their sheaths, guys.

Josh Larsen, Filmspotting, Larsen on Film

"Rushmore" is my "Rushmore." And I can't use the word "worst" in regard to Wes Anderson; the film of his that I'd rank last, though I still enjoy it, is "The Darjeeling Limited."

Robert Levin, amNewYork

I'm not one for instantaneous overreacting, but it's been a few weeks since I saw "The Grand Budapest Hotel" twice in successive nights and the movie has grown on me to the point where I'd confidently assert that it's Wes Anderson's best, most emotionally resonant film, the apex of his form. I don't think Anderson has ever made a bad movie, but I'm not an especially big fan of "The Darjeeling Limited," which has always struck me as a tad too self-indulgent and packed with faux self-help spirituality. 

Alissa Wilkinson, Christianity Today

I haven't seen "The Grand Budapest Hotel" yet, so I'm back to "Rushmore," which I love wholeheartedly, though I think it may just be because it makes me feel better about my own nerdy high school years (who am I kidding? all the years). But on the flip side, I really hated "The Darjeeling Limited." In retrospect, it might be because I got stuck in the very front row for the screening, and you know, all that whipping around is as vertigo-inducing as anything Paul Greengrass ever directed. I am sure it's not his worst, but I am equally sure that's my emotional truth.

Richard Brody, the New Yorker

Talking about the best and worst movies of a director (or place, or movement, or era, or history) both invites easy attitudinizing and opens the door to the fundamental question of criticism, namely, questions of value and the criteria by which it's measured. Maybe it's an axiom that directors' worst work will be first work, unless the début is in some way revolutionary, its originality surpassing the mere revelation of the filmmaker's style or personal world and offering examples and lessons to the art form at large. Therefore, Wes Anderson's worst film, a wonderful film on its own terms, is "Bottle Rocket," because it's not a landmark or a reference on the scale of "Breathless" or "Citizen Kane." His best? He keeps getting better, refining his style and broadening his command of it, extending and deepening his thematic range, executing with a graceful turn of hand complex maneuvers that would earlier, for him, have been bravura displays and would still, for other directors, remain in any case utterly impossible. Yet there's also the matter of magic, of the spark of life, the wonder that a film exudes, whether because of the chemistry of actors, the intensity of the director's engagement with the subject matter, or the artistic equivalent of a growth spurt, and that's what "Moonrise Kingdom" offers. "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is the deepest, most intricate, most exquisite work that Anderson has done, but "Moonrise Kingdom" was a great leap ahead to the threshold of this new achievement, while also conveying a sense of tremulous, almost holy passion arising from intimate depths of his own experience -- even if I can as readily make the case for his new film being his best, as, with an artist of his caliber, it should ever be.

Kenji Fujishima, Slant Magazine, In Review Online

Moonrise

As someone who has run hot and cold on Wes Anderson's films over the years -- liking "Rushmore" a lot, but then finding myself increasingly less enamored from his subsequent work, however much I may have admired his distinctive images, stylistic consistency and thematic ambitions -- I vividly remember my shock upon encountering "Moonrise Kingdom" and finding myself not only connecting with it instantly, but genuinely loving it all the way through. Perhaps the fact that Anderson's focus in "Moonrise Kingdom" was on the troubled lives of children -- thus more directly tapping into the innocence that has always been at the heart of Anderson's sensibility, albeit one often complicated by the travails of adulthood -- explains why I fell for it so hard. Or maybe I had finally gotten so used to the sincere-yet-deadpan Anderson style by that point that, were I to revisit "The Royal Tenenbaums," "The Life Aquatic" and "The Darjeeling Limited," I'd perhaps be more able to fully embrace them this time around. 

For now, though, I'll go with "Moonrise Kingdom" as his "best" (read: my favorite). As for the "worst"? Well, "The Darjeeling Limited," I guess, though again I found myself more in a state of admiring indifference than outright hatred the one time I've seen it. 

Also, as of this writing, I have not yet seen "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and still have yet to catch up with his debut, "Bottle Rocket," so take all of the above with a grain of salt, if you must.

Adam Nayman, Cinema Scope, Globe and Mail

Consistency is one of the hallmarks of Wes Anderson's cinema. For fifteen years now, I've been setting my internal viewer's clock to the percussive, jab-jab-uppercut scheme favored by his editors (whether it's David Moritz, Dylan Tichenor, or Andrew Weisblum, who's taken over since "Fantastic Mr. Fox"). The effect of Anderson's sustained precision is twofold: it makes it hard to notice real spikes or dips in quality between the movies, and it regularly leads viewers to committing firmly one way or the other when it comes to liking/not liking the work overall -- since his movies are what they are, and never anything more or less, it's ultimately a matter of for/against. 

I'm for him, for the very simple reason that I find the movies skillful and entertaining, and haven't ever seen the point of being annoyed by his brand of benign idiosyncrasy. Or rather, when I do find it annoying -- as in "The Darjeeling Limited," which I guess his his "worst movie" for me in that I didn't get much pleasure out of it -- it never lingers beyond the confines of the movie theater. Of all the "American Eccentrics" (to use a term coined by Armond White), Anderson has has always seemed the least conflicted about his chosen mode of expression, which isn't to say that the films are smug or lightweight -- merely that he still draws inspiration from his comfort zone. I remembered thinking during the first half of "Moonrise Kingdom" that the director was bumping up against those walls in an exciting way; the unabashed preadolescent eroticism of those passages at the titular cove -- those violently pierced ears, and that tenderly registered erection -- felt new within his usually chaste universe. It's hard for me to cast my mind back to being 17 and seeing "Rushmore" and being elated at the sensation of discovering something "new," especially since as I've gotten older I've come to recognize that movie as a veritable patchwork of influences. But I'll treasure the moments in "Moonrise Kingdom" that challenged my complacent appreciation for Wes Anderson's cinema -- the bits that demanded something more than fandom. 

Matt Prigge, Metro

The question of what's the worst Wes Anderson film is easy: "The Darjeeling Limited," although it's a real grower whose more open design allows for it to be approached at in different ways. I can actually foresee it overtaking one of others in future. However, picking the best W.A. is really tough. I'm tempted to go with "The Life Aquatic," just because it's a devastating look at obsolescence from a filmmaker still in his (relative) youth. Or maybe "Rushmore," a major sentimental favorite. But I honestly might have to go with "The Grand Budapest Hotel," which is simultaneously his most fun and, in a much more quiet way, saddest work. A lot of his films are about people who use style to hide or deal with pain and trauma. But this is the most extreme: a pure confectionary work where the obscured pain is WWII and the death of everyone and everything Zero (Tony Revolori / F. Murray Abraham) ever knew. It's hard on first viewing (because it's so fun, even more than "Fantastic Mr. Fox"), but second time through it's easy to see how masterful it is at showing how a filmmaker charged with being cloistered deals with the real world.

Jason Shawhan, The Nashville Scene/Interface 2037

I've not been able to see "Grand Budapest Hotel "yet, so I can't say one way or the other about it. "The Royal Tenenbaums" is his best work, by far. And while I don't hate any of his films, I would say "Bottle Rocket" is the least of them, mainly because it seems so steeped in macho foolishness and cruelty.

Josh Spiegel, Sound on Sight

Though I think each of Wes Anderson's films improve on rewatching, even those I don't love as much as others, my favorite has been and probably always will be "The Royal Tenenbaums." When I saw the film in December of 2001, I was not only struck by Anderson's idiosyncratic visual style, his full use of the widescreen frame, his melancholically intelligent characters, and more. I also belly-laughed at the little touches like Dalmatian mice wandering throughout the Tenenbaum house and even the mini-showdown between the jerky and irascible Royal and his wife's new suitor, Henry. ("Right on!") Now, I well up at the end of the film, right at the culmination of a lengthy tracking shot as Ben Stiller's tightly wound Chas tells his father that he's "had a rough year." For a long time, "The Royal Tenenbaums" has been among my top 10 favorite films, and each time I revisit it, I'm reminded of the appeal of Anderson's quirky, playful, and emotional vision. Regarding his worst, I'm going to say "Bottle Rocket," which isn't bad at all; I just like his other films more.

Tony Nunes, Sound on Sight, Hey You Geeks!!

I love "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "Moonrise Kingdom" equally. In my opinion those two films best capture the flowing, idiosyncratic style of Anderson's better than the rest. When it comes to disliking Anderson's work it's really only his Prada commercials that bug me. Those pieces too obviously try and emulate his style in a forced way that strips them of any genuine charm. His AmEx commercial was fantastic though!

This article is related to: Criticwire Survey, Wes Anderson


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