Your Favorite Wes Anderson Movie: Which One… and Why?

Your Favorite Wes Anderson Movie: Which One… and Why? October 31, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom? The Royal Tenenbaums? The Fantastic Mr. Fox? Rushmore?

Which Wes Anderson movie is your favorite? And why?

Are you going to take a stand for The Darjeeling Limited? Bottle Rocket? The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou?

I want to know. And if you’re willing to share, I might share your perspective on an upcoming podcast. Here are the details…

On Monday, November 12, at Hale’s Ales Brewery and Pub, I’m joining Dr. Christine Chaney and show host Jennifer Spohr for a dinnertime panel discussion about the movies of Wes Anderson.

A crowd of diners will listen in on our discussion, and then participate in a Q&A.

The bad news? It’s sold out. Has been for weeks.

The good news? You can still participate. You may even end up on the podcast.

Just post your opinion as a Comment here, or email me. I’ll read through those that people submit, and I’ll share excerpts from my favorites during the podcast. Sound good?

Also: Prizes! I’m going to pick my two favorite testimonies and send those writers a notecard with a portrait of Raleigh St. Clair, Bill Murray’s character from The Royal Tenenbaums, as created by Anderson fan Allie Fraley.


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  • Jon

    I admit, Anderson is not a director I have an incredible amount of experience with. But, then again, my knowledge of the film world is only just beginning to truly pick up, and the only other director who is currently in the running for my favourite would be Christopher Nolan. Tonight’s viewing of The Royal Tenenbaums just tipped the scale fairly heavily in Anderson’s direction.

    When I say that I am not overly familiar with Anderson’s work, what I mean is that I have not put most of his films to repeat viewings, as I would like to do. At this moment I have seen all of his films except for Rushmore (which shall be corrected soonly), but only Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Life Aquatic have been watched repeatedly. However, in watching The Royal Tenebaums, two (often twinned) theme’s stick out in his work: Redemption and Reconciliation.

    While not all of Anderson’s work is centred on these themes, none is exempt from them. It is my recognition of these two theme’s (mixed, of course, with Anderson’s unique style) that has won me over. And for that reason, at the moment The Royal Tenenbaums is my favourite of his films. I shall have to copy the comment made by Carl-Eric that the line, “Immediately after making this statement, Royal realized that it was true,” stood out as something intensely meaningful. It is in this moment, Royal’s darkest (broke, homeless, and having just lost any respect he may have had from his family), that he finally has an epiphany, brought about specifically by the words he intended to manipulate others with.

    Regardless, there are any number of themes and moments I could examine in this movie, which I will refrain from doing at the moment, including ones that are coming to mind as I write. (Royal used his words to change the way others thought of him. In the moment this could no longer work, where his fraud was revealed, his words backfire, and instead change how he sees himself. Something worth thinking more about.) And beyond this movie, there are many more for me to examine. (Preliminary thoughts: 1. In The Darjeeling Limited, we see the possibility of redemption in Angelica Huston’s character, the mother. However, she instead runs away, unlike the rest of Anderson’s movies where characters generally manage to redeem themselves. This is the only failure of redemption I can point to within his movies. 2. I loved Moonrise Kingdom, but it sticks out to me because neither reconciliation nor redemption are themes within the main story between Sam and Suzy. I need to rewatch this, probably many times, and see how it relates to his past work, and how it differs.) However, for the moment, The Royal Tenenbaums shall remain my favourite.

  • Josh Wilson

    I’m a little surprised at all the love for The Royal Tenenbaums. I think that’s Anderson’s least successful movie. It is overrated in my opinion – his only movie I really don’t care for. I think the happy ending in particular is very unearned. I don’t see the character of Royal in particular legitimately accepting (dramatically speaking) his redemptive conclusion. The moment of grace doesn’t seem apparent and satisfying to me. I also don’t think the voice-over narration works as well with the acting style. Plus there are too many main characters.

    Moonrise Kingdom has a similarly neat happy ending, but I feel Anderson was able to make it more satisfying given the dramatic stakes involved at the climax during the storm.

  • Rick

    Hi Jeff,
    The Royal Tenenbaums is my favorite Wes Anderson movie, and a serious contender for my favorite movie of all time. While all Anderson’s films include brilliant lines, meticulous design and unforgettable characters, I think Tenenbaums is most coherent as a drama. And it is at heart such a tragic and honest drama about the way family screws us up. The brilliance of the film is that it is both seriously tragic, seriously funny and seriously humane at the same time. Every single scene makes me laugh, or smile at least, but the absurdity doesn’t really mock the characters, nor is it meant to distract from the earnest themes. Anderson’s stories seem to take place in some bizarre, stylized parallel universe, but are actually closer to life than so many supposed realistic dramas. As a Christian, I find Tenebaums to be quite unique, as it tells the truth about misery, loneliness and despair, but also about beauty, love and forgiveness. That, and the movie is about as quotable as The Big Lebowski!

  • Bethany

    I have to say that Wes Anderson has never been a filmmaker who has been able to really reach my heart until Moonrise Kingdom. I have typically found him more style than substance and have been unable to really connect to any of the stories he put on the screen. I guess I have found him to be almost too technically perfect to be emotionally resonant. I wasn’t really looking forward to Moonrise Kingdom because of that but I went to see it anyway and it took about 20 minutes before I was 100% invested. I spent about a third of the movie in tears and, while all the technical perfection was still there, for the first time there was something in the story that actually reached me.

    Personally, I think the moment when I knew it was going to be in my top 5 of the year was when the parents are lying in bed and the mother says to him, “We’re all they’ve got, Walt.” He waits a beat before replying, “It’s not enough.” I think it was about then that I started crying at just the stark truth of that statement and I’m not sure I fully stopped for the rest of the movie. Not all sad tears but just the same. I don’t know that it turned my opinion on him around entirely but it definitely makes it easy to pick a favorite.

  • OK, so being a stop-motion animator I’d have to say Fantastic Mr. Fox…BUT bias aside, even as a film I love it as my favorite of his. Royal Tennenbaums would be another favorite. Overall it’s taken me awhile to really warm up to Wes Anderson’s style, and I still find that his movies speak more to the “head” than to the “heart”, at least on their initial viewing. What I mean by that is, they are very succinct in style, technique, and sharp, witty dialogue, but because their characters are played so deadpan, cold and cynical it’s hard to engage with them emotionally. But I ‘ve realized that perhaps this is the whole point. We have to “look closer” and spend more time with them in order to really see what’s going on inside them (like some real people in our lives, actually). Perhaps for this reason I tend to remember those moments where a light of vulnerability and love actually shines through. It’s been several years since I’ve watched Royal Tennenbaums, but the one scene that I always think of is that “I’ve had a tough year, Dad” scene. It’s beautiful.

    Another observation I’ve made in several of his films is the water-symbolism which seems to come up as a common theme. Christ refers to Himself as a living fountain, the water of life, and his followers identify their washing by Him through water baptism. I often like to see water in movies as a metaphor for the mysterious & omnisicent presence of God (as Father/Son/Holy Spirit), especially when He is not acknowledged specifically by name or in deed throughout a film…..but it doesn’t mean He’s not there, listening and weaving between the frames of the characters’ lives. In one of the pivotal introspective moments for Mr. Fox, he is pondering his existence against the backdrop of a giant waterfall, and most of Moonrise Kingdom takes place in the context of rain and floods washing over the characters, challenging their relationships and forcing them to relate to each other, in disruptive but healing ways. Most of Life Aquatic happens completely submerged in water. At the same time, the implications of this often frustrate me, in that despite this symbolism, the characters rarely come to the full realization that maybe they should look beyond themselves to find community, healing and fulfillment. But again, maybe this is the whole point?

    Anyway, these are rough drafts of thoughts and impressions as I gradually become more fascinated and challenged by these films.

  • Jeremy Landes

    I love the ways that Anderson shows repentance and demonstrates reconciliation through the character of Max Fischer in Rushmore. When the character of Dirk comes into the barbershop to make peace with Max after the latter has slandered Dirk’s mom, it sets off a chain reaction of kindness; Bill Murray being offered Max’s puntuality or perfect attendance school pin; Margaret Yang and Magnus getting offered roles in a hit play, Heaven and Hell; dance; an aquarium; love between Blume and Miss Cross (?) Just writing about it makes me want to see it again. Anderson loves is characters and has the ability to show people as capable of embracing redemption (especially Murray) and making the audience believe it and want it for themselves.

    My favorite shot of the ’90s is the mass apprehension of the play-audience when they collectively realize they actually are going to need the protective eyeware and ear-muffs while watching the highly flammable production of Heaven and Hell. It represented my dreams of being taken seriously when I was a high school student director.

  • Josh Wilson

    No question it’s the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. This is his most underappreciated film, but I think his best. (I’ve only seen Moonrise Kingdom once, so I can’t quite weigh in on that one.)

    I think it’s a profound meditation on the meaning of art and artifice in our lives, masked under a comedy so goofy that you might miss it. Everything in the movie goes out of the way to draw attention to the way it is fake, artificial. But artificial just means man-made, or crafted. Art. The boat is fake, the documentaries are mostly fake. The sea creatures are all self-consciously fake (dare I say, fantastic?), Klaus’s German accent is fake, even the David Bowie songs are fake. Anderson’s directing style is even more than usual on display here, meaning it is drawn to the forefront of the storytelling, making a show of itself with the panning camera moves (as opposed to cuts) and stagy staging.
    The story is fake as well. It never becomes clear whether Steve Zissou is really Ned’s father or not, for example. How is Jeff Goldblum’s character still walking at the end of this film?
    But through all this artificiality we see people with real emotions dealing with real life situations. When Ned is laid to rest, or when the reporter is calling her deadbeat boss/boyfriend, we feel the real pain of this situation. How do we as people deal with the messiness of “real life”? We view it through the colored lenses of art and science, tools that may distort one aspect of reality in order to make another more clear.
    That’s what this movie is all about for me, and it weaves this theme through every layer of the production, from the script, music, direction, the stylized acting, and the plot.
    Art and artifice, far from being unreal, or rather untrue, is of course more true in what it reveals sometimes than realism.

  • Russell

    My favorite is The Darjeeling Limited. I greatly enjoy (present tense because my enjoyment is ongoing) the travel/adventure aspect to it. I like road trips for the same reason. But the reason I enjoy it most is that the movie is mostly upbeat, with the drastic change towards the latter part of the movie. I don’t want to give away spoilers but those who have seen it know what I am talking about. I like it because this is how life is with conflicting emotions and events occurring simultaneously. And Bill Murray cameos are always great.

  • Bottle Rocket, hands down. I wrote an article a few years ago that lays out some of my reasons for connecting with it more than the others:

    Rushmore was my first Anderson film, and soon after seeing it I rented Bottle Rocket with friends. Watched it that night, then again in the morning. I’d never done that before. As much as I completely love the extreme order of Anderson’s post-BR films, I connect on a soul level more with the breeziness of Bottle Rocket, a stylistic tone which fits the story and characters as well as the dollhouse aesthetic of The Royal Tenenbaums fits that film.

    I love the feeling I get watching it, the feeling of friends putting all their eggs in this basket, just going for it and seeing what happens. This describes the filmmakers and the characters. In one sense Anderson is like Dignan, planning out his life from a very early age, knowing exactly what he was meant to do, and refining those skills to get there. Wilson, at the time, was probably more like Anthony. He considered himself a writer, and he’s only an actor because Anderson asked him to play the role. Anthony doesn’t want to be a criminal, he wants to make his friend happy, and he wants to find someone that can do the same for him. Bob is like me, the viewer, happy to be along for the ride and desperately wishing they could be part of this group, despite having neither the passion nor the skill for the work involved. Bottle Rocket is about friends figuring out what they want and going for it, without cynicism, irony, or sarcasm, and trying to help each other out along the way. Despite their criminal aspirations, these are people, fully formed, not reliant on quirk as an excuse for character development (something Anderson can wander into, but is mostly the province of his imitators).

    The archetypal character of the guy who’s passionate about something he’s just not very good at is something I can absolutely connect with, and the way it’s done with Dignan is so human. You really feel for the guy, unlike the Will Ferrell sorts of character who embody the same conflict, but go about it so arrogantly that it renders them more caricature than character. It’s Dignan’s obvious future, one where despite his big plans, he will never be the thing he wants to be, that makes this movie more bittersweet with successive viewings. Much of the surface laughs quickly take on a bit of pain, too. Dignan is like Charlie Brown, and the world will always pull that football away, but he’s the only one that doesn’t know it.

    Also, Anthony’s romance with Inez, trying so hard to understand her despite the language barrier, is told so simply and effectively, it’s Anderson’s best and most unique (though still grounded and believable) love stories. Gets me every time.

  • Alex Kirk

    I am partial to the Darjeeling Limited. I am one of three brothers, so for me the relational dynamics were incredibly moving in that film. I also thought the overall visual pallet and the music were incredibly rich and evocative. This is his most under appreciated film in my mind.

    However, I must say that The Royal Tenenbaums is the best. You just can’t beat the pathos! It has perhaps the riches network of relationships that are the most complexly drawn, without loosing its focus on the two main characters Margot, Richie and their unrequited love. The RT is one of those movies that just perfectly nails a “mood” or “feel” that I don’t know how else you could get into. Plus, for my money it is the most classically Wes-Anderson Wes Anderson movie.

  • As difficult as this is, there is a line in The Royal Tenenbaums that is so hilariously profound to me that it shoots it up to the top of the list: “Immediately after making this statement, Royal realized that it was true.” Sounds to me like what happens in the liturgy…a thought that sometimes leaves me cracking up in church.

  • Joel

    This is such a difficult choice for me because I love them all. I can say that the film that affects me the most is The Royal Tenenbaums, most notably the relationship between Chas (Ben Stiller) and Royal (Gene Hackman), the titular patriarch of the family. I’ve become sensitive to stories about dysfunctional families, as a result of a lot of personal events and pain in my life. The strained relationship in this film between father and son is one that especially hits home for me. The first time I watched the film, it was sort of painful to watch scenes between the two. Chas seemed to be an amalgam of emotions and words that I’d kept hidden for years regarding my own experience with my family. But it was the utter transformation in Chas and his father’s relationship in the end that moved me to tears (“I’ve had a rough year, dad”). I come back to this movie again and again for it’s beautiful picture of familial love despite sin and past transgressions. A constant reminder of the need for grace and love in my own life. A movie that I am extremely grateful for.

  • Whitney

    The Royal Tenenbaums – I think technically, it’s one of his best films. The editing is flawless and the pace of the story is perfect. I can’t find any holes to pick at in this film. I can say the same of Moonrise Kingdom (which I also loved), but there’s something about the characters of Royal Tenenbaums that will always keep that film in first place. This is the story of a family that has long been broken and falling apart, with each member’s downfall beginning with the departure of Royal. Now that they’ve all lost everything, Royal is given the opportunity to redeem himself and repair the family he broke. It’s a story of redemption and hope when all is lost, (while still showing the messiness of reality, with real struggles and ways of dealing with them). I wrote a paper in college comparing this film to Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons, which tells a similar story of a once-revered family in a downward spiral. The thing I love about the Tenenbaums is that they didn’t go the way of the Ambersons. Even when all hope is lost in their own lives, they pull together to cope. Margot is depressed and secretive, but when Richie attempts suicide, she puts her secrets aside to be there for him. Rather than turning on each other in hopes of self-preservation, they look outward and save themselves while saving each other.

  • Clint W

    I cut my Wes Anderson teeth back on Rushmore and have enjoyed all of his movies. Until this summer I would have picked The Royal Tenenbaums as my favorite, especially the wonderfully dysfunctional performance by Gene Hackman. But I was completely taken with the charm and outlook of Moonrise Kingdom, where childhood and adulthood collide. I don’t watch very many movies over and over, but I predict this will be one of them.

  • Cooper Williams

    I’m still mulling over Moonrise Kingdom, but I think for now I’d have to go with Fantastic Mr. Fox. It tells The Royal Tenenbaums’ story of a dysfunctional family prevailing against all odds, but in a way kids can understand. Which I think is super valuable. It deals with realistic problems through hilariously zany characters and situations. Even watching it by myself, there are so many times I laugh out loud simply due to the style the film implements (a trend I’ve noticed with Anderson’s works).

    Also, any opportunity to teach my sisters about dry humor and the French New Wave is one I’ll gladly take.

  • Chris

    I’m partial to The Royal Tenenbaums. There’s something about the tone of it that strikes me as just right. Cynical but hopeful. Funny (hilarious) but serious. The perfect portrayal of a disfunctional family that nevertheless shows how much they really love one another, if they could only get past all the ways they’ve been hurt and damaged.