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Survey: The Best of Wes

Survey: The Best of Wes

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

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!

Luke Y. Thompson, Topless Robot

Best: “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” not just because it’s consistently entertaining in and of itself, but also because it makes a statement that animation can tell any kind of story and represent all kinds of directorial styles. Runner-up: “Royal Tenenbaums,” which is probably his funniest.

Worst: It’s not exactly terrible, but I wasn’t the biggest fan of “Moonrise Kingdom.” It just felt a bit flat and pointless, which I guess is how a lot of his movies feel to people who don’t like them.

Neil Young, Hollywood Reporter, Tribune

Best: “Rushmore.” Jason Schwartzman’s performance, the finest in any Anderson film, catapults it through the leaves. Silver star: “The Royal Tenenbaums.”

Worst: Among the six other features, there isn’t a worst one; all are defendably worthwhile.

Michael Pattison, Sight & Sound, MUBI

I haven’t seen “Grand Budapest Hotel” yet, and no other Anderson more than once, but “Fantastic Mr. Fox” seems to fit his sensibilities most naturally: there’s something about the painstaking animation style, and the creation of the film’s universe, that makes it the most “Andersonian” of all Anderson films. I saw it at the pictures, on a first date, and laughed riotously and violently audibly throughout (needless to say, there was no follow-up). I listed Michael Gambon’s contribution among that year’s best supporting performances.

Joey Magidson, The Awards Circuit, First Showing

I’m that shunned critic on the internet who’s never really been a Wes Anderson fan. I actually liked “The Grand Budapest Hotel” when I saw it a week or two ago, but I’d say his best/my favorite is “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” since that was the one time I just purely enjoyed myself with a film of his. As for his worst, the movie I just never got anything out of was “Bottle Rocket.” Maybe it’s me?

Ethan Alter, Television Without Pity

I can’t pick between “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “Moonrise Kingdom” as my favorite Wes, so let’s just call it a tie; the former boasts gorgeous stop-motion animation and his finest ensemble of actors, while the latter has an elemental simplicity in its emotions and storytelling that offsets the director’s trademark stylistic fussiness. As for least favorite, I didn’t especially cotton to “The Life Aquatic” after my first and only viewing (as I recall, the movie’s faux-documentary elements were my chief sticking point), but I’ve been meaning to give it a second chance if only due to the passion of its defenders and because more Bill Murray in a Wes Anderson movie is generally a good thing. 

Zac Oldenburg, Having Said That

Best: “Fantastic Mr. Fox”; Worst: I love them all.

John DeCarli, Film Capsule

To me, Anderson’s most complete vision is undoubtedly “Rushmore.” The detailed production design of his films can strike some viewers as cold, but in “Rushmore” all of these visual elements are perfectly calibrated to convey the tenderness, humor and passion of the film as a whole. Passion is the key to “Rushmore.” Each character is looking for his own “Rushmore,” his own obsession to pursue and give meaning to his life, and this drive is just as palpable on Anderson’s part. It doesn’t hurt that Bill Murray gives one of my all time favorite supporting performances on film: brilliant.

John DeCarli, Film Capsule

To me, Anderson’s most complete vision is undoubtedly “Rushmore.” The detailed production design of his films can strike some viewers as cold, but in “Rushmore” all of these visual elements are perfectly calibrated to convey the tenderness, humor and passion of the film as a whole. Passion is the key to “Rushmore.” Each character is looking for his own “Rushmore,” his own obsession to pursue and give meaning to his life, and this drive is just as palpable on Anderson’s part. It doesn’t hurt that Bill Murray gives one of my all time favorite supporting performances on film: brilliant.

Jake Cole, Film.com, Movie Mezzanine

As someone who enjoys keeping tabs on directors filmographies, picking a best Wes Anderson film seems especially pointless given the total control and assured aesthetic and thematic worldview he’s had in place his whole career. Hell, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is so quintessentially Anderson despite being such a departure that it may well emerge as his greatest film, or his worst. For the time being, however, I’ll say “Moonrise Kingdom,” another film that builds on a career’s worth of New Wave-tinged juvenilia even as it erodes the neatness that typifies his work. Sam has the least in common with any other Anderson protagonist: where the others take refuge in the comfort of the families they ostensibly wish to escape, Sam must create the family denied him. (This detail may be why, for all the superficial relation between “GBH” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox”‘s” stupefyingly obsessive design, “GBH’s” own orphan hero more thoroughly links the film to the destabilized and unpredictable “Moonrise.”) “Moonrise Kingdom” is the one film in which the characters actually appear to escape Anderson’s tidy microcosms, to say nothing of their own. And if it ends in a seemingly conservative affirmation of family, it does so in such a way that it finds freedom and individual happiness in it.

Of course, ask me next week and you’ll probably get a completely different answer.

Ali Arikan, RogerEbert.com

“The Royal Tenenbaums”

Adam Batty, Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second 

I’m one of those insufferable people that unashamedly worships at the altar of all things Anderson. As such he’s the kind of filmmaker with whom, if I’m being entirely honest with myself, my critical faculties kind of falter. That said, I do think his work has inspired some of my own best writing on cinema, and has allowed me to explore and question wider ideas on a unique way (for example, I used my review of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” as an opportunity to explore my own feelings on Kent Jones recent piece on the place in auteurism in 2014). 

Naming a favorite is therefore quite difficult. My heart says “The Royal Tenenbaums,” as it was the first of his that I saw theatrically (so the anecdote goes, I caught the film back on release day while hiding out in a cinema having just gotten a daft tattoo that I didn’t want my folks to find out about). Instead I prefer to take it all as one. While not interconnected in a clutching at straws, Andy’s-dad-is-really-Darth-Vader BuzzFeed kind of way, I do like to think of them as forming one giant canvas that stands unique in contemporary American cinema. 

John Keefer, 51 Deep

I love Wes Anderson’s films. I love them all. I laugh, I cry, they become a part of me. What’s funny to me is the criticism that his films are too created/curated/controlled, as if to imply that other films just magically appear out of thin air. There is truth in artifice (but no sex in your violence) when it comes to his particular application of film history to his interests and obsessions. Readings of the films as twee and commercials for the detached ironic pose of the steadily aging Gen Xers ignores the trauma his characters so clearly live with, you can’t wrap your arms around these people and give them a big hug because deep down their hearts are really in the right place. If you could then yes, twee j’accuse away. He’s a distinctive voice, he has an opinion. We need films with an opinion in this period of consensus in modern American cinema. So best and worst don’t come into it for me but I’ve seen “The Royal Tenenbaums” the most and The “Fantastic Mr. Fox” only once if we want to count. 

Tony Dayoub, Cinema Viewfinder, Press Play

His worst, if you can call it that, is ‘”Bottle Rocket”‘ and only because budget constraints and inexperience keep his promising debut from fully realizing what I believe is that whimsy-with-a-purpose feel I associate with Wes Anderson.

Just two movies later Anderson reaches what might still be his high-water mark (his latest is pretty competitive in that respect) with ‘”The Royal Tenenbaums.”‘ Here he has his finest cast yet, directing Gene Hackman to the last of his fine performances as the hustling patriarch of a noble clan of wunderkinds. The attendant detail surrounding this fairy-tale New York is best described as a Richard Scarry storybook come to life. His casts’ brilliant performances and high style would seldom mesh with the precision they do in ‘Tenenbaums,’ that is until his current release.

Gary M. Kramer, Gay City News, Philadelphia Gay News

Anderson’s best film is The “Fantastic Mr. Fox” because his characters are all cartoonish, and in this film, that’s actually the case. Worst: I found “Moonrise Kingdom” his most tweedious. 

Peter Howell, Toronto Star
I’d argue that “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is Anderson’s best. He’s just got it all going in this one: perfect command of his unique imagery, a wonderful ensemble cast (yay, Tilda!), an ideal lead in Ralph Fiennes and a great new find in Tony Revolori. As for his worst, a lot of directors would kill to have a “worst” taken from Anderson’s canon. But I’d have to say that “The Life Aquatic” gave me less than I wanted, although I loved the Bowie-infused soundtrack.

Adam Kempenaar, Filmspotting

Best: “The Royal Tenenbaums.” Worst: “The Life Aquatic”. Why? No idea really. I’ve only seen each of his movies once at the time of release. I had the most fun with “Tenenbaums,” the least fun with “Life.”

Edwin Arnaudin, Ashvegas, Asheville Citizen-Times

As a Wes Anderson devotee, I’ve covered both answers in past surveys, naming “The Royal Tenenbaums” not only his finest but my pick for the best film of the last 25 years and calling “Bottle Rocket” a pretty great worst film.

My second favorite is the practically perfect “Rushmore,” followed by the freewheeling glee of “Moonrise Kingdom” and the witty technical marvel that is “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Then I’d go with “The Darjeeling Limited,” which felt a tad slight on the first few viewings, but as I’ve grown up and both experienced loss and loved people who’ve experienced greater loss, it’s the Anderson film that’s become the most personally relevant. 

Just above the bottom is “The Life Aquatic”, whose Seu Jorge Bowie covers and Zissou Adidas I was fanatical about in 2004, yet which upon a recent revisit felt more unfocused as a whole than I remembered. I don’t think it’s a bad movie by any means, but for the first time I could see why it generally doesn’t have a great reputation outside of the Anderson faithful. In 10 more years, it may very well take “Bottle Rocket”‘s spot.

Mike McGranaghan, The Aisle Seat, Film Racket

I saw “Bottle Rocket” back when it was originally released and didn’t like it, so that will be my choice for Anderson’s worst. In fairness, though, I really ought to give it a second chance since I love everything else he’s ever done. It’s quite possible I just didn’t get his idiosyncratic style at first. As for his best, I’m going to pick “Moonrise Kingdom.” The interesting thing about Anderson’s films is that I always enjoy them even more on repeat viewings than I do initially. For example, I liked “The Darjeeling Limited” when I first saw it, but also thought it was a lesser effort from the director. When I saw it again on DVD, I noticed new layers and meanings that radically elevated my opinion. That’s just the way his stories are structured, I guess. “Moonrise Kingdom” was a little different in that it hit me like a ton of bricks right away. Everything that makes Wes Anderson a unique filmmaker was out in full force on that one. The movie was witty, quirky, and eccentric, yet it also had an intense emotional quality that felt new for him. I haven’t yet seen “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” but one thing is certain: Wes Anderson continues to grow and evolve as a storyteller, and there are few directors whose new works inspire such levels of excitement in me as both a critic and a movie lover.

Peter Keough, Boston Globe, Critics a Go-Go

I still think “Rushmore” is his best. Worst, and I know I’m alone in this, would be “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Just too coy and self-conscious. Nice fur effects though.

Alonso Duralde, The Wrap, What the Flick?!

It’s sort of a cliche at this point, but I still think Anderson’s purest vision is “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” wherein his skill for diorama-like sets and fast-paced deadpan dialogue feels most fulfilled. (Although a case can certainly be made for “The Grand Budapest Hotel” for all the same reasons.) “Rushmore” owns my heart, but “Mr. Fox” feels like an artist discovering his truest self.

Marc V. Ciafardini, Go See Talk, Big Fan Boy

This is an easy one. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is Wes
Anderson’s best film simply because all of his work has been leading up
to this. The gloriously decadent and meticulously detailed production is
his biggest to date. Aside from the unparalleled visual spectacle
(that’s just teeming with his signature style), Anderson handles the
complex plot, the myriad of characters and, as always the brilliantly
swift and masterful scene transitions with ease. In a way it’s a perfect cross-section of his career as well
as an evolution in his process – a fantastic leap forward that shows us
that he worked out all his kinks and found his groove well beforehand. Now, fair enough, some will be quick to call Budapest “a
masterpiece”. Not going to argue with that one bit, I’d even bet dollars
to pesos that Criterion is already working on packaging for its
inclusion to their collection. In that case, I can’t wait to add it to

Now his worst…can’t say he has one, just ones that don’t
hit people the right way. So for me that’s “Rushmore.” I just don’t get
the appeal.

Sean Chavel, Flick Minute

“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Anderson’s latest, is his best. It’s a
charming caper that is thoroughly nifty, and visually enchanting. And
actor Ralph Fiennes’ debonair worldliness is the best actor yet in an
Anderson film.

Anne-Katrin Titze, Eye For Film

The connection to Stefan Zweig is unexpectedly deeply wonderful and for the first time, Wes Anderson gives an emotionally and rationally plausible explanation of why he makes movies the way he does. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is his finest work to date. Ralph Fiennes, who lately has given profound sadness under a darling mask his face, is the perfect cast. How could I pick a “worst”? It would ruin everything I just praised. I would feel as though I were picking on Lobby Boy Otto, successor to Zero. 

What is the best movie in theaters?

A: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Other movies receiving multiple votes: “Her,” “The LEGO Movie,” “The Wind Rises”

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