3. “Moonrise Kingdom”
A pre-pubescent “Badlands” that’s told with the endearingly pathetic quality of an elementary school play, “Moonrise Kingdom” is the rare American film that’s about children, but not necessarily for children (a schism that studios can’t seem to wrap their heads around, but one that artists like Robert Bresson, Ingmar Bergman, and Hayao Miyazaki have always been able to reconcile with ease). The movie begins with the most perfect premise that Wes Anderson has ever devised for himself: Two kids get together and try to run away from home, only to be stymied by the fact that they live on an island. If you squint, that pretty much sums up every Wes Anderson movie.
But “Moonrise Kingdom” isn’t a story about being stuck, it’s a story about how the things we can’t escape are often the things that love us the most, about how the greatest myths are the ones we create for ourselves, about how everything is better when narrated by Bob Balaban. It’s like a mousetrap, it’s written with a whimsical Dickensian flair, and it’s filled with lines so evocative that merely reading them can bring the whole film back to life (“I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about”). Anderson has made a lifetime’s worth of family sagas, but none of his other movies so pointedly capture what it feels like to have a home.
Rent or buy on Amazon.
2. “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
There will always be some debate as to whether or not “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is the best Wes Anderson movie, but there may be no denying that it’s the most Wes Anderson movie. The latest work from an artist who seems to become himself a little bit more with every film, this flawless, four-tiered confection is like a wedding cake filled with arsenic, a nostalgic comedy that functions like a requiem for itself.
Anderson’s stories are about boys, men, or male foxes who seek to live in snow globes of their own design, ensconcing themselves in the empire of their own imaginations. Some of his films (e.g. “Moonrise Kingdom”) are about creating those magical spaces, but most of his stories are about the heartache of losing them, about the tragicomic process of building something new on top of the rubble. With “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Anderson directly confronts the hermetic fantasy of his films, reaching into the not-too-distant past and exhuming the spirit of Stefan Zweig in order to mourn the world we lost, the civility that we’ve forgotten, and the beauty of creating beautiful things even when we know that the world will never let them survive.
The film is so beautifully realized that Ralph Fiennes’ career-best performance almost feels like the cherry on top. Also: Willem Dafoe playing the best henchman who Bond never killed, and Tilda Swinton as a sexually active octogenarian. And Saoirse Ronan’s Mexico-shaped birthmark. Oh, and also the best line that Anderson has ever written, shrugged off like an afterthought in the first act: “You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed, that’s what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant… oh, fuck it.”
Rent or buy on Amazon.
1. “Fantastic Mr. Fox”
Wes Anderson’s career can be cut into two distinctly different parts: Before “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” and after “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Stung by accusations of self-parody, Anderson could have eased off the gas after “The Darjeeling Limited” divided critics and inspired all sorts of talk about how the filmmaker had grown subservient to his own style. But rather admit that the tail was wagging the dog, Anderson snipped the damn thing off and let his next hero wear it as a necktie.
He introduced himself to audiences as an aesthete, and every one of the films he made after “Bottle Rocket” had a little less breathable air than the last, but that was fine by Anderson. If anything, he wanted more control, he wanted to play God, he wanted to make something so airless that his characters wouldn’t even need to have lungs. And so he ventured into the painstaking world of stop-motion, working in a medium where literally nothing made its way on screen unless he thought to put it there. It turns out that yeah, everything else was just getting in the way.
Flattering Roald Dahl’s (lovely) source material into a gloriously wry domestic comedy about compromise, belonging, and accepting one’s lot in life (be it in below ground or above), “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is more than just one of the most quotable films this side of “Casablanca,” it’s also an immaculate portrait of flawed “people” doing the best they can for themselves and each other. Oh, and for the next year or so, it’s the greatest conceivable advertisement for Anderson’s next movie, another stop-motion project about a bunch of wild animals.
Stream on Disney+; rent or buy on Amazon.