Arts & Entertainment

The complete Wes Anderson review

In anticipation of the release of “The French Dispatch,” here is a ranking and review of every film Wes Anderson has made.

Wes Anderson is regarded as one of the most revered and stylistically distinct directors of the past two-and-a-half decades. His prolific oeuvre has earned him both esteem and a contentious spot in the film community — some regard Anderson’s works as mere flash and awe, others pure genius. Wherever you fall on the debate, there is no denying the accessibility of these works, and the lasting impact Anderson has had on modern filmmaking.

Below is a ranking of all 12 of Anderson’s films, from features to shorts.


Title: “The Royal Tenenbaums”
Star Rating: 3/5

Wes Anderson’s breakout film, and my least favorite of his full-lengths. That should say more about him as a director than “The Royal Tenenbaums”; that even what I would say is his worst is still a vibrant and unique watch.

The film explores the friction within a large wealthy family, the Tenenbaums, as their patriarch, Royal, is given bad news.

Compared to the high standard of Anderson’s others, “The Royal Tenenbaums” is a bit dull and spreads itself thin with a number of decent but not plot-stable storylines. The characters lack quite the level of depth and brilliance of his other films, which are probably hurt by the dialogue.

This is obviously not a popular opinion among fans and non- alike, so you may well enjoy it. “Tenenbaums” is just about the closest he gets (competing with Darjeeling) to a standard Hollywood film and that puts me off. In truth, “Tenenbaums” being a Hollywood production (in contrast to Anderson’s prior two features) lended to the director pouring his efforts into the aesthetic side of things much more heavily, drawing away from the actual storytelling which made his previous works so special.
[Available to rent]


Title: “Isle of Dogs”
Star Rating: 3/5

“Isle of Dogs” is beautiful but lacking.

In a dystopian, 1950s-steampunk future, Japan finds itself overrun by a mysterious disease carried by dogs. Seeking a swift solution, the nation opts to relocate all dogs to an abandoned industrial archipelago where they struggle to survive. A lone child whose pet was one of those expatriated sets out to the islands to bring his dog “home”.

Let’s not get it wrong that the animation is fantastic and unique. The style is even more daring, if less successful, than “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (Anderson’s first animated film), utilizing a variety of 2D animation methods in addition to stop motion.

At the same time, its attempts to do more than the former don’t usually work. The cinematography is a good example. The idea seemed to be to use Japanese art theory, with heavy use of silhouettes and distinct fore-, mid- and backgrounds. However, due to integration with Anderson’s trademark “square” cinematography, the imagery looks flat. Usually, the dynamics of the scene balance with the square shots, but in this case the depth is squared, too. It may have been better to incorporate more leading lines, but alas. One design element that does work quite well is the on-screen text.

The story is also a bit lacking. It drags at many points, and feels like the storytelling of a standard kid’s movie – that is, with bursts of weirdly extreme content.

At times it’s social critiques are successful (commentary on human behavior especially) but mostly it was confused. The ‘white savior’ character was a detriment, and for the most part the treatment of Japanese culture and characters were stereotypical.

The acting was okay, but the dialogue was uneven and the characters were weak. I enjoyed the newscaster and Watanabe characters, but their dialogue drew away.

I find it strange, because clearly lots of effort went into the production, but “Isle Of Dogs” almost feels rushed to release, lacking the methodical and masterfully precise hand one would expect of Anderson.
[Available at time of writing to stream on: Disney+, IMDb TV (FREE w/ ads)]


Title: “Castello Cavalcanti”
Star Rating: 3.5/5

It should be noted that I tend to be more gracious to shorts than I am to features. That being said, “Castello Cavalcanti” is fun more than good.

After a racecar driver (Jason Schwartzman) crashes in a small Italian village, the driver discovers a surprising fact about the town.

The short takes its visual cues from “Fantastic Mr. Fox”, which is interesting to see in a live action setting, but the actual plot is somewhat boring. It is well shot and the little details make it a genuine Anderson. Little flags, green hootch, and Schwartzman’s… self (not that his acting is amazing) all make it enjoyable. Plus it’s very brief, so you can’t regret watching it for the sake of it.
[Available at time of writing to stream on: YouTube (FREE)]


Title: “The Darjeeling Limited”
Star Rating: 3.5/5

Following three brothers as they seek a spiritual and relational reconnection, “The Darjeeling Limited” takes place on a train journey across an idealized India.
“Darjeeling” isn’t bad, but not incredible either. Production and visuals definitely prop-up the film. It starts well, but unfortunately the story wanders without really going anywhere new.
One of the biggest problems is that many actors are underutilized, with Irfan Khan having a nearly silent role, Waris Ahluwalia being kept to the fringes, and Amara Karan — the most promising character in Rita — being merely sexualized and given none of the depth she deserved. At the same time, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and Adrien Brody play some of Anderson’s most obnoxious characters, who carry a narrative perspective in keeping with the ‘wild romanticism’ of colonialist ignorance, a problem that handicaps the film in many ways. The three are not as engaging or enjoyable to watch as they need to be.
Trademark brilliance does show up here and there (the train compartment pan-shot, Wilson’s head bandage, and him saying ‘sweet lime’ in a way that is somehow funny, for example), but sadly “The Darjeeling Limited” is not to the caliber one would hope it to be.
[Available at time of writing to stream on: Starz, DIRECTV]


Title: “Bottle Rocket” (1994)
Star Rating: 3.5/5

Two college-aged guys break their friend out of a mental institution and go on a spree of low-level heists.

Like any student film that transcends its means, “Bottle Rocket” (1994) is smart enough to know its limitations and has the courage to confront them, which is the source of most of the comedy.

And it is really funny — and clever, amazingly written, and well acted (with the same core cast of the feature-length version). There is so much to love.

Compare it to equivalent student films and it’s clear to see how ahead of the game Wes Anderson was directorially. The original “Bottle Rocket” is amazing.
[Available at time of writing to stream on: YouTube (FREE)]


Title: “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”
Star Rating: 4/5

A return to form and a return to weirdness after “Tenenbaums”.

“Life Aquatic” pokes fun at early documentary filmmaking, high falutin film, and well… most things. The all-star cast, featuring Anderson regulars like Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Angelica Houston, and brilliant newcomers like Willem Dafoe, Michael Gambon, Jeff Goldblum, Cate Blanchett, and Waris Ahluwalia, demands attention. And who can forget musician Seu Jorge’s (City of God) character Pelé dos Santos? He is so lovable, and began the Anderson tradition of fourth-wall-breaking narrators to give a “storybook” feel with Portuguese folk adaptations of David Bowie songs, which is strange but perfect for the film.

“Life Aquatic” also began the emphasis on “extreme” set design seen later on. Though “Tenenbaums” was the first to make full use of the “squared” and compartmentalized cinematography – “Life Aquatic”’s is better.

It’s sweet, hilarious, and smart – just as we hope for in every Anderson. It may not completely knock your socks off but I hope you adore “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” as much as I do.
[Available at time of writing to stream on: Hoopla (FREE), Prime]


Title: “Bottle Rocket” (1996)
Star Rating: 4/5

“Bottle Rocket” (1996) takes the short film and ups the ante — a lot.

Rather than simply filling in the gaps and using the production side in ways he wasn’t able to in the short, Anderson takes the opportunity to expand the world. Some level of the original humor is lost in the show-don’t-tell conversion, but it’s made up for in other places. The acting is superb and the characters are classic and lovable.

Style and freshness take center stage as well, showing giddy hints at what was to come for the filmmaker’s career.
[Available at time of writing to stream on: Starz]


Title: “Hotel Chevalier”
Star Rating: 4.5/5

“Hotel Chevalier” is a prologue to “The Darjeeling Limited”, and is Anderson’s most accomplished short. Somehow, in just 13 minutes, “Chevalier” explores the entirety of two characters, their relationship, and their complicated tangle of grief, hope, pain, and longing.

The production design is to die for, Natalie Portman is simply incredible with a performance that makes her feel like a fully fleshed character, despite only appearing for a matter of minutes, and in a smaller setting than “Darjeeling”, Jason Schwartzman’s role is devastating – their hug alone is heartbreaking, not to mention the unforgettable subtle humor. Unlike most shorts, small idiosyncrasies pepper the film rather than having just enough to keep things interesting, and ultimately, it’s these details that make “Hotel Chevalier” great. I only wish the same gravitas could have carried through to the main feature.
[Available at time of writing to stream on: YouTube (FREE)]


Title: “Rushmore”
Star Rating: 4.5/5

“Rushmore” tells the story of an overambitious high schooler as he pursues multiple extracurriculars to try and win the romantic interest of a teacher.

It is an exquisite work and a great watch, and after “Bottle Rocket,” Anderson miraculously proves that his magnificent storytelling is replicable. You can see his visual language coming together, the embrace of quirkiness, with the moulding of a unique type of acting that is both awkwardly realist and extremely unique – call it “underacting”.

Not everyone will agree with this review, but I think “Rushmore”’s demand for Anderson to pull out all the stops for his first wide-release lead to the best we would see of him for over a decade. Truly one of his best films.
[Available at time of writing to stream on: Hulu, Paramount Plus, DIRECTV]


Title: “Fantastic Mr. Fox”
Star Rating: 5/5

Mr. Fox is a burned out, middle-aged dad, who indulges in a midlife crisis with dangerous consequences for his family and the community.

It’s an absolute classic. The art alone is magnificent of course, but wow does it blow other comparable films out of the water. There’s not much to say, except that “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is a contender for the best animated film of all time, and is easily one of Wes Anderson’s best. It is an absolute joy to watch.
[Available at time of writing to stream on: Disney+]


Title: “Moonrise Kingdom”
Star Rating: 5/5
In “Moonrise Kingdom,” we are invited into a bygone New England summer where two kids, one an obsessed reader and the other a dedicated Boy Scout-equivalent, elope into the wild.

“Moonrise” is too often overlooked. Sure it’s famous, but I think many people unfairly write it off as one of the weaker in Wes’ pack.

My theory is this is because it’s his most obviously “childish” film. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” was technically a kid’s movie, sure, but it was approached with a seriousness and style that lent itself to being adult. “Moonrise” is the opposite: his return to live action “adult” filmmaking is more like a sophisticated, adult version of a kid’s movie.

The stars are children, and the first of Anderson’s to not lead with either Owen Wilson or Jason Schwartzman. There isn’t much of a hardcore villain either – compare Swinton’s coldness in “Moonrise” with Gambon’s overt violence in “Fox”.

It is also difficult to compare the visuals. “Fox” used groundbreaking, gritty stop motion, which you can’t compare with beautiful, fuzzed-out, pastel live action because even though the latter suits its story and is extraordinary in its own right, the nod of greatness is always toward that which takes more work and which is more serious or dark.

Don’t write off “Moonrise Kingdom” and watch it for yourself.
[Available at time of writing to stream on: UW Digital Campus (FREE), HBO Max]


Title: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Star Rating: 5/5

Coming in handedly at number one is “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Wes Anderson’s magnum opus.

A period piece covering familiar subjects of family squabbles and a heist, the film takes you up to the snowy peak of Anderson’s career where the storied “Grand Budapest Hotel” resides.

His career may not be over, but it’s hard to imagine surpassing “GBH.” Everything about the film is close to perfect – “GBH” is built like a Swiss watch. With that impeccable timing, most of the acting feels more like choreography, in the best way. Visually, too, it can’t be beat. This is the pinnacle of a painstaking career making painstakingly made movies, and it’s a lot of fun. I highly recommend “Grand Budapest”.
[Available to rent]