With a mere five films under his director/writer belt, plus another in theaters this month, Wes Anderson doesn't need to match the mass-production of other moviemakers to make an impact. We remember his name despite the eight-year gap between the Oscar-nominated The Royal Tenenbaums and his upcoming release The Fantastic Mr. Fox. The absurdly amusing adventures of his quirky yet touchingly familiar misfits linger in our brains long after most cookie-cutter Hollywood blockbusters have faded from memory.
Anderson's first foray into stop-motion animation, The Fantastic Mr. Fox is based on the classic children's book by Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). It's a "garden tale" of farmer vs. fox -- a noble, clever, and "fantastic" fox the Stooge-like farmers try to exterminate. Though somewhat unfamiliar territory for Wes (a good thing, considering the not unjustified flack he's received for his repetitive themes and style), the film stars the usual Anderson suspects, including longtime pal and co-writer Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and Bill Murray, along with Meryl Streep and George Clooney as Mr. and Mrs. Fox. Anderson is also rumored to direct/write My Best Friend, a remake of a French comedy. More in line with his oddball M.O., it chronicles the maneuvers of an arrogant antiques dealer who has to produce his best friend (which he doesn't believe he has) in order to win a bet. Let's take a wild guess on who Wes might cast in the dealer's role ... Bill Murray? Is Schwartzman too huggable?
But before we venture down the latest rabbit- or fox-hole of Anderson's imagination, we thought we'd pause and rank his past films from his Bottle Rocket beginnings to his Royal Tenenbaums tour de force.
5. The Darjeeling Unlimited (and Hotel Chevalier)
Three brothers trekking their emotional baggage across India seeking enlightenment, kinship, and mommy-issue resolution -- it's WA Psych 101. Yet, while visually Anderson transports, the trippy disconnect between the characters makes it hard to connect with or care about them or the film. (Though the prologue, Hotel Chevalier, exposes tender if ambiguous exchanges between ex-lovers Portman and Schwartzman.)
4. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou
Eerie scenes of undersea beauty, a rusty boat with luxurious secrets, a strong current of whimsy and otherworldly exploration, Murray as Jacques Cousteau meets Ahab -- The Life Aquatic brims with entertaining elements that alas, don't quite gel. Perhaps because they, along with the jokes, meander by at melancholy speed.
3. Bottle Rocket
For what it is -- a low-budget Wilsons-Anderson indie film debut -- Bottle Rocket's a cult classic that has enough bird-call communication breakdowns and other hilarious mishaps to deserve its comedy cred.
Schwartzman and Murray are arguably Anderson's best, or at the very least funniest, comic combination. And how could anyone not heart Max Fischer after Schwartzman's pitch-perfect take on adolescent ambition? Also pitch-perfect: the soundtrack.
1. The Royal Tenenbaums
Rich in detail, depth, dysfunctional disrepair, emotional yearning, and nutty former child prodigies, Anderson's tour de force to date teeters on the edges of comedy and despair. It triggers tears -- of laughter and sympathy -- without mocking or melodrama.