Which films deserve the merit and which are overhyped? We sift through the director’s oeuvre
What better way to celebrate cinematic auteur Wes Anderson's 46th birthday than to tally which are the most overrated and underrated flicks in his back catalogue? Some people worship him and everything he touches. Others just can't get past the towering tweeness that runs through all of his films. He's indubitably a one-man genre, and love him or hate him, there is something to take away from each of his gorgeously shot and cunningly schemed films. Here, we look at his work through wire-framed glasses to conclude whether each feature is underrated or unjustly lionised.
RUSHMORE (1998) – UNDERRATED
The plot idea of a confident dweeb and rich business magnate lusting after the same hot teacher is one that hasn't been explored enough. This is, deservedly, one of Anderson's most critically lauded efforts, and of his most irresistibly quotable. "Despite cute moments, nothing about Rushmore begs to be liked," wrote one critic. For his follow up to Bottle Rocket, he managed to inject the plot with the right dose of comedy and self-awareness without going overboard. No matter how many times you've heard about it, it's still funny.
THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (2001) – OVERRATED
The Royal Tenenbaums is one of those things you either get or you don't. Like the popularity of Ed Sheeran, or people who think snacking on almonds is filling. I think one of the most telling compliments this film has received from critics is that it is a witty 'adult comedy', as if the humour is somehow esoteric and, therefore, not able to be appreciated by the vast majority of people. While half of the family members are fully fleshed out, there are some one-dimensional dead-weight characters like biz whiz Chas and mum Etheline. Sartorially speaking, however, this is by far his best film. Who knew tracksuits could look cool?
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014) – BOTH UNDERRATED & OVERRATED
Chances are, if you haven't seen this film by now, you're vehemently avoiding it at all costs. Don't. I'm here to tell you that it was nominated for several Academy Awards and it completely deserved those it won (original score, production design, costume design, and make-up and hairstyling). Add to that the fastidious attention to detail on the intricate visual effects in camera and it's nearly unbeatable. Even the writing is on a par with his best work. There's something in there to appreciate, no matter the reason you're watching. It's a bit strange, though, that buried beneath the sniggering one-liners and symphony of pastels lies a story that is basically about a closeted gay concierge executing an art heist in a fascist regime.
CASTELLO CAVALCANTI (2013) – UNDERRATED
Funded by Prada, Castello Cavalcanti is about a racing car driver (Jason Schwartzman) who totals his car in his ancestral hometown by complete chance. "You're my ancestors, I think. We're ancestors!" the main character spouts, introducing himself to older men at a late-night bar. It's kind of like watching a family reunion unfold – awkward, yet charming. Although it's less than eight minutes in length, Anderson establishes the main character and the world in which he resides, while paying tribute to legendary Italian director Federico Fellini.
MOONRISE KINGDOM (2012) – OVERRATED
If it's an "eccentric pubescent love story" you're looking for, then I recommend you blow the dust off your old yearbooks. Moonrise Kingdom seemed like an exercise in creating nostalgia, where we lust for a remembered moment that hasn't happened yet or become homesick for a place that doesn't exist. While critics showered it with all those descriptors that tell you nothing really happens in the film – 'whimsical', 'idiosyncratic', etc – it's chock-full of every Anderson ingredient that overwhelms the end result with too much flavour. Just try and find me a more irritating soundtrack.
FANTASTIC MR FOX (2009) – UNDERRATED
"Are you cussing with me?" "No, he's just *wiggles hands* different." Perhaps the most twee family film ever made (move over, Corpse Bride), Fantastic Mr Fox is inventive in both its aesthetic and how it spins a tall tale to a (literally) small audience. The film is pregnant with in-jokes – whether that is to its benefit or its detriment is arguable, but it manages to get away with it in Anderson's signature deadpan delivery.
BOTTLE ROCKET (1996) – UNDERRATED
Even some of Anderson's most faithful disciples haven't had a watch of the feature that first put him on the map. Adapted from a short film of the same name, the flick is about a trio of clueless crime wannabes who attempt to pull off a heist. Before he got too bogged down in 'sameness' and viewers signed up to play Wes Anderson Bingo, he magicked together a more languid style of storytelling that told absurd stories in a way that was a bit easier to latch onto. You rarely hear mention of this film when Anderson comes up in conversation, and that's a shame.
HOTEL CHEVALIER (2007) – UNDERRATED
This is short film 101. It was intended as a prologue to The Darjeeling Limited, but stands completely on its own. Filmed in a Paris hotel with costumes by Marc Jacobs, it tells the story of former lovers who reunite for some hanky panky. If an Anderson virgin were to dip a toe into his world without getting totally wet with a full-length feature, this short encapsulates all the Anderson signatures (mainly, the entire Pantone spectrum of yellow). It reveals just enough about its characters to give the viewers a glimpse into their world, but leaves you panting for more. It's one entry on Anderson's CV that is unfairly glossed over.
THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU (2004) – OVERRATED
Sometimes if you can watch a film in five seconds, as in the clip below, you ought to. It doesn't get any better, or worse, than this five seconds. Life Aquatic is the paragon that critics refer to when they speak of Anderson's impenetrability. The jokes don't land, and the pace is magnificently sloth-like. One review says: "Aquatic seems willfully eccentric without ever letting the rest of us in on the joke." This one's a sinker – Anderson's worst-rated film by critics, no less – that not even Bill Murray can buoy.
THE DARJEELING LIMITED (2007) – OVERRATED
Calling this film one of Anderson's most visually stimulating is like calling a dollhouse cramped. Thing is, that dollhouse technique where everything is meticulously composed is one criticism that often gets lobbed his way. Of course, that's the point. It is artificial. But here, it's excruciating. While Anderson tries to point out how ridiculous it is for white foreigners to have their Eat Pray Love-type spiritual journey, it never really connects. You quickly give up caring for the brothers as they continue their hours-long spat in train cars and temples.