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Rushmore, Rush-less: Wes Anderson’s Films, From Worst to Best

Rolling Stone looks back at ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ director’s career and ranks the movies

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Believe it or not, Wes Anderson has been making movies for two decades now: The director who once defined youthful, oddball outsiderism is now a veteran, a giant…an institution. But what’s most remarkable about his career — consisting of seven features, and a healthy number of shorts and commercials — has been its staggering consistency. Over these twenty years, Anderson has been meticulously building his own very unique world, and as his new film The Grand Budapest Hotel opens today, we decided to look over Anderson’s career and rank his major works. Where do your favorites place?

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6. American Express Commercial: ‘My Life, My Card’ (2006)

For a guy who never acts in his own films, Wes Anderson makes for a surprisingly relaxed presence in front of his own camera. Filmed as part of American Express's program of hiring high-profile filmmakers to shoot credit card commercials, this is so meta it hurts. In a seemingly endless lateral tracking shot, Anderson eats a sandwich and talks to the camera while also dealing with the many headaches and decisions that are part of a Wes Anderson Movie Set: Stuffed tigers, impeccably burning cars, a crane dolly, a 357 Magnum with a bayonet, a precocious young girl with a tennis racquet, Jason Schwartzman, and an ill-timed flock of birds. Forget AmEx; as far as building brand awareness goes, this is a triumph of Brand Wes Anderson.

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5. ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ (2014)

Anderson's latest might feature his most complicated narrative to date – a political-thriller-cum-frothy comedy-cum-historical epic about cross-border intrigue, all in a pre-war Europe of the director's own imagination. But look closely and you'll see a figure that has heretofore not made an appearance in his films: Evil. Alongside Willem Dafoe's black-shirted assassin, there's a darkness scurrying in the edges of this otherwise hilarious and bright farce. Much as Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game, released on the eve of World War II, indulges in frivolity in its depiction of a world that's about to come to a brutal end, so too does Grand Budapest give us a world that has laid the groundwork of its own obliteration. 

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4. ‘Hotel Chevalier’ (2007)

Probably the best of Anderson's shorts – too bad it was paired with The Darjeeling Limited, the worst of his features – this lovely little concoction starring Jason Schwartzman and Natalie Portman is an elegant auto-critique, the tale of a hotelbound sad sack with an obsessive need for precision and an inability to say what he wants to the woman he clearly loves. Are these characters tired of love, or hopelessly in love? And what, ultimately, is the difference? A mini-masterpiece of brevity and melancholy.

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3. ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ (2012)

After the disappointment of Darjeeling, some expected Anderson to pull back on the Andersonisms: "Leave the color-coded artificial worlds to animation, as you did with Mr. Fox, Wes, and come deal with the messy world of real humans!" But in this, his first honest-to-god feature-length romance, Anderson doubled down on the stylization, presenting one of his most vibrant and beautiful works to date. A lovers-on-the-run movie, with overt references to Badlands, Thieves Like Us, and Pierrot le Fou, as well as a tale of unapologetic childhood romance, it feels at times like a manifesto.

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2. ‘Bottle Rocket’: The Feature (1996)

When Bottle Rocket first came out, it felt so distinct – so laid back in its storytelling, so offbeat in its characterizations — that it seems odd to acknowledge now that it's the least characteristic feature film of Anderson's career. The chocolate-box arrangements and perfectly-diagrammed plots of his later films are nowhere to be found here. But Bottle Rocket still has the most emotionally resonant relationship in all of Anderson's films, thanks in part to the brilliant casting coup of getting the Wilson brothers to portray best friends – both their affection and their dysfunction comes through in intangible, almost mystical ways. No less a luminary than Martin Scorsese named this one of the 10 best films of the 1990s; we're inclined to agree.

1. ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ (2001)

Rushmore might have been Anderson’s breakthrough feature, but as the years pass, The Royal Tenenbaums has come to seem more and more like his most enduring masterpiece. Observe how Anderson juggles the large amount of characters and the sheer amount of story he has to get through in this diffuse, intricate tale of a wounded family of grown-up wiz kids and their adorably opportunistic father (Gene Hackman). For all the flamboyance of his cinematic style, Anderson also has a minimalist streak as well: He likes the purity of an emotion expressed directly and simply. The sheer range of human drama here is astounding: It’s a movie that grows up with us. We’ll still be watching it when we’re seventy. 

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