In 2007, Wes Anderson released the most divisive film in his catalog, The Darjeeling Limited. You’ll find this movie at the bottom of most fans’ rankings, yet it won a prize at the Venice Film Festival and earned twice its budget at the box office. It has the second lowest Rotten Tomatoes score among Anderson’s films but it hasn’t enjoyed the reassessment of The Life Aquatic, the only one below it.
As I wrote yesterday, almost all of Anderson’s movies deal with grief to some extent, but The Darjeeling Limited puts that theme front and center. The film follows a trio of brothers traveling on a train through India after a yearlong estrangement following the death of their father. They are weighed down with emotional (and physical) baggage and seeking a spiritual awakening.
Wes Anderson’s fourth film came three years after the success of The Royal Tenenbaums and did not continue his hot streak. 2004’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou received a lukewarm response from critics, at best, and earned only $35 million against a $50 million budget.
In the 17 years since its release, however, The Life Aquatic has found new life among film fans and has emerged as something of a cult classic.
I was on board from the start. While this film is certainly no Rushmore or The Royal Tenebaums, it has a madcap zany energy and a fierce imagination. It indulges in the schoolboy fantasy of a roguish Jacques Cousteau figure gleefully shattering legal and societal norms, but its underlying theme about facing mortality is serious and poignant.
Three years after the triumph of Rushmore, Wes Anderson returned with another brilliant work.
The Royal Tenenbaums follows the rise and fall of a family of geniuses, and the attempts by the flawed patriarch to reinsert himself into their lives.
Given double the budget of Rushmore, Anderson broadened his palette, assembling a large ensemble cast and setting the film in a slightly skewed version of New York. The effort paid off to the tune of $71 million at the box office and a Golden Globe for star Gene Hackman.
Wes Anderson’s second film, Rushmore (1998), heralded his arrival as a major new voice in independent cinema. Bottle Rocket had made a small splash on the festival circuit, but this movie received widespread critical acclaim, decent box office, and awards season attention.
It also kicked off a renaissance for Bill Murray, who went from being known primarily for comic roles to a go-to choice for portrayals of wry sad sacks. Four years later, he would be nominated for Best Actor for his great work in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation.
In anticipation of Wes Anderson’s 10th film, The French Dispatch, due in theaters a month from now, I recently rewatched the writer-director’s entire filmography in chronological order. Over the next two weeks I’ll write a bit about each of those films and finish up with my ranked list.
Anderson’s debut, 1996’s Bottle Rocket, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. This low-budget crime comedy boasts few of the trademarks commonly associated with his films (symmetry; dollhouse art direction; liberal use of tilts, pans, and zooms) while introducing others (close-up insert shots, 60s pop music, Owen Wilson).