5 Best Performances in Wes Anderson Movies

bottle-rocket-dignan


2014 has had its fair share of pleasures in its first month or so, but the biggest movie for cinephiles like myself to come so far this year (and for some, to come at all this year) is Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. I placed it #2 on my most-anticipated movies of 2014 list. It had its premiere recently at the Berlin International Film Festival, and reviews were as good as any of us Anderson fanatics could have hoped.

To celebrate The Grand Budapest Hotel‘s arrival—as well as the imminent arrival of Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox on Criterion Blu-Ray—I’ve been rewatching Anderson’s films and will offer a series of Anderson-related posts through the next couple weeks.

I start today with a top five list—my favorite performances in Wes Anderson movies. It wasn’t an easy list to put together. Limiting myself to five meant leaving off outstanding performances like James Caan’s in Bottle Rocket, Bill Murray’s in Rushmore, Luke’s and Owen Wilson’s in The Royal Tenenbaums, Adrien Brody’s in The Darjeeling Limited, and Jason Schwartzman’s oustanding vocal work in Fantastic Mr. Fox. And who knows, if I waited a few weeks to write this baby, I might be including Ralph Fiennes’s raved-about performance in Budapest. Alas, there’s no going wrong with these five actors and these five performances. They’re outstanding—and very Andersonian—my any measure.

Presented in alphabetical order until #1…

Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, Moonrise Kingdom
For me, there’s no separating these two youngsters from Anderson’s most recent picture. With much bigger names—Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton—littering the cast around them, they carry the film on their backs with a sweet interpretation of naive but undeniable love. Their underwear dance off on the beach alone make them worthy of inclusion on this list.

Gene Hackman, The Royal Tenenbaums
Anderson’s great strength as a writer is his ability to create likable men who act in very unlikeable, sometimes despicable ways. There’s no better example of this character than Royal, who’s a genuinely bad guy—robbing from his kids, cheating on his wife, trying to claim them as his family when he only uses them when it’s advantageous to him, like when he’s kicked out of his hotel. That said, Royal is a fucking champ as written by Anderson (or as interpreted by me, take your pick). I don’t know what that says exactly, but Hackman performs the role with a gusto that’s as restrained as it is brash. Any concerns over him gobbling the film up quickly dissipate. It’s the best performance of his career.

Owen Wilson, Bottle Rocket
There isn’t an Anderson character who makes me laugh as hard or consistently as Dignan. From the moment we meet him, hiding in the bushes with binoculars while his best friend cordially leaves a voluntary mental health facility, his manic energy and wide-eyed optimism are apparent. He doesn’t espouse much else over the course of 90 minutes, but Wilson’s endearing portrayal is magnetic. And the robbery scene? Movies simply don’t get much better than that, and Wilson owns it.

And the best performance in a Wes Anderson movie…

Jason Schwartzman, Rushmore
Anderson went through a lengthy search process to find his Max Fischer, and as I’m sure he’d say, there’s a reason for that. Only Schwartzman could have realized this character—an all-time great one—this way. His Max is a smarmy little shit—a relic of an era long gone for a reason—but his tenacity and earnestness are admirable qualities. Schwartzman maximizes his best and worst qualities in big, loud, in-your-face ways, but that’s the pleasure of Anderson’s movies and the performances therein. There’s no pretense to be found in these seven (soon to be eight) movies. No one represents that as skillfully or as satisfyingly as Schwartzman does here. It’s all-time great acting.

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One Response to 5 Best Performances in Wes Anderson Movies

  1. Dan Heaton February 15, 2014 at 11:31 pm

    I’m not sure Owen Wilson has ever been better than he was as Dignan in Bottle Rocket. I love the lack of self-awareness in that character and the way he’s mocked by Anderson in a subtle way. It’s really hard for me to argue with any of your picks. There are plenty of great supporting performances that have surprised me. I never figured Ed Norton would be the right choice for that part in Moonrise Kingdom, and nearly everyone in the Royal Tennenbaums is strong. Adrien Brody is surprisingly good in the Darjeeling Limited. You can just keep going down the list.

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