There is no other filmmaker on the planet who has s style more distinct than Wes Anderson. You ALWAYS know when you’re watching a Wes Anderson movie. While he uses similar tricks and camera techniques, it always feels fresh. But aside from his unique style, it’s the characters that always stand out.
Anderson has written and delivered so many memorable characters, it’s just not fair. What’s so brilliant about the people he brings to life is that they all feel the same, yet have these little nuances and subtleties that make all the difference. Whether they wear the same clothes everyday, have depressing back stories, or are just plain eccentric, Anderson manages to take all these flaws and make them absolutely hilarious, but still maintain a sense of seriousness and drama – now that’s a damn good filmmaker.
With another surefire hit on the way this weekend (The Grand Budapest Hotel), I thought I’d take a look back at some of the man’s most brilliant creations. In what is probably the most challenging list I’ve ever attempted, I bring to you…The Top Ten Best Wes Anderson Characters!
*Spoilers for all Wes Anderson Movies*
10) Chas Tenenbaum (Ben Stiller) – The Royal Tenenbaums
True story: I bought a red Adidas track suit in high school solely because of this movie. This is by far Ben Stiller’s best performance, as Chas Tenenbaum falls into the classic Anderson trope of painful back story/funny result. Chas’ wife Rachael Tenenbaum died in a plane crash, so now he’s obsessed with keeping his kids (Ari and Uzi) safe. I took the track suit as a sign of Chas always wanting to be in a state of perpetual readiness. His best scene is when he’s sitting in his apartment with a time watch ready to call a fake fire alarm. But aside from the more goofier aspects of the character, his relationship with Royal was definitely the most strained, and probably impacted me the most at the end of the film. My lasting image of Chas Tenenbaum will always be at his dad’s funeral…in a black adidas track suit. Brilliant…just brilliant.
Best Line: (In response to Royal telling his children he loves them): “Ho-ho! Ho-hoooo!”
9) Sam (Jared Gilman) & Suzy (Kara Hayward) – Moonrise Kingdom
Yeah, I’m cheating here, but I really do think they belong on this list as a pair. Out of all of Wes Anderson’s films, this relationship may have been the most heartfelt and emotionally gripping. It’s about two kids who are a bit damaged mentally, but they just find each other. I love Sam’s introduction, just rowing by himself as the perfect song choice plays. That’s another thing about Wes Anderson – he always knows the perfect song to incorporate, setting the mood perfectly. While Sam and Suzy are very much Wes Anderson characters (Suzy is basically Margot Tenenbaum as a child), they are also the most different. Even though we’re talking about kids, they probably have the most adult conversations then in any other Wes Anderson movie, especially when they debate the pros and cons of being an orphan. I admit their relationship can get a little awkward at times, especially with the beach scenes, but Anderson knows just how far to push it. I was very much invested in their story, and is the main reason I rank Moonrise Kingdom as one of Anderson’s best.
Suzy: Was he a good dog?
Sam: Who’s to say…but he didn’t deserve to die.
8) Eli Cash (Owen Wilson) – The Royal Tenenbaums
For someone who isn’t that big of a character compared to everyone else in The Royal Tenenbaums, Eli Cash still deserves his place on this list. Owen Wilson makes so much of the scenes he’s in, I just had to include him. There’s a lot of great Wes Anderson characters like that, which is why Cousin Ben (Jason Schwartzman) from Moonrise Kingdom almost made the cut. Eli is the best representation of this though, as every single moment spent with him is comedy gold. I know his drug problem isn’t really supposed to be funny, but I can’t help it. Whether he’s sitting around stoned in his apartment with ridiculous art hanging behind him, or asking where his shoe is after crashing a car in the middle of Etheline and Henry’s wedding, Eli was always a self-destructive delight. “Wildcat was written in a kind of obsolete vernacular…wildcat. Wildcat…”
That says it all.
Best Line: “Well, everyone knows Custer died at Little Bighorn. What this book presupposes is…maybe he didn’t?”
7) Dignan (Owen Wilson) – Bottle Rocket
-Going back-to-back Owen Wilson, and I’m glad Bottle Rocket is able to get some love here. Maybe a little rough around the edges, but it was Wes Anderson’s first movie. But the character who stood out the most without question was Dignan…poor, poor Dignan. This was Owen Wilson at his best. To best describe Dignan is that he’s not too bright, but was always meticulously prepared. Owen Wilson sort of played this character again in The Darjeeling Limited, by far Anderson’s worst film. To be perfectly honest though, Dignan might hold the title for most quotable Wes Anderson character to date. Dignan thinks he’s the most important person in the world, and the fact that he believes he needs to be on the lam after robbing some no name book store tells you everything you need to know about this character. He’s so intense, yet you feel so bad for him. He’s such a sap, but tries so, so damn hard. Oh, Dignan…I’ll always love you, buddy.
Best Line: “Say it again. Say it one more time. Say it again. Repeat what you just said.”
6) Margot Tenenbaum (Gwyneth Paltrow) – The Royal Tenenbaums
From a pure performance standpoint, this is near the top of the list for Wes Anderson films. Gwyneth Paltrow completely transforms into this character. Even when she’s just sitting in the background, Margot was always fascinating to watch. The best way to describe Margot is if you took Daria Morgendorffer and combined her with a tortured artist. She was usually the black sheep of the Tenenbaum family, as Royal used to always point out “this is my adopted daughter, Margot Tenenbaum.” Every scene with Margot always seemed to reveal something new about her, whether it be a wooden finger, her first marriage that only lasted nine days, and of course her addiction to cigarettes that goes back to when she was 12. Just like everything else in The Royal Tenenbaums, Margot’s character was a perfect piece to the story.
Best Line: “Eli just crashed his car into the front of the house.”
5) Herman Blume (Bill Murray) – Rushmore
Bill Murray has certainly been a Wes Anderson staple since Rushmore. I’m not joking when I say their chemistry is at the level of a Martin Scorsese/Leonardo DiCaprio. Rushmore was the movie that really let the world know just how talented Bill Murray was. Yes, he’s very Bill Murray here, sure. But the core of Herman Blume is just this absolutely depressed beaten down man. While Murray is hilarious, he’s also very sad. Whether he’s strutting around in his Budweiser bathing suit, or being completely and utterly annoyed by his obnoxious kids, Herman became the trademark Wes Anderson character, and the perfect start to a beautiful director/actor relationship. There’s always a role for Bill Murray in a Wes Anderson movie.
Best Line: “Take dead aim on the rich boys. Get them in the crosshairs and take them down.”
4) Mr. Fox (George Clooney, voice) – Fantastic Mr. Fox
While not totally an original creation, Mr. Fox is the most Wes Anderson you can get. Everything from his sweater vest/jacket combo to his overall demeanor, Mr. Fox can fit into any Wes Anderson movie…he just happens to be a fox. And as crazy as it sounds, this might be my favorite George Clooney performance there is. He brings so much life into this character, you can’t help but not be completely enamored by him. He’s a cocky, arrogant, devilishly clever criminal who’s much more interesting than Danny Ocean. He’s a heavily flawed character who thinks nothing bad can happen to him, but at the end of the day he’s a guy who loves his family unconditionally, even if his son is a little bit…different. I would love to see more movies with this character. “Vulpes vulpes.”
Best Line: “But in the end, he’s just another dead rat in a garbage pail behind a Chinese restaurant.”
3) Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) – The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou isn’t one of my favorites. The first time I saw it, I was massively disappointed. But this film has started to grow on me. The one character I always did love though was Steve Zissou. This is Bill Murray at his best. Steve Zissou is just this sad man, way past his prime. He sort of knows this, but there’s still enough arrogance in the character to make him funny, as he chases the mysterious jaguar shark who ate his friend, but no one believes him. Just like with any Wes Anderson movie, you got your share of great supporting characters, but this really was his most focused singular character piece. Not only was Zissou hilarious, but he knew how to kick ass, single handedly taking out pirates left and right. You know a great Wes Anderson character when they have a distinct costume, and Zissou was no different. He was always in that red cap. May you forever find peace on the Belafonte, Zissou…
Best Line: “Don’t point that gun at him. He’s an unpaid intern.”
2) Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) – The Royal Tenenbaums
Yeah, The French Connection was great, but I don’t care what anybody says…this is my favorite Gene Hackman performance. There are so many interesting quirks and elements to Royal Tenenbaum, but the one that always stands out to me is that he might be the least like a Wes Anderson character there is. It was fascinating to watch Hackman navigate the Anderson waters, just as the character himself is desperately trying to be accepted into his family again. But aside from that, Royal is one of the most likable assholes to ever appear on film. He’s such a con-artist sleazebag, but you root like hell for him. Even when he’s telling his eleven year old daughter her play wasn’t all that great, it was still pretty damn funny. This made Royal’s redemption that much more powerful though. And as funny and clever as The Royal Tenenbaums is, that last scene at the funeral truly hits you hard, as all these eccentric and colorful characters gather at dusk for this one guy, not really knowing how to feel about him. Even with Hackman’s charismatic performance and great lines, it’s Royal’s epitaph that sums up the character perfectly.
Best Line: “Can’t somebody be a shit their whole life and try to repair the damage?”
1) Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) – Rushmore
As difficult and challenging as this list was, the #1 choice came pretty easily. How could it be anybody else? Seeing Rushmore in the theater was my first experience into the world of Wes Anderson, and it changed my life forever. I didn’t know you could do that with comedy, and a lot of that inspiration came from Jason Schwartzman’s iconic turn as Max Fischer. It’s really hard for me to do this character justice, as I’m really struggling to find the words. All I can say is this: Max Fischer was President of the Rushmore Beekeepers society, held down a 42% average in Botany, and wanted nothing more out of life then to attend Rushmore for all eternity. As Max puts it best, “I guess you’ve just gotta find something you love to do and then do it for the rest of your life. For me, it’s going to Rushmore.” If that’s not an interesting/funny character, I don’t know what is. Oh, he also wrote a hit play…and directed it.
Best Line: “My top schools where I want to apply to are Oxford and the Sorbonne. My safety’s Harvard.”