Wes Anderson is one of the most distinct directors out there, with everything from his curious framing to his whimsical dialogue separating him as a truly unique visual artist. Anderson also has a knack for creating moving and odd, yet endlessly memorable, characters.
- 10. Lt. Nescaffier (The French Dispatch)
- 9. Herman Blume (Rushmore)
- 8. Margot Tenenbaum (The Royal Tenenbaums)
- 7. Mr. Fox (The Fantastic Mr. Fox)
- 6. Captain Sharp (Moonrise Kingdom)
- 5. Suzy Bishop (Moonrise Kingdom)
- 4. Max Fischer (Rushmore)
- 3. Steve Zissou (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou)
- 2. Royal Tenenbaum (The Royal Tenenbaums)
- 1. M. Gustave (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Ever since Anderson made his directorial debut with Bottle Rocket back in 1996, the filmmaker has showcased a unique ability to create curious characters on the page and on the screen. The dialogue and the actors’ performances, of course, are integral to each character. However, Anderson’s unique visual flair is also able to accentuate the characters, highlighting their importance while also showcasing their flaws.
The new film Asteroid City will mark Anderson’s latest foray into the absurd with a sci-fi story that is sure to be unlike no other. The film stars Anderson staples and newcomers alike, from Jason Schwartzman and Adrien Brody to Scarlett Johansson and Tom Hanks. And while all of Anderson’s films are filled to the brim with whimsical and memorable characters, a certain few stand above the rest.
It didn’t feel right constructing this list without a shoutout to the underrated The French Dispatch, a film packed with characters galore. The charismatic and charming film, which imitates the style and organization of a classic New Yorker magazine issue, follows three large mini-narratives that fit within a larger story of a magazine trying to publish its last issue.
It’s nearly impossible to single out one great character and performance from the movie, but Stephen Park’s Lt. Nescaffier gets the nod. Nescaffier, a legendary police officer and chef, is a hilarious and curious character worthy of his legend status. An incredible and charming character played beautifully by Park, Lt. Nescaffier is as philosophical as he is brave — even if he says otherwise.
Bill Murray is a Wes Anderson staple, and his performance in Rushmore is one of his funniest works. Blume is a disillusioned, sad sack of a man looking to find love. The highly successful businessman is in an unhappy marriage, causing him to dive headfirst into a dramatic midlife crisis.
Murray’s performance accentuates the comedy in the tragic character, and his interactions with Jason Schwartzman’s Max Fischer never fail to steal the screen. Rushmore, which came out in 1998, is one of Anderson’s first works, but it’s also one of his best — no doubt thanks in large part to Blume and Fischer.
Like many of Anderson’s movies, The Royal Tenenbaums has so many eccentric and memorable characters that it’s hard to choose a handful that stand above the rest. Most of Anderson’s work deals with ideas of family and what makes them tick, and The Royal Tenenbaums is one of the greatest examples of that thesis.
Margot Tenenbaum, the adopted daughter of one of the most dysfunctional families ever seen on screen, is played hilariously and tragically by Gwyneth Paltrow. A depressed and reserved artist whose life always seems on the edge of falling apart, Margot is a memorably flawed character in Anderson’s arsenal.
Mr. Fox, the titular protagonist of 2009’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox, is as annoyingly overconfident as he is charming. The film rests its effectiveness almost entirely on the main character, and George Clooney’s Mr. Fox lives up to the task.
Through heists and all, Mr. Fox is a constantly scheming, yet endlessly charming individual who, at his heart, really cares about his family — even if nearly all of his actions say otherwise. The hapless fox gets in over his head, losing himself and his priorities in the process. Although he’s one of Anderson’s silliest and most frustrating characters, it’s impossible to deny the power of the Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Moonrise Kingdom needs its characters in order to work. The film, which follows the happenings on a small island off the coast of New England after two children run away from home, relies on the heart and conflicting sentiments of its protagonists to create a loving portrait about family and childhood.
With Captain Sharp, Anderson and actor Bruce Willis are able to turn a character that could have been a cliché into a nuanced, complicated man. As the chief of police on New Penzance Island, Sharp is a tired, yet sincere man. Moonrise Kingdom is packed with over-the-top performances, but Willis’ grounded nature brings an essential sincerity to the film.
Another Moonrise Kingdom character who deserves recognition is Suzy Bishop, played by Kara Hayward. Despite only being 12 years old, Suzy is a reserved, interior sort of person who works perfectly alongside the sweetness of Sam Shakusky, her newfound crush. The young lovers are hard to separate, but it’s Suzy’s layers that elevate her.
Suzy, an intelligent and talented young girl whose parents fail to help her in any way, isn’t a damsel in distress ,nor a bossy do-gooder. Rather, she’s complicated, like any child of her age would be. In a film that effortlessly captures what it’s like being a child trying to be an adult, Suzy is a powerful and searing portrait.
As previously mentioned, the greatness of Anderson’s sophomore feature film Rushmore relies heavily on its protagonists. And, even though Murray’s Herman Blume might hold the movie’s comedic heart, it’s hard to leave the movie without commending Jason Schwartzman’s performance as Max Fischer.
Schwartzman — who is having himself a summer with large roles in both Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and Asteroid City — is undeniable in the role. Max is an ambitious, bright young man whose charisma and confidence may cause many to cringe through the laughter. He refuses to accept that he is a kid, a character choice that works well alongside Anderson’s knack for portraying adults that act like kids and vice versa.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou may be one of Anderson’s weirdest movies — and that’s saying a lot. Weird or not, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou represents a perfect pairing of actor, director, and role. The movie follows Steve Zissou, a washed-up oceanographer who sets out on his latest expedition to find and kill the rare shark that ate his friend.
Bill Murray has always been great at playing characters who hide behind their comedy, and Steve Zissou’s funny, yet insecure demeanor results in an effective portrayal of a man in an ongoing existential crisis. He’s a lonely man, one who drags his closest friends and family on a dangerous mission to tame his own insecurities. Zissou is a perfect amalgamation of Anderson’s classic themes and Murray’s best talents.
One of Gene Hackman’s final performances before he retired, Royal Tenenbaum is a role that will always be remembered as one of Hackman’s bests. Anderson has a lot of flawed father figures in his movies, but Royal Tenenbaum in The Royal Tenenbaums is undeniably powerful.
Hackman’s performance bursts through the screen, transcending Anderson’s style and creating a character of intense layers. While The Royal Tenenbaums is filled with funny and complicated characters, Royal Tenenbaum is a lovingly emotional man who feels concretely like your own grandpa.
Ralph Fiennes’ performance as M. Gustave is one for the ages. The Grand Budapest Hotel relies on the charismatic Gustave to be a sort of legend, an adopted father figure who has left a profound influence on Zero’s life. He’s not a perfect man, but he’s a complicated and flawed figure who does his best. Gustave is sensitive underneath his elegant and austere exterior, resulting in a layered character and performance that lovingly encapsulates the love, stress, and hardship that comes with being a father figure.
Yes, Gustave is self-important, but there’s more than meets the eye with him. Fiennes’ is a supremely talented actor perfect for this role, and his offbeat, yet t0-the-point demeanor result in a hilariously complicated character. The Grand Budapest Hotel is among Anderson’s best work, and M. Gustave is due much thanks for that.
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