Today! Because I saved Latin – what did you ever do?
Directed by Wes Anderson (x5)
Starring: Jason Schwartzman (x6), Bill Murray (x14), Olivia Williams, Brian Cox (x8), Luke Wilson (x5), Seymour Cassel (x4), Kumar Pallana (x3), Mason Gamble, Sara Tanaka (x2), Connie Nielsen, Andrew Wilson (x4), Stephen McCole
On the high end of this list, historically, I go back and forth between my favorite Wes Anderson movie and my favorite Bill Murray movie. Anderson flip flops between Rushmore and Tenenbaums, while Murray as you may have noticed has like five films out of the last fifteen, so there is a constant rotation. But more often than not, it works out that Rushmore is the top film for both, as it is here.
As mentioned in probably all the previous four Anderson movie posts, his style would get solidified in the years immediately after Tenenbaums, even though most of the elements that would define his films were introduced there. Rushmore functions as more of the raw version of this concept – the heightened reality of his world isn’t as much on display, even though things are pretty aggressively off-kilter at Rushmore Academy. The likable asshole main characters here are probably just a smidge more likable than, say, Royal Tenenbaum or Steve Zissou or Gustave H, as at least Max Fischer and Herman Blume are driven and twisted by love, and who can’t relate to that?
1998, as I’ve hammered repeatedly, is one of my favorite movie years, coming as it did during my early years of college, when I really thought I knew what I was about. More accurately is that those first college years – 1997, 1998, 1999 – are one of my favorite stretches. Hell, 2000 has more movies on this list than ’98 does, but the highs were just not as high, whereas ’98 has the likes of Rushmore, #48 The Truman Show, #67 Can’t Hardly Wait, and #91 The Big Lebowski in the top 100. The Oscars that year were a crazy mass of Elizabethian England/WWII movies (Shakespeare in Love, Saving Private Ryan, Elizabeth, Life is Beautiful) but beyond that were a ton of overlooked gems.
I’m not sure when I heard about Rushmore – even with the presence of Bill Murray it wasn’t a huge commercial film – but I saw it in theaters and was kinda instantly in love with it. Dirk spitting on Blume’s car I was convinced was the funniest thing ever. I wouldn’t call this a sub-genre category, but spitting gone wrong always strikes me as hilarious, it now occurs to me. George Bailey emphatically attempts to spit during the war onset montage in It’s a Wonderful Life, and I always giggle. Also, if you haven’t seen it, The Death of Stalin features the single funniest failed spitting moment ever on screen. Sorry, Dirk!
And while I’m on record this week as saying Groundhog Day is Murray’s best performance, Rushmore is my favorite. The individual, wonderful moments here combine to form the greatest, most fully realized character he’s played. From the bizarre friendship-turned-animosity with Max to his stilted, awkward courtship of Rosemary to his utterly defeated home life, Murray’s careful handling of Herman’s melancholy and hope are the driving engine of the film, and his career took a decided turn after this, transforming him from go-to funnyman to beloved icon almost immediately. Most Murray roles seem impossible to have been played by anyone else – even though some of his most iconic were intended for others (i.e. John Belushi in Ghostbusters, a variety of actors for Groundhog Day) – but I firmly believe the success of writing this role for him and actually getting him cast provided us with the entire subsequent Wes Anderson career, while enabling Murray’s later years transition. Who else could’ve possibly played Blume and made this movie work?
But in the tradition of past movie MVPs, I like to spotlight the smaller roles providing terrific bounce to the story, and this movie is lousy with them. Kumar Pallana’s Mr. Littlejeans, the artist formerly known as Dennis the Menace Mason Gamble (he of the hilarious spitting), the great Seymour Cassel as Max’s barber father, Sara Tanaka as the never-quite object of Max’s affection Margaret Yang – all worthy contenders. But I’m going with the co-star with the best wacky lines and funniest pop-in moments – Max’s tormentor turned theatrical ally Magnus Buchan, played by Stephen McCole.
Anderson becomes the 11th Five-Timer on the directing side, following #21 The Royal Tenenbaums, #319 The Darjeeling Limited, #124 Moonrise Kingdom, and #267 The Life Aquatic, while the cast features such frequent list actors as Brian Cox (Eight-Timer!), Jason Schwartzman (Sixes!), and Luke Wilson (Fives!). But obviously, guild leader Murray extending his advantage all the way to the Fourteens is the main story – this puts him two up on Sam Jackson for the overall title. Does Samuel L. have enough in the tank to still win the day??