#61. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach
Starring: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Gambon, Bud Cort
The first Wes Anderson film to appear on my list was also the first film of his I had ever seen. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is the magical tale of the titular oceanographer Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) who meets his possible son Ned (Owen Wilson). Zissou and his eclectic crew of misfits go to sea aboard the decrepit Belafonte in search of the great jaguar shark who killed Steve’s dear friend Esteban. Along the way they form long-lasting bonds, see beautiful underwater sights, and tangle with Alistair Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum), Zissou’s nemesis, and even a violent band of pirates. The Life Aquatic was something of a departure for Wes Anderson, whose work up to this point had been far more grounded – it’s fantastic nature showed that the director could make almost any material work, especially with his crew of talented regulars. Anderson uses practical visual effects and his usual tremendous production design to give The Life Aquatic a unique, charming look and feel. The film also marked Anderson’s first collaboration with independent filmmaker Noah Baumbach, who would also go on to co-write the script for 2009’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox. The character of Steve Zissou is a personal favorite of mine, and my favorite of Bill Murray’s collaborations with Anderson – his chemistry with both Owen Wilson and Cate Blanchett is terrific, and his bone dry wit works perfectly through the film. When Murray is required to emote, he does so in the most natural and believable way. The film’s best scene comes when Zissou and his crew finally encounter the legendary jaguar shark – the beautiful effects, lighting, and the use of Sigur Rós’ song Starálfur makes for a deeply moving moment. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is charming, funny, thrilling, and whimsical, which is everything I look for in a Wes Anderson film.