My Favorite Movies – The Life Aquatic

“You really think it’s cool for you to hit the sauce with a bun in the oven?” – Bill Murray as Steve Zissou

My Favorite Movies:

The Life Aquatic (2004)

There’s something about Wes Anderson’s films that sets my heart “a flutter,” as they say in overwrought romance novels.

The Life Aquatic with Steve ZissouIt’s more than Wes’s unique style of quirkiness, a style that depends on overly sarcastic wordplay and extreme irony, on great characters in great situations, on side-splitting humor as dry as winter skin. There’s something else there. Something intangible.

I chalk it up to a savant’s feeling, a second nature. Anderson’s auteur vision leads a film from beginning to end. It’s Anderson’s show, and the cohesiveness of his randomness makes everything seem so natural. You aren’t sure why you’re enjoying the movie, but you are. It’s subconscious, really – like sodium pentothal secretly injected into the part of the brain that knows what makes a good movie.

On the best Wes Anderson film, though, most fans are split. Sometimes you’ll hear Bottle Rocket. Other times, Rushmore. The universal pick seems to be The Royal Tenenbaums. But for great lines and a great soundtrack (and Bill Murray’s best Wes directed film) I’ve always been drawn to the Jacques Cousteau spoof and tribute in The Life Aquatic (full name: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou).

The plot could be straight out of a cheesy action movie: a shark kills Zissou’s partner, and he vows revenge. But the twist is what makes it so Wes-ian; Zissou meets the man who could be his son, attempts to woo a journalist hired to cover the aging (and falling) aquatic star, and goes to war against the shark with his ex-wife and bitter rival in tow.

But let’s be serious. It isn’t Wes’s script or the soundtrack or Owen Wilson or Angelica Houston that makes this movie worthwhile. It’s Bill Murray. Bill Fucking Murray. The man that was revitalized when Wes Anderson came knocking for Rushmore and suddenly respected (again) when Sophia Coppola came begging for Lost in Translation.

It’s his part. It’s made for him. No one else could be Steve Zissou. Just as no one else could be Herman Blume, Bob Harris or Don Johnston.

My friends and I have argued to whoever would listen about Bill Murray’s status as “The Best Comic Mind of Our Generation,” a title garnered not from worldwide support and mainstream films but from a nearly subversive brand of knowing humor: a perfectly placed pregnant pause, a sarcastic scowl or a vitriol-fueled barb.

Bill Murray has transcended the idea of an older humorist being pigeonholed into old man roles. He’s hanging with the kids, passing his craft on to the next generation of actors – actors that were still in grade school when Murray played Peter Venkman for the first time. He’s the older ambassador for sarcasm, and I love him for that.

Hand me that red hat. We have a shark to kill.

Top Five Films with Indie Sensibilities that are Quirky and Cultish and Filled with Dry Humor and Classic Quotes. (Or, Top Five Critical Darlings that People Don’t Take Seriously Because They’re Comedies).

1. The Life Aquatic (2004) – See above

2. The Big Lebowski (1998) – Very nearly made the “big ten,” but was bumped off for Life Aquatic. A smart person’s look at the ultimate slacker.

3. Juno (2007) – I just saw this and liked it a lot. The dialogue is dead-on – current without seeming forced – and Michael Cera plays the part he does best: George Michael from Arrested Development.

4. Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995) – Obsession and awkwardness in middle school. Never has being a complete and utter dork with no friends seemed so funny.

5. Little Miss Sunshine (2006) – Should have won the Oscar last year. In fact, I should have probably just made a list of “Films that Should Have Won the Oscar.”

Honorable Mention: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001).

This was lovingly handwritten on February 21st, 2008