Top Fifty Films of the 90s — Number Two

top 50 90s 2

#2 — Rushmore (Wes Anderson, 1998)
In Max Fischer’s dreams he can liberate his classmates from the tyranny of homework with some concerted strokes of a piece of a piece of chalk. In the waking world, triumph is a little more elusive.

So begins Wes Anderson’s second feature, and, with a burst of ecstatically funny creativity, the life and aspirations of his main character are laid out. As played by Jason Schwartzman, Max believes in his own greatness with only the most simplistic idea as to what that means–the only occupations he considers viable aspirations are senator and diplomat–and he proceeds as a genius among philistines. He is an overachiever at school with no apparently ability to achieve the necessary minimum in his classes as he represents Russia in the Model U.N., serves as president of the Calligraphy Club or, later, creates the Kite Flying Society. Most notably, he’s the creative force behind the Max Fischer Players, mounting elaborate theatrical productions, including a stage adaptation of Serpico. Max has the narcissism that’s typical of a high schooler enhanced by a sense that he’s a junior misunderstood artiste. He is nestled within the chill satisfaction of someone who sees nothing but genius reflected in the eyes of others, including the pretty new school teacher who inspires him to save Latin and the local industrialist who becomes his friend.

Rushmore is a landslide of inspired details, each one offering some fresh insight to Max Fischer and the small brigade of characters that surround him. It is as precise as Max himself, who offers to retrieve a dictionary to help prove that “relationship” is a fairly innocuous word. Anderson and his screenwriting collaborator Owen Wilson make the film both warm and biting, following Max’s trajectory with uncommon keenness, portraying his passive aggressive jockeying with an amused understanding. He is just a boy, lost and adrift, but probably smart enough to find his way out, discovering the sort of selflessness and generosity that he previously only feigned by trying to establish his benevolence by buying root beers for his hardworking theater crews.

Anderson frames every image with care, employing some conceits like the stage curtain that open to each new act, but always mixing the controlled with grounded, deeply felt insight. One of the prime examples of this is the portrait of manufacturing tycoon Herman Blume, portrayed by Bill Murray with a sardonic melancholy that has practically defined the remainder of the his career. The weight of his disappointment is crushing and Murray shows how it has worn him down, and, movingly, how little chances at happiness can revive him in unpredictable ways. The film drags him down to the lows of emotional destitution, but eventually allows him the grace of a tentative rejuvenation, a journey that Murray underplays beautifully.

Everything in the film is perfectly staged, carefully constructed, and ideally realized, all adding up to an intricate artistic vision. The music, cinematography, costumes, art design, editing, casting stand as an unique expression of Anderson. The films that followed cemented his style, but the personal nature of it–how clearly it belongs to him–was apparent from the moment this effort started to spin off of its reels. It is that distinct and boldly original.

Putting it plainly, Rushmore is a movie that I adore.

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