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BunkoSquad Top 100 #100: The Royal Tenenbaums

Posted by on January 31, 2012

OK, there are two things going on with this post.  First, I owe a good raison d’etre for its comeback from the mothballs.  Second, I realize that when people talk about this site and what once what and what could have been, it comes back a lot to the AFI 100 Movies countdown.

If you’re just joining us, back when this site had more content, I rashly agreed with myself on a project to watch and review the entire list of the 20th Century’s greatest movies.  The project slowly but completely turned into an albatross around my neck, as I tried to top each review with a better one, fell repeatedly into a spiral of procrastination and despair, and puttered out about 83% of the way through.  (Those reviews, for the record, are still somewhere on a hard drive, and can probably be dug out with the proper motivation.)

For the comeback, I’m going to put a different spin on it.  A few months ago, I went through my DVD collection and a mental image of what my DVD collection would look like if I had a $10,000 Newbury Comics gift card, and made up my own Top 100 list.  It’s subjective, it’s probably incomplete, and there are some things on it that will have a little something for everyone to think a little less of me.  I’m not going to do full reviews – just a clip or two, a little background, and a couple of comments.  So…let’s get started?

100. The Royal Tenenbaums

Is this really my 100th favorite movie ever?  Well, maybe.  It’s on the list as a nod to the friends of mine who never give up and never say never when it comes to making me try out new things.  I watched this not long after it came out and was underwhelmed.  I’ve learned as I’ve aged that, despite my best intentions, I watch movies largely for the plot.  A movie that’s thin on plot, but rich with dialogue, character study, and attention to detail, sometimes – well – underwhelms me (anyone who dragged me to give The Big Lebowski (SPOILER ALERT: That’s coming up later in the countdown) another chance can sympathize).  But when I watched it again about a year ago, after finally succumbing to the horrified gasps of friends who I told I didn’t love it…I kind of loved it.

If you haven’t seen it, it’s Wes Anderson’s 2001 movie about a family of precocious urbane New Yorkers, and the patriarch of the family (Gene Hackman), a longtime cad and bounder who’s long been chucked out of the house.  He comes back, telling everyone he’s dying, and the family – whose lives have taken many twists and turns – reunites to settle old scores and dredge up as many feelings as a bunch of jaded geniuses can muster.  I’ve read a couple of comparisons of the Tenenbaum family to the Bluth Family, and it’s not far off.  The strength in this movie comes from its cast; Hackman is great as the estranged SOB, but smaller roles from Anjelica Huston, Danny Glover, Bill Murray and Kumar Pallana really take it to another level.  Even if the actors playing the Tenenbaum children – Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow and Owen and Luke Wilson (Owen playing Eli Cash, the Tom Hagen of the family) – are actors that I blow hot and cold with – they do just fine here.

What makes me love a movie?  In general, its rewatchability, its quotability, its memorable scenes. The jury’s still out how long this is going to hold up over time with me, but I’m definitely going to watch it again. I feel like this is one of those ones I’ll enjoy more each time I see it. Which probably means I’ll have to give the other Wes Anderson movies I’ve been underwhelmed by another chance, too. (I guess that means you, Life Aquatic.) And memorable montages help, too:

Bonus points for the movie for being inspired in part by one of my favorite kid’s books ever. And also for making Royal an almost uniform shade of beige in nearly every scene he’s in. And just for the heck of it, one more Pagoda scene:

Hint as to What #99 Might be: It’s my second favorite movie set in Astoria, Oregon.

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