Wes Anderson‘s Rushmore, far and away the best film he’s ever made (not to mention the funniest), opened exactly 20 years ago today. For me the more meaningful anniversary was a couple of months ago, or the 20th anni of the New York Film Festival debut on 10.9.98.
I had just begun my Mr. Showbiz column that month, and boy, was I delighted with Rushmore when I saw it out at the Disney lot one night! I was floating when it ended. Wes, whom I’d known since he hit town with Owen Wilson in the fall of ’94, had allowed me to read a copy of the script when I was miserably working at People, and I was pretty happy with it. But the film version represented one of the very few times in my life that a movie turned out to be significantly better than the script. (It usually works the other way around.)
At what point was I dead certain that Rushmore was a one-in-a-million bull’s-eye? It may have been when I realized that Mason Gamble‘s little-kid performance (he was seven years old during filming) was something I’d never seen in a film before. No one had ever heard a kid that age say a line like “do you say my mom gave you a hand-job?” And he meant it. It wasn’t a joke line.
There was also that scene in which Jason Schwartzman‘s Max shoots Steven McCole‘s Magnus Buchan character in the neck with a beebee gun, and the way McCole played it when he got hit — “Aarrgghhh!”, like he was really hurt, which is how I used to howl when I was shot with beebee pellets when I was nine or ten — is perfect. Has anyone ever had to deal with a hailstorm of crab apples thrown by the “enemy” (i.e., other kids in the neighborhood)? I have, and it’s very serious when this happens. It hurts, I mean.
When I posted HE’s 150 Greatest American Films list on 7.24.15, I ranked Rushmore as my #8, and I meant it. I still do.
[All of the preceding except for paragraphs #3 and #4 was previously posted on 8.23.17.]
Honest anecdote: I knew Wes and Owen pretty well during the days of shooting, editing and dealing with the negative feedback on Bottle Rocket (’95 and ’96), and had heard over and over how badly it had turned out. So when I finally saw that Jim Brooks and Polly Platt-produced film and realized it was a major groundbreaker, I vented mock-anger when I showed up at their home to tell Wes what I thought. I may have even called him an “asshole” for having persuaded me and God knows how many others that he and Owen had somehow screwed the pooch. “It’s amazing,” I told them that night. “It really works! I don’t know what’s wrong with everyone putting it down, but they’re wrong…they’re dead fucking wrong.”
HE’s Top Ten Greatest American Films: (1) The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, (2) Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, (3 & 4) The Godfather & The Godfather, Part II, (5) The Graduate, (6) Election, (7) Zodiac, (8) Rushmore, (9) Pulp Fiction, (10) Some Like It Hot.