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The Ultimate Wes Anderson Playlist

Moonrise Kingdom
Focus Features

Directors who plug their favorite songs into films is nothing new, but Wes Anderson is one of the few -- along with Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson and Cameron Crowe -- who have turned the movie soundtrack into an art form.

From the underappreciated Rolling Stones song "2000 Man" in Anderson's debut feature "Bottle Rocket" to a Brazilian acoustic guitarist playing David Bowie tunes in the oceanography adventure movie "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," Anderson's musical choices for his films are as patiently awaited by his fans as the films themselves.

Though the tweed-stylin' director has stated that his new movie, "Moonrise Kingdom" (which opens May 25), "has a big musical element, but there are not really songs in it," his previous films are a master class in how to use songs in movies. Here are 11 of our favorites.

'2000 Man,' The Rolling Stones ('Bottle Rocket,' 1996)

After being dazzled by Anderson and frequent writing partner Owen Wilson’s witty banter for close to 90 minutes, we come to "Bottle Rocket"'s conclusion, in which the heist that Dignan (Wilson) has been planning the whole movie goes awry. At the height of the chaos, The Rolling Stones' "2000 Man" comes on, solidifying our hunch that Anderson may be one of the next greats.

But don’t take our word for it. Here's what Martin Scorsese thought about the song choice in an appreciation he wrote for the film's Criterion Collection release: "I also love the scene in 'Bottle Rocket' when Owen Wilson"s character, Dignan, says, 'They'll never catch me, man, 'cause I’m f**kin' innocent.' Then he runs off to save one of his partners in crime and gets captured by the police, over "2000 Man" by the Rolling Stones. He -- and the music -- are proclaiming who he really is: he's not innocent in the eyes of the law, but he's truly an innocent. For me, it's a transcendent moment. And transcendent moments are in short supply these days."

'Nothin' In The World Can Stop Me Worryin' 'Bout That Girl,' The Kinks ('Rushmore,' 1998)

One of Anderson's faves is the '60s English rock band The Kinks. In fact, he originally was going to have the "Rushmore" soundtrack be made up entirely of songs from the band. But when it was all said and done, only one of their songs stayed in. And it's a good one. To give a quick back story on Bill Murray's character, bored millionaire Herman Blume, Anderson entered this track with a brief montage of shots demonstrating that Blume's marriage is collapsing. And in typical Murray fashion, the actor does the rest.

'A Quick One, While He's Away,' The Who ('Rushmore')

What better to play when showing a bit of payback but the band who told us "we won't get fooled again"? Anderson picks The Who's epic progressive-rock song "A Quick One, While He's Away." The song is over nine minutes (!) long, but Anderson only needs three minutes of it. Though the song actually revolves around a girl who asks for forgiveness after cheating on her boyfriend, it works perfectly here to display the lengths Max (Jason Schwartzman) takes to show Blume (Murray) he's not happy with him going after his crush, Ms. Cross (Olivia Williams).

'Needle in the Hay,' Elliott Smith ('The Royal Tenenbaums,' 2001)

Though it's responsible for one of Anderson's most moving sequences put to music, Elliott Smith's somber ballad wasn't Anderson's original choice for the film. He wanted Smith to do a cover of The Beatles' "Hey Jude," but his depressive state -- Smith would die of stab wounds two years after "Tenenbaums" was released -- made him unable to record it, leading Anderson to use "Needle in the Hay" from Smith's self-titled second album. (For "Hey Jude," Anderson used The Mutato Muzika Orchestra's rendition.) Smith's dark acoustic sound worked perfectly for Richie's (Luke Wilson) suicide attempt.

'These Days,' Nico ('The Royal Tenenbaums')

Gwyneth Paltrow's smoky-eyed, chain-smoking loner Margot in "The Royal Tenenbaums" has a memorable entrance, with Anderson using '60s Warhol superstar and Velvet Underground collaborator Nico's "These Days" to set the stage. The song was written by a very young Jackson Browne and has had two other versions recorded (by Gregg Allman and Browne himself). Browne would later say of the song in the film, "I forgot that I'd licensed them to use this ... You're sitting in the movie theater and there's this great moment when Gwyneth Paltrow is coming out of a bus or something like that. I'm thinking to myself, I used to play the guitar just like that. And then the voice comes on and it's Nico singing 'These Days.'"

'Life on Mars,' David Bowie cover by Seu Jorge ('The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,' 2004)

Perhaps Anderson's most ambitious project to date, "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" may not have brought in the box office numbers the studio had hoped for -- but its soundtrack, predominantly of Brazilian samba singer Seu Jorge (you may remember him as "Knockout Ned" in "City of God") singing Portuguese covers of David Bowie's and other musicians' songs, stands out. Bowie has said about the covers, "Had Seu Jorge not recorded my songs in Portuguese I would never have heard this new level of beauty which he has imbued them with."

Here’s a use of Bowie in the film, followed by Jorge's rendition.

'Search and Destroy,' Iggy and the Stooges ('The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou')

Anderson had to come up with the right song to plug in when Steve Zissou, his boat overrun by pirates, finally finds his moment to take the ship back. As always he makes the right choice, inserting Iggy and the Stooges' "Search and Destroy." With its hard punk sound and Murray's gunplay, the scene is a mixture of adrenaline and hijinks.

'This Time Tomorrow,' The Kinks ('The Darjeeling Limited,' 2007)

Though the "Darjeeling Limited" soundtrack consists mostly of music from films by Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray, Anderson did slip in a Kinks song to open the film. As Peter (Adrien Brody) races for a train, we hear "This Time Tomorrow" playing in the background. This marks the beginning of his trip across India, and inside the train are his two brothers (played by Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson), whom he hasn't seen since their father's funeral. And yes, that is Bill Murray playing the businessman who didn't make the train.

'Where Do You Go to (My Lovely)?' Peter Sarstedt ('Hotel Chevalier,' 2007)

A prologue of sorts to "Darjeeling," this 13-minute short takes a glimpse at the relationship Jason Schwartzman's character Jack has with his ex-girlfriend (played by Natalie Portman) before he heads off to India with his brothers. Playing as the couple meets up in a Paris hotel room, Indian singer-songwriter Peter Sarstedt's waltzy tune sets the mood for this awkward yet steamy rendezvous.

'Let Her Dance,' The Bobby Fuller Four ('Fantastic Mr. Fox,' 2009)

The soundtrack for Anderson's most recent film, the stop-motion "Fantastic Mr. Fox," plays lighthearted tracks from the likes of The Beach Boys against the youthful source material. But there's one song Anderson's longtime music supervisor Randall Poster had been waiting for the right film to include. "I have a safe where I keep songs," he told the Playlist. "The Bobby Fuller song at the end of 'Fantastic Mr. Fox' ('Let Her Dance'), Wes and I had that hidden away for ten years. That was something we knew we were eventually going to use."

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