Paul Thomas Anderson. Anderson’s four films in the top 100 (work from 2009 or newer not yet eligible) puts him tied with Welles for second place behind only Kubrick (5) and that’s his case—and what a case. Sarris (after Boogie Nights) “Not since the mysteriously reclusive Terrence Malick has there been such an explosion of sheer talent on the American movie.”  There are only two living directors ahead of PT right now on my all-time director’s list and that’s Scorsese and Coppola and those two giants are 28 and 32 years older respectively—this basically means Anderson is peerless in his generation.

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It’s rare to capture a screenshot of film form-
pink/blue dye experimental watercolor splashes repeated throughout the film and the color composition throughout in Punch-Drunk Love
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the repeated wake shot in The Master – one of the 2010’s greatest films and an example of unparalleled film form

Best film:  There Will Be Blood. By 2007 we’ve seen PT do Altman and Scorsese but I think this tends more towards Kubrick and Welles—but at the same time it’s his entirely—especially with The Master backing it up as a companion piece in 2012. That film makes it ever stronger. Another critic says “Kubrick directing Kane” and yet another says Malick directing Kane– I definitely lean Kubrick. Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood’s first score pairing with PT and it’s miraculous—there’s crescendo’ing and synthesized orchestra—it echoes 2001’s opening- we’re watching early man here slowly, piece by piece, put things together like the apes in 2001– and all done without words (15 minutes here to open)—it is a magnificent short film opening. Determination. Elliptically edited. Confident.  Medication on capitalism, greed, and monomania. It’s a behemoth as I said, the silent opening, the landscape architecture as character and metaphor, it’s physical and violent. Complex relationship with son and brother (faux brother it turns out) as son surrogate—multiple layers of PT’s father/mentor obsession as an auteur. DDL’s achievement here can’t be overstated. It’s the greatest performance of the century to date. He was always going to be a great actor but this puts it on a different plane. It’s his Raging Bull performance. On top of all this there are a ton of black comedy moments with DDL and not just the perfect ending which absolutely smashes the viewer. At separate points both Dano and DDL make each other bow to one another—they have different paths and things they follow (like the master like PSH with his religion and Phoenix with sex/drinking) but are looking for meaning. “I’m finished” with strings. Large. Bold. Brilliant.

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the devastating finale inThere Will Be Blood
shot composition mastery in There Will Be Blood

total archiveable films:  8

top 100 films: 4 (There Will Be Blood, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, Boogie Nights)

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Boogie Nights’ greatest influence is Scorsese but this shot looks like Welles

top 500 films: 4 (There Will Be Blood, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, Boogie Nights)

top 100 films of the decade: 6 (There Will Be Blood, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, Boogie Nights, The Master, Phantom Thread)

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painterly shot in Phantom Thread
from The Master- wall art photography doesn’t get much better than this – the fact that it ties to the form and it’s in 70mm puts it on another level

most overrated:  Inherent Vice, There are two ways to view and evaluate this movie. One, in comparison with every other movie out there, in fact, more than have of the film in my archives, it’s a superior work. I’ve got it as roughly the 12thbest film of 2014 so that’s really good for almost any other director. However, as a P.T. Anderson film it can’t be viewed as anything but a failure. It is neither the formal masterwork his previous 3 films had been nor the stylistic high-wire act his 2 masterpieces from the 90’s were. There were 5 years off before both There Will Be Blood and The Master. Two years only here so maybe he’s an artist that needs more time. He only needed 3 years for Punch Drunk Love after Magnolia but PDL is only 93 minutes— this is 148.  I think the flashbacks to Waterston and their time together (or just their face) is his formal trigger here- one of the best is the sequence in the rain to one of the two great Neil Young songs—the Young songs are clearly triggers to melancholy over the past.

most underrated :  There isn’t really one. Critics love PT Anderson. The 4 films in my top 100 are in the TSPDT top 1000 and climbing fast- they actually have it in the same order as me.

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meaning in Magnolia

gem I want to spotlight: Punch-Drunk Love. I’m not convinced it isn’t his best. PT’s stated goal was to “make an art-house Adam Sandler movie” and it was purposefully anti-ensemble multi-character epic like Boogie and Magnolia. Jon Brion’s brilliant and experimental score (this is the pre-Greenwood PT era which makes me think PT is the genius here on the music (not to say Greenwood and Brion aren’t both brilliant and possible geniuses as well) but there are such commonalities here with how segments of this sound (especially in scenes he’s ratchetting it up (think forklift accident here, oil rig explosion in There Will Be Blood) match shots from TWBB and the master (opening silent montage))—apparently Brion had the score played on set to inspire and set rhythm with the actors. The “He Needs Me” song is from Altman’s movie Popeye and sung by Shelley Duvall—not as many Altman connections here as his previous work but this is a big one clearly. Like his previous films Anderson allows for errors in the performance and script—“business is very business” and “hello this is back” (combination of real name “Barry” and fake name “jack”- this feeds into character as Barry is an awkward character but also it’s connected to scenes like William H. Macy’s “a$$ in her c___” flub in boogie nights. It is, strangely, still an Adam Sandler movie and accomplishes what PT set out to do. He’s not trying to change Cruise and Sandler- these are talented actors and megastars. He’s tapping into their talents for something different (better). Barry has all the sweetness and rage here he displays at different times in say Waterboy or Happy Gilmore– clearly he can both beat up a bathroom and have tender love for Watson, the excitement in the Chaplinesque dance in the grocery store and have that sweetness you see in the harmonium. PT is such a formal/visual freak/master- how many grocery stores have color coded aisles? The opening is perfection—we have a blue suit, blue lines on the wall and he shoots at an angle to make Barry, at the desk, look very very alone. Lens flares galore—but all with a blue tint or a blue/pink tint to match both the normal film décor and the pink/blue dye experimental watercolor splashes (3 times in the film— 4 if you count the end credits). The film is so formally rigid- I adore it. He’s bullied on the phone and then he goes and plays the music. The music and Watson are tied throughout the movie. The shot of Barry/Sandler running away from the brothers from Utah mirrors the shot of Phoenix running from the farmers in the master. I had to read it in a review to notice it but there is a red figure in the background the first time Barry/Sandler goes to the grocery store and sure enough—it’s Watson (who is always wearing red or pink). The Windex on Barry’s table in his sad apartment is blue. The claustrophobic scene I mention above with the escalating score (phone ringing, loud sister, forklift) is magnificent. I see 500-1000 movies a year and I’ve never seen anything like this. Watson has a storied history of playing the odd duck looking for love which is a little out of the norm (breaking the waves). The entire film is a dichotomy—formal point/count—we have the rage (car crash, breaking sliding glass door, beating up bathroom) and the adoration (Watson, harmonium, Chaplin dance). Blue atlas van lines truck- no mistake- blue lights when driving from the street, blue phone both. The silhouette kiss in Hawaii when they meet there is an absolutely masterful stunner of a shot/scene. Pink sky to open at dawn— blue/pink sky to close in Hawaii. Pink pant pajamas for Watson. Barry is difficult and obsessive (could tie into There will be blood). Beautiful Zoom-in on PSHI think it’s the best film of 2002, I think it’s a giant masterpiece, I think it changes how I feel about PT Anderson.

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non-verbal character building and a brilliant color design in Punch-Drunk Love
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a perfect silhouette mise-en-scene in Punch-Drunk Love
the color palatte isn’t just used here in Watson’s shirt and Sandler’s suit- but with the lens flares as well in Punch-Drunk Love

stylistic innovations/traits: He’s a stylistic chameleon. The mentor/mentee/protégé/father is in 5 of his 8 films—7 of the 8 set in California. We have Kubrickian dark-comedy moments and formal mastery. His visual style ranges from Goodfellas (Boogie Nights), Nashville (Magnolia) to a formally/visually impressive odd romance (PDL) to his “great American novel on film” (The Master and There Will Be Blood) which leans more Kubrick. Though it’s not P.T. Anderson’s true debut (Hard Eight), Boogie Nights marks the inauguration of a nearly unrivaled cinematic talent and would start a 20 year run where Anderson is the best director on the planet. The opening shot (a tour of the dance club) of Boogie Nights borrows from the Copacabana shot from Goodfellas, we also have shots (at least 3 scenes) of Dirk talking to himself in the mirror (from Raging Bull), and we have the I Am Cuba scene of the camera jumping into the pool in a long take (more so than The Graduate).  Magnolia is Altman but with Charles Fort, exodus and the masonic, prophecy. The “Wise Up” Sing-a-long is a transcendently brilliant form-breaking moment. It’s ballsy but I love it. It’s one of the best filmmaking sequences in the decade. Equally ballsy is the choice to do the frogs—absolutely love it. I wrote about PDL and There Will Be Blood above then we go into The Master. In my studies I’ve rarely found another film that so rewards multiple viewings. I’m still working it out but Anderson’s films have an almost unparalleled penchant (maybe Kubrick… Tarkovsky) for cinematic layering—or formal layering or formal unpacking. I think I’m getting better and better as evaluator but clearly, as of 2012 I wasn’t getting it and I mainly praised this film for the performances (which are probably the best of the 2010’s decade).  The formal rigor of the shot of the water… with the white wake from the boat… these are men adrift (a seaman/sailor—Freddie/phoenix), meets PSH on a boat, sings “slow boat to china” (about escaping—perhaps there’s some homosexual undercurrent here (AA seems to be holding PSH prisoner at this point)). The wake is the past.  It’s one of the great formal openings in cinema history- we have PTA building Phoenix’s character just like DDL in There Will Be Blood and Sandler in PDL with the crash and the harmonium. Phoenix’s Freddie is primitive man. lost- the void. Shot of the helmet could be from Malick’s thin red line. He makes drinks (he does this at least 6 times in the movie), humps the sand lady, masturbates—women– (dream of everyone naked about half way through the film, the ending), hangs off the ship (stunning shot in 70mm).  

the arrival of a young auteur genius in Boogie Nights

top 10

  1. There Will Be Blood
  2. Magnolia
  3. Punch-Drunk Love
  4. Boogie Nights
  5. The Master
  6. Phantom Thread
  7. Inherent Vice
  8. Hard Eight
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a perfect shot with framing in The Master

By year and grades

1996- Hard Eight R
1997- Boogie Nights MP
1999- Magnolia MP
2002- Punch Drunk Love MP
2007- There Will Be Blood MP
2012- The Master MP
2014- Inherent Vice R/HR
2017- Phantom Thread MS


*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives