best film: There Will Be Blood from Paul Thomas Anderson

  • By 2007 Paul Thomas Anderson has done Altman and Scorsese but There Will Be Blood unquestionably leans more towards Kubrick perhaps even Welles. Yet,  it is his work entirely—especially with The Master (2012) backing it up as a companion piece.  The Master makes There Will Be Blood even stronger- and vice versa.
  • The film is a medication on capitalism, greed, and monomania.
  • 2007 is a tremendous year- certainly worthy of all the praise form retro podcasts and articles—all due and warranted– a towering year for cinema with that top top six to seven below especially. There are many years where The Assassination of Jesse James would be the best film of the year.
  • Called by many (even at the time in 2007 which is astonishing) the great American novel on film of the 21st century—so many of them saying “this thing will be studied” or that equivalent.
  • There is a bit of John Huston’s Noah Cross (damn what a villain) in Chinatown with Daniel Plainview and a little of Elmer Gantry in Paul Dano’s Paul Sunday full of it evangelical preacher. Anderson brilliantly weaves the two characters together.
  • The silent opening is a bemouth, the landscape architecture as character and metaphor, it is physical and violent.
  • Set in California like all his previous work
  • Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood’s first score pairing with PTA and the results are miraculous—there is crescendo’ing and synthesized orchestra—it echoes 2001’s opening- building slowly, piece by piece,  and all without words (fifteen minutes here to open)—it is a magnificent short film within the larger film masterpiece. Determination. Elliptically edited. Confident.

Other references—filmed in the same location as Stevens’ Giant, the obsessions match nicely with The Treasure of Sierra Madre and von Stroheim’s Greed.

  • One could argue that Daniel Day-Lewis squashes the supporting cast and the film could benefit from someone a little larger in any of the supporting roles—like how Pesci plays off De Niro in Raging Bull (despite saying it does not compare as much to Scorsese– this is clearly PTA’s Raging Bull if Boogie Nights is his Goodfellas). Tarantino complained about Dano and Dano’s work is not one of the best of 2007 and with a role that that it should be (look at the dueling leads in The Master). But, one can also see that it seems highly unlikely that anyone could stand up to DDL. But what if that were Heath Ledger squealing at Day-Lewis in the final scene?
  • Complex relationship with son and brother (faux brother it turns out) as son surrogate—multiple layers of PTA’s father/mentor obsession as an auteur
  • The score manifests itself clearly- audacious—does not want to hide in the background
  • Hypocrisy and mirroring
  • In many ways there are stretches much more stylistically quiet than Punch-Drunk Love

PTA’s greatest work moving the camera may have come in the 1990s– but here, he is patient, and can not only pull over the perfect tracking shot– but pause and compile and endless supply of perfect frames

ambitious in every facet- from the performances to the staging to create this composition

  • The shot of DDL in water, isolation, after the “peachtree dance” test his brother fails. Pure genius.
  • Countless standout shots and sequences. The long tracking shot alone the pipeline with DDL reuniting with his son— both long in the length of take and long shot.
  • Biblical references all over the place- “orphan from a basket”, the Dano twins,
  • 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
  • Plainview is also becoming (or perhaps always was) an alcoholic- clearly deteriorating as the film goes on
  • Ok it is a little odd that Dano looks 28 years old at the end of the film when he should be about fifty- small thing that has always bothered me
  • Not as opaque as The Master but it is closer than I had realized—not a critique- just observation
  • At separate points both Dano and DDL make each other bow to one another—they have different paths they follow (like The Master – PSH with his religion and Phoenix with sex/drinking) but are looking for meaning
  • It is a bit of a stretch but unlike the bone used by the ape in 2001 to smash the head this ending has DDL with a bowling pin—and then the “I’m finished” with strings. Large…daring…brilliant

 

 

most underrated: For years the answer to this category in 2007 was The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford from Andrew Dominik. Like most often happens over time, Dominik’s masterpiece has been gaining traction on the TSPDT consensus list and it now sits at #7 for 2007. So, the film is still underrated– but that is not egregious. Far more egregious are Atonement from Joe Wright at #27 of 2007 on the 21st century list and The Darjeeling Limited from Wes Anderson at #36 of 2007.  This marks Joe Wright’s second straight mention (this is his second film overall) in this underrated category. The Dunkirk oner shot is the jaw-dropper– but the typewriting machine editing sequence, the writing, the performances and as one can see below- the film is amongst the most painterly of 2007 as well.

Accentuated sound effects—reminiscent of early Aronofsky—loud and blends with the score and usage of typewriter and other diegetic sounds from objects in the film.

The Dunkirk tracking shot or oner is an all-timer. It starts with real acting in it- genuine performances. Then, it goes to the shooting of the horses, the water, the countless extras and the Ferris Wheel set piece in the background — all of this is captured during the magic hour. It is one of the best shots in recent cinema.

Atonement is painful tale of life and love cut short- these images were just a few cinematic paintings amongst the many to select from

Hotel Chevalier to open the film is part of Darjeeling the larger feature. It is a prologue- and a stunning one at that.-Even in 2007, Wes is thinking about gorgeous and plush European Hotels (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

The film’s mise-en-scene and décor are exploding in colors: teal, yellow, green—and Wes is rolling the tracking shots back and forth in the carts with gorgeous wallpaper in all of it. Symmetry and the bookmarks– catching the train at the end—literally the three sons cannot make the train if they continue to hold onto their father’s baggage (luggage- designed by Louis Vuitton)- which is weighing them down.

Slow motion is used heavier here than in Wes’ other works. He uses it in the hotel and Bill Murray’s scene trying to catch the train. Laminated itinerary, father issues, comradery… Wes’ auteuristic traits. The slow motion shot (above) of the three men walking to the funeral a career highlight for Wes Anderson- plain and simple.  It is a moving painting with the characters in profile—it flows well into the flashback of their father’s funeral. It is a breathtaking cinematic scene. There are elements of Greenaway with the mise-en-scene tracking//moving painting and certainly elements of Scorsese with all the gorgeous slow motion to inspired needle drops (The Kinks here mainly).

Do yourself a favor and go back and watch Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Thirteen. it is an art film masquerading as pop entertainment.

long tracking shots, montages of the luxurious hotel (the best character in the film), playful compositions like the frame within the frame here– certainly one of the most underrated films of 2007– the TSPDT consensus does not have it among the top 53 of 2007– that is absurd.

 

most overrated: The TSPDT consensus misses on a few films noted above but overall they do a great job on 2007. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly needs to move down– it is currently #6 from 2007 on the TSPDT consensus list. Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There needs to make way for superior films as well- it sits at #9.

  • I’m Not There has a fascinating structure- it is a a collage, kaleidoscope—an impressionistic biopic that avoids the dry conventional biopic like the plague (sort of the anti-Ray or Walk the Line)
  • Fun to see Joker (Heath Ledger) and Batman (Christian Bale) both playing Bob Dylan the year before The Dark Knight.
  • Haynes sets it up early with a montage of his lead actors playing versions of the Bob Dylan character—you have an older version (Richard Gere), woman (Cate Blanchett), etc.—calls them the “poet”, “ghost”, “fake”, “outlaw”, and so on.
  • voice-over by Dylan friend (co-star on Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid) Kris Kristofferson
  • Lots of BW 16mm
  • The film struggles in sections and fascinates in others— it is buoyed by that dream cast (which you could argue is largely spoiled) and the wall to wall brilliant music (by Dylan of course)—the cast includes Blanchett (who steals the show), Gere, Bale, Ledger, Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore- some of the best actors of the era—Moore specifically- a frequent collaborator and semi-muse of Haynes is given almost nothing to do here—she does the faux documentary sequences and these should be done away with entirely—Haynes did this as one of his three mini-films in debut Poison (1991)
  • Blanchett’s gender bending (keeping with Haynes as a feminist artist, a figure of Queer cinema) performance is awesome- it goes beyond just gimmick—she is electric—angered
  • Michelle Williams as Edie Sedgwick is inspired casting- however, she is not in much here- wish she had been cast in the Edie biopic Factory Girl (2006) with Sienna Miller
  • The film is long- very contrary, antagonist and speaks in riddles- much like Dylan
  • The “Goin’ to Acapulco” song/scene is inspired- not only the performance by Calexico but the staging and mise-en-scene from Haynes

 

gems I want to spotlight:  Edgar Wright is a director capable of a masterpiece who has not delivered one (worried now that he never will). He is five movies in now and usually it happens by five movies in.  But, one thing is proven, he is a spectacular editor. Hot Fuzz does not have the following/reputation of Shaun of the Dead but it is the slightly stronger film and the editing is the main reason why. Wright is creative and purposeful with each and every transition. He is clearly an admirer of the cop and action genre but he has created his own style blend here marrying music with exaggerated sound mixing to create his unique voice beyond the soundtrack, camerawork and pairing with comics like Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. It is easy to forget about James Gray and We Own the Nighin a crowded year like 2007. This is another shockingly underrated film from Gray. I hate to admit it,  but the French (who adore Gray) are definitely correct in anointing him as a major auteur even when the critics in the US (metacritic score of 59) misevaluate him. The cast is wonderful- Robert Duvall is just one of the many nods to Francis Ford Coppola and The Godfather again from Gray. The film’s narrative is really like a reverse version of The Godfather – instead of Pacino’s Michael, who is straight, getting pulled into the family business of crime—Phoenix plays the sketchy night club guy who gets pulled into the family business – being a cop. It’s shockingly similar. Another Brighton Beach/Brooklyn Gray film. A film of alternative patriarchs –Shakespearian (and Coppolaesque). Gorgeous lighting and sumptuous set design. Amazing work from Phoenix- his bloated face from drug use and bloodshot eyes. Gray is indeed an uncompromising auteur- apparently the film was delayed years and cost much more money because he refused to shoot in Toronto instead of real locations.

 

Gray’s trademark lighting — 1970s American cinema- heavily influenced by Gordon Willis– certain David Fincher is a cousin. We Own the Night has one of the greatest car chases (another 1970s influence- The French Connection is the lineage) in cinema history.

 

trends and notables:

  • 2007 is undoubtedly one of the best five to ten years in cinema history. Having There Will Be Blood at the top does not hurt. 2007 has perhaps the greatest Paul Thomas Anderson film (and he is the greatest auteur of his generation), Mount Rushmore films from David Fincher, The Coen Brothers and the inarguable peak of the Romanian New Wave (4 Months, 3 weeks, 2 Days) help make 2007 what it is.

Astounding work from David Fincher and Harris Savides (cinematographer) on Zodiac. Fincher’s films do not have highlights  so much as they are wholly dipped in sumptuous natural lighting (married with rigorous period detail here).

Cristian Mungiu’s harrowing masterpiece- 4 Months, 3 weeks, 2 Days

No Country for Old Men– the narrative grabs ahold in a way very few films in film history can. It is unrelenting in its narrative propulsion.

a meditation and exploration of fate- the coin toss, the car accident

Roger Deakins had quite possibly the greatest single year from any cinematographer- collaborating on both No Country for Old Men and with Andrew Dominik here on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. With all due respect to the former, the Dominik film is superior and quite possibly the best work of Deakins’ career.

the great Sidney Lumet made his seventeenth (17th) and final archiveable film in 2007 with Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead— exactly fifty (50) years after his first archiveable film- 12 Angry Men (1957)

  • Another reason 2007 is so special is many of the greatest auteurs of this era actually made a film in 2007. It is quite simple. Paul Thomas Anderson had not made a film since 2002, Roy Andersson since 2000, Bela Tarr since 2000 as well. One could argue these are the three greatest geniuses working at the time in cinema and they all have longer gestation periods.

Only when sandwiched between Werckmeister Harmonies (and this was seven (7) years in the making after that film which was six (6) years in the making after Satantango) and The Turin Horse does Tarr’s The Man From London disappoint. Still, a Bela Tarr B-side puts most of the rest of the cinema world shame with its genius. Rhythmic long takes– with languid camera movement, spectacular black/white photography.

The opening is a 13-minute hypnotic shot (set to eerie organ music)—Tarr is really just setting the scene of the upcoming crime taking place like Rear Window. (in the next shot). Tarr’s camera starts with a reflection in the water, goes up the boat, through the window from pane to pane to a dock/train setting. The second shot is five minutes long where the crime takes place through Tarr’s atmospheric fog and lighting. Tarr’s average shot length is more than six minutes per take at this point. It drops a little over the rest of the film but it stays about four minutes per shot. This is Bela Tarr cinema—meditative. The seventh shot (above) is awe-inspiring photography. Light pouring in from the window, Krobot’s character taking his shoe off, the chair, the bird cage on the right—beautiful museum piece shot

You, the Living is Roy Andersson’s second in a trilogy that starts with 2000’s Songs From the Second Floor and concludes with 2013’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence.  Formally rigid- no in scene cuts, no camera movement, attention to background as much as foreground, Ozu-like open doors, Jim Jarmusch-like scene construction, Tati-like mise-en-scene detail. The train station sequence (above) is a standout.

You, the Living confirms the genius (yep, genius) behind Songs From the Second Floor was no fluke or happy accident but an auteur in complete control, a meticulously constructed—beautiful frames, painterly, rigid editing structure and aesthetics. A hazy overcast gray pervades most frames- characters are pale like zombies, lifeless world around them — matches the sorrow that permeates each vignette.

a breathtaking tableau of the Louisiana brass band playing upbeat music to a massive thunderstorm at the 37 minute mark. One of 30 or so sustained shots here that belong on a wall in an art museum. Many of the frames are among the best images in cinema 2007 (indeed, even in 2007), some appear to be duds (like the opener) but come back around later as they are connected to one of the other 49 vignettes.

  • For up and coming cinema artists, Joanna Hogg makes her first archiveable film in 2007 with Unrelated (Hogg is a late bloomer- already 47 in 2007). Jeff Nichols’ Shotgun Stories manages to stand out even in 2007- his first archiveable film (and the best role for Michael Shannon to date in 2007). Those two would collaborate again often.
  • Saoirse Ronan is certainly an actor worth noting for her first archiveable film Atonement here in 2007 at the age of thirteen (13).
  • Box office success and quality cinema seems worlds apart in 2007 with films like Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, Transformers and another Pirates of the Caribbean taking the top four slots. Luckily 2008 and 2009 would remedy this a bit with some outstanding films at the top of both years.

 

best performance male:  For this category in 2007 there is  Daniel Day-Lewis and then there is everyone else. There is a chasm in-between. DDL gives one of the best performances in cinema history. The runner up in 2007, after leaving a long enough pause after Day-Lewis… is actually Casey Affleck for Jesse James. Third would be Brad Pitt in the same film. Both Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. earn a spot for their work in Zodiac and No Country for Old Men has as many as three actors that have to be mentioned: Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin. In a year this extraordinary year it is no surprise that there are more actors yet to recognize. James McAvoy has never been better than his work in Joe Wright’s Atonement and after 2006 with The Departed, Matt Damon cannot be overlooked again and The Bourne Ultimatum is as good a time as any to make sure he gets another mention.

Daniel Day-Lewis’ achievement here cannot be overstated. It is the greatest performance of the century to date. He was always going to be a great actor but this puts him on a different plane. It is his Raging Bull performance.

The Coens and Javier Bardem (along with Cormac McCarthy of course) have created one of the more memorable characters/villains in recent film history with the Anton Chigurh character.

It is worth stopping to acknowledge the run Brad Pitt started in 2006 with Babel. It is almost as if Pitt took a step back in 2005 with the recent artistic failures of Troy and Mr. & Mrs. Smith and at that point made a concerted effort to work with auteurs and aim for more artistically significant works. After Babel and Jesse James- Pitt still has The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), Burn After Reading (2008), Inglourious Basterds (2009), Moneyball (2011) and The Tree of Life (2011) yet to come.

 

best performance femaleAnamaria Marinca owns this category in 2007 for her work in Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months 3 weeks, 2 Days. She is head and shoulders above the rest (which includes Laura Vasiliu also from Mungiu’s film). Saoirse Ronan starts her phenomenal (still young) career in Atonement. The first half (with Ronan) is stronger than the second.

a sublime composition  of course- but Anamaria Marinca’s  performance is essential to the scene’s power

 

top 10

  1. There Will Be Blood
  2. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
  3. Zodiac
  4. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
  5. Atonement
  6. No Country for Old Men
  7. You, the Living
  8. The Darjeeling Limited
  9. The Bourne Ultimatum
  10. Flight of the Red Balloon

 

 

Café Lumiere (from 2003, one of Hsiao-Hsien Hou’s strongest efforts) was an outward homage to Ozu while still staying true to Hou’s voice and brand as an auteur himself— this is much the same with a nod to Lamorisse’s 1956 short film The Red Balloon – these two films (both superb) are companion pieces. Long takes for HHH- a stylistic indicator. HHH’s other trademark is being able to beautifully set the mise-en-scene and this film has it in abundance—eight (8) minutes in we have a great shot of a red door, red garbage, red artwork on both sides of the door. The color choices are clear in the film’s title but it’s not just the balloon- it’s much more– it’s believable production color scheme design throughout the mise-en-scene like Kieslowski’s colour trilogy (Binoche- the star here also stars in Kieslowski’s Blue of course)

The film cannot quite squeeze an overstuffed top ten- but Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a fine resume builder for both Burton and Depp– and this here makes for a brilliant cinematic painting.

 

 

Archives, Directors, and Grades

28 Weeks Later- Fresnadillo R
3:10 To Yuma- Mangold R
4 Months, 3 weeks, 2 Days- Mungiu MP
A Mighty Heart- Winterbottom R
American Gangster- R. Scott R
Atonement – J. Wright MP
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead – Lumet R
Boy A- Crowley R
Charlie Wilson’s War- M. Nichols R
Chop Shop – Bahrani R
Control- Coraci R
Death Proof – Tarantino R
Eastern Promises – Cronenberg HR
Enchanted- Lima R
Flight of the Red Balloon – Hsiao-Hsien Hou HR/MS
Gone Baby Gone – Affleck R
Hot Fuzz – E. Wright HR
I‘m Not There Haynes R
Into the Wild – S. Penn HR
Juno – J. Reitman R/HR
Knocked Up- Apatow R
La Vie En Rose – Dahan R
Lars and the Real Girl- Gillespie R
Michael Clayton– T. Gilroy HR
No Country for Old Men – Coen MP
Ocean’s Thirteen – Soderbergh HR
Once – Carney R
Paranoid Park- Van Sant R
Persepolis – Paronnaud, Satrapi R
Ratatouille- Bird R
Secret Sunshine – Chang-dong Lee R/HR
Shotgun Stories- J. Nichols R/HR
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street- Burton HR
The Assassination of Jesse James – Dominik MP
The Bourne Ultimatum -Greengrass MS
The Counterfeiters – Ruzowitzky R
The Darjeeling Limited – W. Anderson MS
The Diving Bell and Butterfly-  Schnabel HR
The Edge of Heaven – Akin R
The Lookout- Frank R
The Man from London – Tarr HR
The Orphanage- Bayona R
The Savages – T. Jenkins R
The Secret of the Grain – Kechiche R
The Visitor- McCarthy R
There Will Be Blood– P.T. Anderson MP
Unrelated – Hogg R
We Own the Night – Gray HR
You, the Living – Andersson MS
Zodiac – Fincher MP

 

*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