It’s been a long time since I did my last ‘The Very Best Of’ and quite honestly I couldn’t think of a better person to make this about than Paul Thomas Anderson. PTA is one of my favorite directors and there isn’t one film of his I hate but the reason I love him is because he is a director who consistently strives to innovate and continue creating greatness. Like Tarantino, he is a self-taught filmmaker who has learned his craft by watching movies rather than going to film school. And all though I love Tarantino just as much, what sets these two apart is that Anderson’s films actually mean something beneath all the style. It’s fair to say he’s one of the finest filmmakers working today, here are what I believe to be his best films.
Hard Eight (1996)
5. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
When Paul Thomas Anderson announced he was making a movie with Adam Sandler many people thought it was a joke but Anderson, who had been a fan of Sandler since his SNL days was very serious. Punch-Drunk Love put all the detractors to rest and it is this weirdly twisted film that explodes in anger and desperation and all together it makes for a genuinely intoxicating experience. It is also a most unconventional romantic-comedy that features Adam Sandler giving the best performance he’s ever given and probably the best he’ll ever give. And Anderson’s quirky yet dark script helps extract this performance while offering a compelling and funny story. Also, Philip Seymour Hoffman nearly steals the entire thing towards the end.
4. The Master (2012)
Anderson’s allegory on Scientology, The Master is probably his most narratively complex film to date but once you get invested in the story you can’t help but feel absorbed by it. The Master is an incredibly well-made film as well and it’s very different from Anderson’s previous films, it’s gorgeously shot by resident PTA cinematographer, Robert Elswit but for me it’s the performances that really define this movie. Joaquin Phoenix offers a truly masterful turn as protagonist Freddy Quail and is complemented by an equally good, if not better performance by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as the charismatic Lancester Dodd. The Master is a film that can prove to be a hard watch due to it’s ambiguity and complexity and it is one of Anderson’s least accessible films but if you can sit through till the end you will find it to be an extremely rewarding experience.
3. Magnolia (1999)
It takes some balls to try, let alone pull-off something like Magnolia but then again not everyone is Paul Thomas Anderson. Magnolia is a movie that demonstrates Anderson’s flair for epic movie-making and it’s a film where the slightest of faults can bring down the entire film but rarely does this happen and the excellent performances, particularly from Tom Cruise and Philip Seymour Hoffman set the tone from the very start and the film always has you emotionally involved. Magnolia never backs away from exploring bold themes either, exploring everything from, child abandonment to rape, molestation and just a general affliction that life can often bring. And I absolutely love how the film comes together in the end and ending is something that is bound to leave you both bewildered and amazed.
2. Boogie Nights (1997)
This is it. The movie that rocketed PTA into the lime-light and it’s such a great film to watch because it’s filled with these unforgettable scenes that just stay with you. From the opening shot to the final one this movie feels like a spiritual successor to Goodfellas and it is by far the most rewatchable PTA film. The screenplay is fantastic, it’s filled with drama, dark humor and these amazing characters. When it comes to direction, this is probably the most stylish film of Anderson’s career especially in the way it captures the entire look of the 70’s that you can’t help not looking at the screen. And how about the performances? This movie made everyone take Mark Wahlberg seriously, served as a comeback for Burt Reynolds – albeit a short one – and established Julianne Moore as one of the greatest actresses of her generation.
1. There Will Be Blood (2007)
Every once in a while you see a movie that just completely electrifies you. There Will Be Blood is that movie. The film is essentially a story of power and the greed that comes with it but it becomes so much more as it moves forward and in Daniel Plainview, Daniel Day-Lewis finds perhaps the most compelling character he’s ever played and gives a towering performance, the best of his career and easily one of the greatest ever put on screen. And this is just a magnificent film, a monumental achievement in the field of filmmaking and it represents Anderson at the top of his game as a director. Robert Elswit stunning cinematography deserves it’s credit as does Johnny Greenwood’s haunting original score. Best PTA movie, marginally but still the best.