In 1999, the 29-year-old Paul Thomas Anderson, in an interview after the release of his hugely successful ensemble piece Magnolia, stated, “what I really feel is that Magnolia is, for better or worse, the best movie I’ll ever make.” This seemed a fair line to draw; the film is a genuine triumph in terms of scriptwriting and technical innovation.
Obviously people’s views on Anderson’s work vary, yet many are of the opinion that his post-Magnolia feature films made in the 21st Century make hi something of a modern day genius, an auteur, a true artist behind the camera. He has been described as a ‘director’s director’, due to his innovative techniques and approach to storytelling, yet his ability to keep us on the edge of our seats with incredibly detailed portrayals of disturbed characters opens the door to a far wider audience.
Anderson’s success truly came about after his breakthrough feature Boogie Nights (1997), a dark insight into the glamorous yet sleazy world of 1970s pornography, a film which not only showed his talent in narrative, but also a Tarantino-esque balance between comedy and violence. Bringing back Burt Reynolds and introducing Mark Wahlberg as the stars, Anderson had his work cut out for him to impress, now with the lights of the critical press firmly following his moves. He followed Boogie Nights with Magnolia, a mosaic of intertwining characters all searching for a form of salvation in happiness or forgiveness, a common theme in Anderson’s films. Although undeniably a fantastic film, I would call it a stretch to stamp it with his ‘best film’ seal, as his work in the 2000s, I believe, puts Anderson up there with the all time great directors, amongst Scorsese, Welles, Truffaut, Griffith etc.
In a rather surprising move, Anderson cast Adam Sandler in 90-minute comedy Punch Drunk Love (2002), a film which went on to inspire directors such as Judd Apatow (Knocked Up) and Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) as a staple for comedy as an artistic film, with visual interludes by artist Jeremy Blake colouring the film behind the already luminous characters with a darker side. However, it is not until There Will Be Blood (2007) that I believe we see Anderson at his finest. With a revolutionary score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and a performance by Daniel Day-Lewis which went on to win the actor an Academy Award, it was difficult for the critics to ignore this film from the outset. The vast, sweeping cinematography and long takes on a single close-up interspersed amongst an otherwise constantly moving camera shot give the film its pace, while the dialogue is inherently memorable, with the ‘Milkshake’ conversation going down in history as one of the greatest scenes in modern cinema.
His latest film, The Master (2012) starred Anderson regular Philip Seymour Hoffman as an L. Ron Hubbard-type figure moulding the fragile mind of Joaquin Phoenix’s disturbed sailor Freddie Quell. Not only do I think these characters will be remembered for decades to come as fantastic
creations in themselves, but the script can be considered a work of pre-eminent literature in its own right, regardless of the beautiful cinematography and dazzling performances that keenly contest the Academy Awards later this year. We are lucky to live in a time when artists like this can hog mainstream critical attention in the best way possible, and we can expect the same standard of work, if
not even more ground-breaking work from this director in years to come.