I very much enjoyed revisiting Paul Thomas Anderson’s eight films, some of which I hadn’t seen in many years. Revisiting the work of great auteurs always reveals additional layers, new things to appreciate.
Even so, my overall rankings didn’t shift much. Only three movies changed positions, two going up and one going down. Magnolia suffered the biggest drop, while Phantom Thread made the biggest jump. It’s all just a matter of degree, though. I heartily recommend every one of these films.
Anderson is a tremendously versatile filmmaker. Just look at the wide range of settings and subject matter covered in his eight movies: Reno casinos, the porn industry, 1970 hippie culture, turn-of-the-century oil exploration, 50s English Haute couture, the birth of a Scientology-like cult. And his two contemporary Los Angeles films — Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love — couldn’t be more different.
That said, it’s not hard to find recurring themes among those very different movies. The most prevalent is the dynamic between fathers (or father figures) and sons. Domineering anti-heroes are centered in many of these titles.
Anderson is also fascinated by transitions. Several of his films are set at the beginnings and endings of decades, chronicling the accompanying shift in American culture. Even Magnolia, released in 1999, captures end-of-the-millennium angst with its apocalyptic rain of frogs.
Watching all of the films in order, I was struck by the difference in style between the pre- and post-Punch-Drunk Love eras. Four of my top five films come from the later period, when Anderson shed the obvious Scorsese and Altman influences and found his own cinematic voice. His fluid camerawork and patient pacing are catnip for me.
Tomorrow, I’ll wrap up this Paul Thomas Anderson deep dive with a sneak peek at his upcoming film, Licorice Pizza. In the meantime, here is my brand-new, hot off the presses ranking of his filmography so far.
1. There Will Be Blood (2007) – no change
2. Boogie Nights (1997) – no change
3. Phantom Thread (2017) – up two slots
4. The Master (2012) – no change
5. Inherent Vice (2014) – up one slot
6. Magnolia (1999) – down three slots
7. Punch-Drunk Love (2002) – no change
8. Hard Eight (1996) – no change