Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Ranking Paul Thomas Anderson’s Filmography

By Josh Williams

It goes without saying that Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the greatest filmmakers working today and he has easily become one of the greatest of all time. No matter how you chose to refer to him, PTA, P.T. Anderson, or any number of other possible combinations, there is no doubt that the man is a downright genius. Recreating different time periods with palpable detail, creating character dramas that force us to reflect on our own personal lives, this director is fantastically unique in his cinematic approach. And his latest film, “Phantom Thread,” is no different. With the nationwide release of Phantom Thread occurring this weekend we here at NBP have decided to rank his filmography. You can also go here to our weekly poll to tell us your favorite Paul Thomas Anderson film.

So without further ado here is, Paul Thomas Anderson’s entire filmography ranked!

8. HARD EIGHT (1996)

Hard Eight

​”Hard Eight” is Paul Thomas Anderson’s debut feature film and it is probably his most tame film to date. “Hard Eight” plays it safe and by the rules, much like its main character John, played by John C. Reilly, is taught to do. “Hard Eight” does not venture into new territory which is rare if you’ve seen literally every other Anderson project. Anderson is known for playing at such high stakes but in such a low key type of manner. Instead “Hard Eight” is simply the proving grounds for what Anderson would later become. It focuses heavily on the characters, how they interact with each other, and what each character cares about. Sydney, played by Phillip Baker Hill, teaches John the ins and outs of the gambling business. Sydney rescues John from his penultimate low and its something just about everyone can relate to. John then begins to slip from the gambling game after falling for a cocktail waitress named Clementine. It becomes a difficult scenario because we get to fall in love with the cinematic relationship of Sydney and John but then we also adore the relationship between John and Clementine. Anderson focuses solely on the different personalities of each character and how those personalities would act if they were forced to collide. He continued this trend throughout his entire career and it’s wonderful to see it on display in his debut. Though it does fall a tad flat on re-watches, the film is a bit one note for Anderson and it just happens to be the most un-interesting PTA film despite it being the exact opposite of that. 

7. INHERENT VICE (2014)

Inherent Vice

​”Inherent Vice” is adapted from the novel of the same name by Thomas Pynchon, and boy does it replicate the feeling that Pynchon has in place. The smoke filled 70’s landscape that Anderson immaculately paints on screen is just downright groovy. Everyone within the film seems to be living a different kind of life than we are viewing. The interactions are far out and estranged, the dialogue is nuanced and mysterious. The film revolves around Private Investigator Doc Sportello, played miraculously by Joaquin Phoenix. Doc must investigate a missing ex-girlfriend and nobody seems to want to give him an answer. Everyone who may possess some information does not want to share it, instead, they want to string Doc along in a series of poetic, drug-induced metaphors. “Inherent Vice” may be Anderson’s weirdest film to date as it never fully explains what exactly is going on and what exactly everything means. While Anderson does not usually do that, he does give us quite a bit of information to piece together. However, in “Inherent Vice” there seems to be some sort of puzzle piece missing. “Inherent Vice” never seems to arrive at anything tangible like an answer simply cause that is not what its characters would want and Anderson lives and dies by his characters.

6. PUNCH DRUNK LOVE (2002)

Punch Drunk Love

​Possibly Anderson’s most contemporary film to date, “Punch Drunk Love” is an oddly romantic yet simultaneously heartbreaking story about loneliness and the search for love. Anderson takes on an entirely different persona for this film in terms of substance. He also likes to focus on people in positions of power or false aspirations of power. But “Punch Drunk Love,” lead with an outright phenomenal performance from Adam Sandler, it takes on something a little more intimate. And yes you read that correctly, phenomenal performance from Adam Sandler. Instead of focusing on towering giants of the oil industry or London’s most renowned dressmaker, it focuses on lowly ole Barry Egan. Egan is just a simple guy who works at a dead end job and falls in love with an English woman named Lena, played beautifully by Emily Watson. Lena appears to be the answers to all his problems and becomes quite literally his guardian angel. “Punch Drunk Love” is possibly Anderson’s sweetest film to date despite it being a bit on the unconventional and minimalistic side. 

5. BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997)

Boogie Nights

​If “Punch Drunk Love” is Anderson’s most minimalistic film then “Boogie Nights” is quite possibly his most explosive. Pulled straight from his influences of Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese, “Boogie Nights” perfectly captures the enigmatic energy of the late 70’s and early 80’s. It follows an up and coming entertainer in the porn industry named Eddie Adams who pawns the persona of Dirk Diggler. Adams is played by a rather young Mark Wahlberg in what is possibly the best performance of his career. “Boogie Nights” follows one of the biggest Anderson themes which is that of family. Adams’ birth family does not care for him and they do not think he will succeed in any aspect of his life. Then Adams’ is taken in by porn director Jack Horner, played by Burt Reynolds. Much like Lena to Barry in “Punch Drunk Love,” Jack is the answer to all of Eddie’s problems. “Boogie Nights” has an explosive approach to its editing style which is not seen in many other Anderson films. It also has a much different approach to the character interactions than his other projects. Instead of being a more slow and steady approach to the character evolution, “Boogie Nights” comes out swinging and boy is it exciting when it takes that first punch.

4. PHANTOM THREAD (2017)

Phantom Thread

​Succulent, sensual, erotic, sublime. Phantom Thread is Anderson’s latest project and it is a doozy. Also serving as the swan song for legendary actor Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread is a royal final film for Lewis and a stunning return for Anderson. Instead of hiding its themes of love and what you will put up with for someone you love under layers of ambiguity like “Punch Drunk Love,” Phantom Thread is much more out in the open. It glides over what may be Anderson’s greatest script to date. With spine-tingling insults, heartwarming compliments, and an even more jaw-dropping visual style, Phantom Thread is a film that was kept heavily under wraps for quite a long time and for good reason. It creates a such a dream-like essence with its cinematic approach that it clouds your mind. After watching this project it will haunt you when you’re awake and when you’re asleep for days on end. It creates such an otherworldly environment through its performances, especially from Lesley Manville and Vicky Krieps, and of course, it’s fascinating screenplay breaking down the character dynamics between the three main roles.

3. MAGNOLIA (1999)

Magnolia

​What is easily Anderson’s boldest film to date, “Magnolia” is something entirely different than anything else in PTA’s filmography. From the climactic ending, unlike anything ever put on film, “Magnolia” is definitely not for everyone. Even if you are a Paul Thomas Anderson fan, you may not enjoy the rollercoaster ride that is “Magnolia.” While Anderson is known for his illustrious ensembles there is something a bit more special about his magnum opus. Each member of the cast has an immensely special performance. Tom Cruise, who was nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar, is stunning in his loud and colorful performance. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is gentle and sensitive with his role. Anderson directs an absolutely stunning cast of actors in this film that it makes complete sense why it’s his personal favorite film within his career.

2. THE MASTER (2012)

The Master

​”The Master” is an emotional onslaught of a film. Taking place right after World War 2, “The Master” revolves around Freddy Quell, a naval veteran who is having trouble coping with post-war life. Quell is played flawlessly by Joaquin Phoenix in possibly his most complex role to date. The character of Freddy Quell is troubled in ways that many of us may not understand fully but we can relate to his level of brokenness. He is broken to varying degrees, as with all of Anderson’s lead characters, and we get to see how he handles these difficult scenarios. He is taken in by a religious leader named Lancaster Dodd (One of Hoffman’s greatest performances) who, once again, appears to have all the answers to Quell’s problems. Then once it feels like Lancaster will answer all of Quell’s issues, that preconceived notion came crashing down. In one fatal attempt to save Quell from his self-destructive tendencies, Lancaster sings him a song. Yet Quell cannot overcome his own flaws and he flees. The film has a gripping feeling about it that will hold onto your soul forever. This film sets out to ruin your entire mental state of being and it succeeds.

1. THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2008)

There Will Be Blood

​Coming up on only eleven years of age, “There Will Be Blood” is already one of the greatest pieces of cinema ever crafted. Every piece of Paul Thomas Anderson’s enticing filmography cultivates into one massive achievement. Crafting one of the greatest film antagonists ever with Daniel Plainview, illustriously played by Daniel Day-Lewis, the performance is a clear-cut choice for his second best actor win. Day-Lewis carries a vast majority of the film’s weight on his shoulders. As if the screenplay, films period setting, and religious undertones weren’t enough, you have the literal master Daniel Day-Lewis at the forefront. Day-Lewis plays the part with sheer ferocity, crawling under your skin with each line of dialogue he speaks. Not only slithering his way into the hearts of the films supporting cast but into the audience’s heart as well. Plainview is a madman, hell-bent on achieving his status of power through oil. He distances himself from any traces of family because he is a lone wolf. He works and operates alone because the only person he trusts in this godforsaken world full of backstabbers, is himself. “There Will Be Blood” is unlike anything you have ever seen before and not on the same levels as his other films. “Punch Drunk Love” takes a different route down the path of love. “Magnolia” takes a different kind of road with depression and regret. “The Master” is illusory in its depiction of fear and longing. But “There Will Be Blood” is solely its own genre of film. Nothing matches the sheer magnitude that is put on display. From the set pieces to the stunning cinematography from Robert Elswitt, and of course a haunting score from Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, “There Will Be Blood” is malicious in its execution, much like Plainview is in his hunt for power.

What is your favorite Paul Thomas Anderson film? Let us know in the comments below and also be sure to vote on our weekly poll answering the same question here.

You can follow Josh and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @josh_williams09

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