Tuesday, February 26, 2013

In Retrospect: The Films of Paul Thomas Anderson

Today, one of 2012's greatest cinematic achievements, Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, is making its way to home video.  To celebrate the release of the film, Sanctuary Review has taken a look back over Anderson's filmography.  After the jump, find a complete guide to Anderson's work, dating back to 1996's Hard Eight, all the way up to one of  Sanctuary Review's favorite films from last year, The Master.

Hard Eight (1996)

In the same fashion as Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight, Hard Eight embodies what crime dramas were in the 90’s. Although Hard Eight is undeniably Paul Thomas Anderson’s weakest film, seeing where the director got his start in feature film making can still be fascinating. While Hard Eight doesn’t offer the originality or scathing depth that Anderson is now known for, his blossoming talent is fully apparent throughout the film. For a debut picture, Hard Eight stands out as one of the better offerings of the 90’s, although its ability to standout in a sea of present day films is not as strong. Far from an essential Paul Thomas Anderson film, Hard Eight is worth seeking out only if you’re a diehard fan of PTA or crime films from its decade. 7/10

Boogie Nights (1997)

With Boogie Nights, Paul Thomas Anderson was able to squeeze the best performance we’ve seen out of Mark Wahlberg, who at the time, was in the early stages of his acting career. Chronicling the ascent and demise of the fictional porn star Eddie Adams, better known as Dirk Diggler, this 70’s and 80’s set drama is the first of a few Paul Thomas Anderson masterpieces. Using the 1970’s setting to his full advantage, Paul Thomas Anderson never resolves to simple period jokes. Anderson handles the subject matter of his film in the same fashion, never painting the pornography industry as this empty joke, while also straying away from glamorizing the career path. From its opening sequence, Boogie Nights may appear to be upbeat and fun, but when the film reaches Dirk’s first confrontation, this time with his mother, Anderson shows that, in spite of the amusement that fills the film, this is a story with a brooding dark side, an aspect of the film that is later cemented by a shocking scene from William H. Macy. Boogie Nights follows a fairly familiar trajectory of the ups and downs of a character or company, it’s the little details Anderson gives his characters is what elevates the film beyond the standard and keeps it away from typical pitfalls. Boogie Nights is a quintessential 90’s film, as well as the first proof of Paul Thomas Anderson’s genius. 8.5/10

Magnolia (1999)

Venturing into the style of hyperlink cinema, Paul Thomas Anderson’s dramatic epic is without a doubt his most ambitious work. Clocking in at just over three hours, Magnolia makes full use of its runtime, leaving very little room for a lull. Paul Thomas Anderson’s use of music is overwhelming, maximizing the sense of impending doom that looms over Magnolia. The score can become overbearing at times, but its use is mostly effective in furthering the stress induced by the film’s characters. Working again with an ensemble cast of familiar faces, Magnolia flaunts half a dozen career making performances, while never using its performances as a crutch to carry the film. Not all of its storylines work on every occasion, William H. Macy’s “Quiz Kid” sections come to mind first, but these moments are redeemed by the film’s brightest moments, mostly in the form of John C. Reilly (in a career high performance) and Melora Walters’ plot line. On his way to becoming one of America’s greatest directors, Magnolia is just another notch in a near perfect filmography. 8/10

Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

While Paul Thomas Anderson’s films had been known for pulling the best performances out of their actors, no one could have seen this coming. The performance Anderson pulled out of Adam Sandler with Punch-Drunk Love is astounding. Known before the film as nothing more than an overgrown infant of an actor, the film showed a previously untapped well of potential Sandler had within him. Once again, Anderson uses his music to reflect and guide the mood of the film, this time focusing it entirely on behavior and emotions shown by Sandler’s Barry Egan. Despite the fact that Punch-Drunk Love’s credits roll before the film even reaches half the time of Magnolia, the emotional punch the film packs is far more visceral and long lasting. The shyness, lack of focus, and eagerness of Barry Egan is something that is forever present, whether in a scene where Egan is showing his infatuation of Lena Leonard (Emily Watson) or scenes where Egan is dealing with the money extortion brought on by a phone sex hotline operator. Adam Sandler has rarely tried to harness the potential Paul Thomas Anderson brought out in him, and the few times he has, the roles have fallen completely flat. Sandler has gone on to milk the cash cow with variations on his man-child routine for another decade, but there is no denying that what he and Anderson did together is pure magic. 9.5/10

There Will Be Blood (2007)

A film that is often cited as the best of the decade, or at least the best of its year, There Will Be Blood is also the film viewed as Paul Thomas Anderson’s magnum opus. The pairing of Anderson, one of the greatest directors of his generation, and Daniel Day-Lewis, one of the best actors of his generation, is the perfect match, resulting in one of the most incredible, towering pictures of the Aughts. There Will Be Blood marks the first adapted screenplay from Anderson. While there is an obvious shift in the style of the script when compared to his former work, the quality of Anderson’s ability to tell a story doesn’t dip in the slightest. What appears on the surface to be mostly about the oil industry in the early twentieth century, There Will Be Blood is equally about the father-son relationship of Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis) and H.W. Plainview (Dillon Freasier, Russell Harvard). Strangely enough, There Will Be Blood mirrors Boogie Nights the most out of any of Anderson’s films, portraying a similar rise and fall situation, only with wildly different execution. It took five years for Anderson to get from Punch-Drunk Love to There Will Be Blood, a wait that is longer than most of the time between new Anderson films, but the director-screenwriter made the wait wholly worth its time, with the end result fully embodying the definition of a future American classic. 9.5/10

The Master (2012)

Where There Will Be Blood packed one towering performance, The Master boasted three of 2012’s best performance, one of which rivals Daniel Day-Lewis very closely. Paul Thomas Anderson took another five year break between films, with the final product this time being his complex, as well as his most visually stunning, film to date. Joaquin Phoenix returns to the screen for the first time since his “retirement” and the release of I’m Still Here, proving that his stunt didn’t detract from his ability to give jaw dropping performances in the slightest. The relationship built between Philip Seymour Hoffman and Phoenix is awe-inspiring, harnessing the full level of both actors’ ability to command attention on screen. Amy Adams’ slyly manipulative Peggy Dodd’s genius is so downplayed until the final act that its impact is completely unexpected. The Master is a fascinating character study, as well as a gripping portrayal of a Scientology-like religious movement. As the Paul Thomas Anderson film I have written the most about, there is not much more I can say about The Master that I haven’t said. The Master is a beautifully shot, skillfully acted, delightfully complicated movie that further backs up all praise of Paul Thomas Anderson as a film maker. 9/10

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