AUTEUR HOUR: Paul Thomas Anderson

9 01 2015

PTA prof pic

Welcome to a new feature here at Marshall and the Movies that I am calling “Auteur Hour!”  I have hinted at this since 2012 (yikes) and can think of no better way to kick off this series than with a look at the filmography of writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson.

For those who do not know, auteur is a French term meaning “author” that academic writers often apply to directors of films.  The term and all that comes along with it provides constant debate within the cinematic community.  Some think it provides a great way to honor filmmakers who use consistent patterns or motifs throughout their work, while others argue that the term serves as a catchall to redeem anyone who can carry something over from picture to picture.

Paul Thomas Anderson certainly qualifies as an auteur like few others in America with his fluency in the language and history of cinema as well as his virtuosic output.  I had the chance to grab a quick photo with him before the world premiere of “Inherent Vice” – as you can see, both of us were pretty awkward.  I stood speechless in the face of the man responsible for some absolute gems in the crown of cinema.  If you want to stand in awe as well, check out some of these videos…

And now, to the point of the post, here is how I would rank the films of Paul Thomas Anderson.  So without further ado…

Punch Drunk Love

Punch Drunk Love” (2002)

Maybe it’s my loss, but I just cannot connect with this movie. I remain baffled by it, unable to find the humanity beneath its artistry. It strikes me as Anderson just being quirky for the sake of being quirky.

Hard Eight

“Hard Eight” (1996)

When you know it’s a first film, this does not look so bad. But obviously, when stacked against Paul Thomas Anderson’s formidable filmography, it pales in comparison to what he would achieve.

Inherent Vice Shasta

Inherent Vice” (2014)

Now, I am in sticky, “Sophie’s Choice” territory.  All these movies are special and brilliant in their own special way.  “Inherent Vice” is a hodgepodge of influences from the noir detectives of the classical era of cinema, the ambivalent ensembles of Robert Altman, the stoned profundity of “The Big Lebowski,” and the outrageous yet brilliant gags of the Zucker Brothers.  Somehow, Anderson makes it all cohere into one wacky, enjoyable romp through Los Angeles at the dawn of the paranoid, disillusioned 1970s.  Considering that he pulls this off while also adapting one of the trickiest American novelists, Thomas Pynchon, “Inherent Vice” is one remarkable accomplishment.

Magnolia (2)

“Magnolia” (1999)

Now here’s where it starts getting tricky. Anderson has proclaimed this to be the best movie he will ever make, which has to count for something. “Magnolia” is definitely the ballsiest movie he has made to date. Its sheer ambition and scope are awe-inspiring. I have watched this one at least four times, in part because each time I want it to be better than it actually is. Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a spectacular film, but I always come away with the sensation that the whole is slightly less than the sum of its parts. Things just never fully connect for me in the final act, though I would not trade the “Wise Up” sequence for anything in the world…

There Will Be Blood (7)

“There Will Be Blood” (2007)

The first time I watched “There Will Be Blood,” I was 15 years old and completely ill-equipped to handle its thematic content.  To be fair, part of my confusion resulted from Anderson’s unfortunate casting of Paul Dano in two roles, as the actor was completely incapable of drawing any delineation between the personalities.  About five years later, though, I decided to give it another chance and found myself immediately bowled over by its immaculate, Kubrickian construction.  It’s a haunting tale of business ethics anchored in eerie visual and aural beauty as well as Daniel Day-Lewis in his most towering performance ever.

The Master (6)

The Master” (2012)

A danger for any well-established director is falling back into routinization, making facsimiles of what has already worked for them (looking at you, Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino).  Throughout his work, Paul Thomas Anderson has pulled from a wide variety of sources, inspirations, and directorial styles to repurpose them for his own stories.  None but the evocative “The Master,” however, feel solely his own.  The film owes little to anyone or anything, forging a bold and delicate tonal masterwork.  Whether this is a story about love, religion, war or America really depends on how you choose to watch it.  Anderson capitalizes on the ambiguities of “There Will Be Blood” and further extends them to artistic effect, obscuring as much as he reveals within the film.  This is a piece that demands to be watched repeatedly and reinterpreted frequently.

Boogie Nights (3)

Boogie Nights” (1997)

I consider this the story that Anderson was born to tell, or – at the very least – it is the story that seems to have best brought out his vitality and verve.  This rich ensemble drama set in the hub of the porn industry, Anderson’s native San Fernando Valley, features his most fully realized characters in his most compellingly cinematic adventure.  The film brims with life, not to mention love for the masters of the craft that inspired him (namely, Martin Scorsese).  “Boogie Nights” is what allowed Anderson to burst onto the cinematic scene, and it still maintains that compellingly irresistible energy.  As he pays tribute to the movies, he creates a movie to which people will one day pay tribute.  This is an all-out stunner on every account.

This is just one man’s take on the staggering oeuvre of Paul Thomas Anderson – how would YOU rank his films?



One response

11 01 2015

I just saw the film this morning as I’m currently writing my review as here is my ranking of all of the films that I’ve seen from him so far…

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