Monday, August 10, 2015

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson


It's his love affair with the camera that firmly sets film fanatics in the work of Paul Thomas Anderson. The boy genius from Los Angeles, through his constant partnership with cinematographer Robert Elswit, has created some of the finest cinematic moments in history. Stealing moves and tricks from Scorsese, ensemble direction from Altman, and possessing some of the sensibilities of the oddballs of his youth, like Corman and Downey, Sr., he has created some of the most effortlessly enjoyable films of all-time. In embracing a darker side, he as also crafted two of the most densely tragic character studies in film history as well. 


His use of music is a wonder. He has a long-standing relationship with three of the most unique film composers in modern cinema. Michael Penn and Jon Brion in his earlier years. Then, in the last half of his career, a collaboration with modernist Radiohead rocker-turned-film scorer Jonny Greenwood literally blew minds. Then, of course, there's Aimee Mann's glorious chick rock littering the entire soundtrack of his magnum opus. 

And. also in the vein of Scorsese, there is his ability to put together a needle drop soundtrack of our innermost memories in rapid succession underneath, over-the-top, and everywhere, sometimes without us even noticing. 

Among the looks and sounds of the films of P.T. Anderson are stories of men. Men lost in gigantic worlds beyond their grasps. Men who idealize the world and mimic success and desire something, sometimes everything. Men who don't usually get what it was they were looking for. 

I used the word usually in my previous sentence, because I want to start my list with a film that I refuse to rank with the other films of Paul Thomas Anderson. It is too unique and too perfect and too unlike the others to allow it to play against them. I'm not saying it's any better or worse than the others. And I don't want to. I just want it made clear that I love it. 

The Un-Rankable


Punch-Drunk Love came out in 2002, Anderson's fourth feature and a huge departure from his previous film, the epic drama Magnolia. It is short, odd, colorful and supremely satisfying. Instead of his usual smoothly designed camera movements, this one treats each frame as a canvas for shifting light and color. More Godard and Truffaut as opposed to Altman and Scorsese. Though, of course, it directly references Robert Altman's Popeye (1980) in its use of a certain song (see below). 

It features a performance from Adam Sandler that uses his persona to the effect an "Adam Sandler movie" has never been able to match. It is full of moments that confuse and frighten, then ones that enlighten and fulfill. It is Anderson's first love story, his romantic comedy. 

Camera

See what I mean? 


Music

Shelley Duvall sings "He Needs Me" - remixed by Jon Brion



6



Shot on 70mm film and released in 2012, The Master remains the one Anderson film that I just didn't get on first watch and have yet been able to revisit. At its center is the darkness of a troubled wanderer, a WWII vet played, in a brilliant turn, by Joaquin Phoenix, who stumbles, literally, into the world of an up-and-coming cult leader played by Philip Seymour Hoffman (equally brilliant). It is striking in its imagery but a bit too heavy in elements that just don't come together into making much sense. I'm quite sure it's a masterpiece though. Click here for my Missed Masterpieces review.

Camera

I don't even know how to articulate the perfection in this shot.


Music

Ella Fitzgerald's "Get Thee Behind Me Satan"


5



Maybe the most divisive film in Anderson's filmography (or maybe everybody but a few hate it, I'm not sure), Paul Thomas Anderson made a fully faithful adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel. It will never be done this perfectly again. Clocking in at just under two-and-a-half hours, it is, above all, a beautiful statement about a political shift in America's history, one in which the free-loving fun of the 1960s was replaced by the hard, drug-fueled paranoia of the 1970s. At the same time, it is, at once, a love story and a detective story. I adore this movie, wrote a review you can read here, and named it the best film of 2014. 

Camera

A soon-to-be iconic shot of sex and love and drugs. 


Music

Neil Young's "Journey through the Past" 



4



His debut film, Hard Eight flowed through Anderson. It was a story he "needed to tell." Alas, the studio screwed him on the title, which was originally to be Sydney, and he got his first taste of the big time. Luckily, the film itself it intact and plays pretty much as Anderson originally envisioned. It is an incredibly astute, effortlessly entertaining character piece about an old gambler with at least a little bit left to give. 

Camera

The first shot of his first film. Composed like a pro. 


Music

The opening scene featuring a piece of music I can't find for the life of me. Help!



3



A departure in tone and featuring a toned-down but tuned-up visual style, There Will Be Blood was one of the most talked about movies of 2007, a year that also brought The Coen Brothers saga of violence, No Country for Old Men, and Andrew Dominik's lovely portrait of the relationship that killed Jesse James, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Led by Daniel Day-Lewis in an Oscar winning takedown of all things since macho, this film oozes power. It is a stunning piece of cinema. 

Camera

In your face with symbolism, angry and hard. 


Music

Brahms' Violin Concerto in D Major -- "I'm finished."




2



His sophomore effort, Boogie Nights is the kind of epic filmmaking reserved for those who've been in the game for at least a decade. It was my first experience with Anderson as a director, a film I had to sneak and watch because my mom actually thought it was porn. It's really not. It's about a big dreamer named Eddie Adams, later Dirk Diggler, who finds, more than anything else, a family in the San Fernando Valley of California in the late 1970s. It is an absolute masterclass in style with camera movements so kinetic and brilliant that it actually changed my life. It was the first time I noticed style. And it really boils down to that one scene...

Camera

That hold on Mark Wahlberg's face is everything. 


Music

Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl"



1



Anderson's third film, his one true personal magnum opus, a film he is quoted as saying shouldn't be as long as it is, Magnolia is a drama of connection and coincidence like none other. Its cast is as epic as its scope, a mishmash of Anderson regulars (John C. Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Philip Baker Hall, William H. Macy, Melora Walters) and intensely powerful turns from Tom Cruise and Jason Robards as a son and his dying, estranged father brought together one last time. From Ricky Jay's narration of the opening scene, a short film in and of itself, to Aimee Mann's catchy chick rock cuts and all the brilliant long takes in between, this is above them all. Magnolia is my favorite. It took the life-changing aspects of Boogie Nights and raised them an entire other movie. 

Camera

Oh, the details...


Music

Aimee Mann's "Save Me" -- That riff at the cut though. 





13 comments:

  1. I want to make it clear that I LOVE what you have done here and that I cannot wait to see where this series takes you, as you have a real awesome template for going forward.

    PTA is an auteur, no doubt about it. He has serious vision as a filmmaker and his films are inherently HIS films. No one else could make a PTA film. It takes a special kind of director to establish that kind of a presence behind the camera. For that, I applaud him. Sadly, PTA is not a director that I love all of the time. In fact, I've only loved him twice (There Will Be Blood and Boogie Nights). I've liked him a few times (The Master and Hard Eight) and I admired him once (Magnolia), and then I hated him twice (Punch Drunk Love and Inherent Vice). But, that is the mark of a true auteur...the ability to illicit those kinds of passionate responses. A real auteur should never be in the middle. He should never make 'nice' movies. He should make movies that you either LOVE or HATE because he is making real statements with his craft.

    GREAT job. I can't stress that enough. This is a remarkable piece, Kevin. I cannot wait to see who you tackle next!

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    1. Dude! Thanks so much. I am so glad you love this.

      What you say it the truth. PTA is one that really just got to me at the right time and really opened my eyes to what cinema can do. Like I said, he made me truly notice directorial style, which, in turn, coaxed me into going back in time and seeking other films out. I was a teenager when I first saw Boogie Nights and Magnolia. Just life-changing stuff. The way he moves the camera is just everything to me. I love the show-off in him. He has really not done wrong for me. The Master is the weak point. I really need to see it again. It's just so dense. Beautiful. But it just felt a bit too heavy on one viewing. I absolutely adore Punch-Drunk Love. I hate that you hate that. But I get it. It steps away from his other work, as I highlighted here. You are so right about the LOVE/HATE dynamic with his films. Inherent Vice is especially that kind of film. I saw it in the theater, and it just washed over me. I stopped caring about what was going on and it just really felt it as a unique experience.

      Thanks again. I'm pretty sure I'm gonna do Fincher next. Maybe Wes.

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    2. Fincher! HELL YES!

      And I say hate (for Punch Drunk Love), and yet I don't...I just...it's one of those films that I feel I should respond to and yet I often reject it. Like...I can't hate it, even though I do. It's a confusing feeling.

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    3. Fincher it is then. I just have to finally watch Alien 3.

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  2. Great post. Love the detail, especially the awesome music you highlighted. Johnny Greenwood's There Will Be Blood soundtrack is easily one of the greatest original scores in the history of cinema.

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    1. Thank, Khalid. Truly appreciate it. The matchup between Greenwood and PTA is perfection. I love what they've done together.

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  3. Well first off, I can't wait to read more of these types of posts from you. Hard Eight is the only one I haven't seen. There Will Be Blood is my favorite, followed by The Master and Boogie Nights. I'd put Inherent Vice on the low end of my PTA list, but even that is nowhere near being bad. This guy is just a visionary. I'll always watch his films.

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    1. Thanks. There is more to come without a doubt. Probably pretty soon. Hard Eight is actually really hard to find. It's only on DVD and out-of-print at the moment. A travesty. It needs a Blu-ray like yesterday. Interesting you like the more brooding of his work the most. I can dig it. I need to watch The Master again. It was a tough watch for me the first time around. Total visionary...you said it.

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  4. I've watched Magnolia, There Will Be Blood, & Inherent Vice. I have Punch-Drunk Love, but I haven't watched it yet. I (sadly) neither have seen nor own his 3 other films. My favorite film by him (as of right now) is Inherent Vice. Next is There Will Be Blood, followed by Magnolia. I hope to see the rest of his films within the next couple years (though it may be a while before I watch one of his films, & I think you may know which one of his films I'm talking about).

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    1. Nice. Get on Punch-Drunk Love. Way different for him. But great! Boogie Nights is really not totally extreme. It's a hard R-rated flick. Nothing too crazy graphic. If you're watching Magnolia and Inherent Vice, it's really not much worse. The language is a bit strong and there's a lot of nudity. Only one really graphic scene of that certain kind.

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    2. Ok. I'll watch Punch-Drunk Love soon. I re-watched Magnolia the other day; it is now my favorite film by PTA. I just bought The Master yesterday, & I can't wait to watch it.

      But seriously? Boogie Nights isn't that graphic? (Magnolia wasn't graphic at all, & Inherent Vice was pretty graphic). I'll wait on it about a year, though, just to be safe. I (& my parents) don't care about the language (or the violence for that matter, with the New Years scene & the curb-stomp by Heather Graham), it's the nudity & stuff that my parents (& me) care about, so, I'll wait on it for about a year. Just to be safe. The time period interests me, along with the soundtrack (I've had some songs from there for a while, even before I realized they were from the film), & the critical & commercial acclaim, but, that's just the way it is. It's hard out here for a freshman movie buff.

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    3. You seem like a smart guy. Do what makes you comfortable. The great thing about movies is that they're not going anywhere. Best of luck, Cameron. Keep watching...

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    4. I watched Hard Eight last week, & it was amazing. It's definitely in my top 10 films of the 1990's, & it's one of the top 5 of 1996. Philip Baker Hall was amazing in this, & it's a shame he didn't get an Oscar nod.

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