Friday, December 5, 2014

The Films of Paul Thomas Anderson: Conclusion

Normally, when I do these career retrospectives, I include a ranking in my conclusion – but with just six films, that seems kind of silly. Besides, with the exception of Hard Eight, I think I could put his other five films in any order, and not be that wrong.

What’s fascinating to me about Anderson’s career is that I think each of the six films he has made shows growth from the one that came before it – that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better than the one before, but I do think each shows some sort of evolution for film to film. Yes, his first three films could all be described as Altman-esque – with Hard Eight being something akin to California Split (1974), Boogie Nights like Nashville (1975) and Magnolia like Short Cuts (1993) – but the Altman influence, while undeniable, is also somewhat misleading and limiting – Anderson is hardly copying Altman in those films (and I assume, will not just be copying Altman’s masterpiece, The Long Goodbye (1973), in Inherent Vice – although, once again, the connection is undeniable.

Just as there is a connection between There Will Be Blood and The Master – both of which look back into the past to show the wounded masculine psyche in modern America, and use a pair of characters in each who go at each other throughout. The Master is a more mature, assured film – he makes both Hoffman and Phoenix characters equals, something he didn’t do with Day-Lewis and Dano’s characters in Blood. And the final scene between the two men in each film is similar – even if one ends in violent bombast, and the other not, they are similar. But both films are radically different in their own way as well.

To this point in his career, Anderson has shown time and again a willingness to take chances, to push himself, and take his time if needed to make his films. No, I don’t like having to wait 5 years between Punch-Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood, and another 5 between that and The Master – but as long as the result is a film as good as either of those two, well, I guess we’ll just have to wait.

I continue to look forward to what Anderson will do in his career next. He’s a one of a kind filmmaker – and there are far too few of those working in American film today.

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