The Good, The Bad, and the Badass: Paul Thomas Anderson
In a new on-going series on JoBlo.com, we’re going to examine and dissect the work of some of the most exciting people working in films today. Actors, writers, directors, composers, you name it, we’ll take a look at their work. In future weeks, we’re going to take suggestions from our readers, but to kick things off we decided to look at a director who- while certainly divisive- is without a doubt one of the most exciting directors of our generation.
Anderson is part of a group of directors to emerge in the mid-nineties from film festival circuit. Like David O. Russell, Quentin Tarantino, Spike Jonze, David Fincher (well- actually, his first movies never really played the circuit, but he’s certainly a contemporary), Anderson first blew on to the scene with 1996’s HARD EIGHT. Compared to his later films, HARD EIGHT seems a minor work, the film sat on the shelf two years while Anderson battled the distributor- Rysher Entertainment- over what cut to release. While HARD EIGHT eventually made it to Cannes in the “un certain regard” section, things didn’t really pick up for Anderson until his next film- BOOGIE NIGHTS- which put him on the map as one of the great contemporary directors.
Anderson’s filmography can be divided into two distinct halves. The first part of his career, up to PUNCH DRUNK LOVE, seems defined by the influence of auteurs like Martin Scorsese, Hal Ashby, and Robert Altman, with his sprawling multi-character narratives, and energy. The second half, starting with THERE WILL BE BLOOD, seems more closely patterned on the works of someone like Terrence Malick, although it could be argued that his later (possibly) Malick-inspired movies are better than anything Malick’s done since his heyday in the seventies. Stanley Kubrick also seems to be a major influence.
BOOGIE NIGHTS. I know, I know. Most of you would have chosen THERE WILL BE BLOOD. Certainly, there’s no arguing the fact that it’s a great movie, but to me BOOGIE NIGHTS will always be the jewel in Anderson’s filmography. I was only about 15 when the film came out, and for all I knew it was just “that movie about porn with Marky Mark.” I eventually saw it on Pay TV, and really- the only reason I was interested was for the promise of Julianne Moore and Heather Graham naked. Hormones. The movie itself confounded me, but then a funny thing started to happen. Whenever I would come across it on The Movie Network (the Canadian HBO) I would stop and watch part of it. Then I taped it, and would watch certain scenes over and over again, like Amber Waves’ fake Dirk Diggler documentary or the entire “Long Way Down (One Last Thing)” sequence. I really started appreciating the craft behind the film, and as I got a little older, I started to realize that this wasn’t just a movie. It was art.
I’d say that nowadays, BOOGIE NIGHTS probably ranks in my top 5 favorite movies of all time, and it’s one that I re-watch pretty much every year (along with Martin Scorsese’s GOODFELLAS’ which was obviously a major influence on Anderson). I never, ever get tired of BOOGIE NIGHTS, and whenever I’m feeling uninspired, it reignites my love of film as an art. It’s a masterpiece that stands out in a filmography that has more than one masterpiece. I should also mention that Burt Reynolds’ was robbed of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar he richly deserved for his portrayal of the fatherly porn director Jack Horner (even if his behind-the-scenes clashes with Anderson meant they’d never work together again).
Easily MAGNOLIA. My expectations for this movie were sky high back in 1999, and I went to see it in theaters opening day. I immediately loved it, even if it was far different than what I was expecting. A lot of critics and fans were put off by it, saying it was pretentious. Kevin Smith- back when his opinion really meant something- was outspoken in his hatred of it. While sure, the “it’s raining frogs” ending is certainly a little out-there, it’s nonetheless a striking image in a film full of them. However, it’s the performances that make MAGNOLIA, particularly Tom Cruise in a major departure (for the time) as self-help guru Frank T.J Mackey, who hides the abandonment issues he harbors behind a wall of affected misogyny. His final confrontation with his dying father, played by Jason Robards Jr. (who actually died of cancer shortly after the film’s release) is one of the most nakedly emotional, heart-wrenching scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie. Cruise was absolutely robbed of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar he richly deserved (in favor of Michael Caine’s “cute” performance in CIDER HOUSE RULES).
“Overrated” for Anderson is a relative term. My choice is probably THE MASTER, even if, coming from a marginally less successful director, it would have been considered a career highlight. Again, this is a relative term, as THE MASTER is still an 8/10 in a filmography full of 9s and 10s. THE MASTER is perfect in many ways. Visually it’s striking, with Anderson’s innovative use of 70mm film being particularly memorable. The performances are likewise excellent, with Joaquin Phoenix being immediately forgiven for the I’M STILL HERE debacle thanks to his superlative acting. Anderson regular Philip Seymour Hoffman is similarly great. But, if it has a failing, it’s the story. An examination of cults of personality (being based on Scientology) is interesting, but after a while the story stars to peter out, especially if compared to Daniel Day-Lewis’ CITIZEN KANE like rise and fall in THERE WILL BE BLOOD, or the epic storytelling in MAGNOLIA and BOOGIE NIGHTS. Even PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE is more affecting.
This is a hard one. Most people would choose Daniel Plainview’s “I’ve abandoned my son” meltdown in THERE WILL BE BLOOD. But for me, it has to be the whole "Long Way Down (One Last Thing) section from BOOGIE NIGHTS, as Mark Wahlberg, John C. Reilly (my favorite performance in the film after Burt Reynolds) and Thomas Jane rip off Alfred Molina's drug-addled Hollywood big shot.
Anderson usually takes several years off between movies, but he’s already hard at work on his next film, an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s INHERENT VICE, re-teaming him with Joaquin Phoenix. It’s a sprawling private-eye tale set amidst the late-sixties counterculture movement.
|Extra Tidbit:||Who should we tackle next?|