American director Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the most celebrated filmmakers of our time, with eight Oscar nominations to his name. The fact that he has not claimed victory yet matters little when we bear witness to the brilliance of each of the eight works in his short but powerful filmography.
Anderson was involved in making films from a very young age. He made his first film when he was eight years old and he never looked back. Always confident in his ability as a director, Paul Thomas Anderson never really had a back-up plan in case his career as a director did not pan out. He once said, “I have a feeling, one of those gut feelings, that I’ll make pretty good movies the rest of my life.”
He made his directorial debut in 1996 with Hard Eight when he was just 26-years-old. Being the great iconoclast that he is, he attended film school for only two days, preferring to learn the craft by watching the works of filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick, Jonathan Demme, Martin Scorsese and Orson Welles among others.
Here is a look at a list of Anderson’s films ranked from “great” to “greatest” because even the lowest-ranked entry does justice to the dazzling talent of Paul Thomas Anderson.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s Films Ranked:
8. Hard Eight (1996)
Anderson’s directorial debut, Hard Eight is a crime drama centred around John (played by John C. Reilly), a luckless destitute gambler and Sydney (played by Philip Baker Hall), a successful professional gambler who is kind enough to offer to teach John a thing or two about the trade. Anderson coaxes excellent performances from the actors as the film accomplishes most of what it sets out to achieve.
It was a clever, confident debut for Paul Thomas Anderson and an outstanding performance from character actor Philip Baker Hall.
7. Inherent Vice (2014)
The first-ever cinematic adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel, Inherent Vice is Anderson’s seventh feature and an admirable attempt to translate Pynchon’s trademark irreverence for conventional narrative structures to cinema. It is true that some of the brilliance of Pynchon is lost in translation but Inherent Vice induces a hallucinogenic euphoria as we navigate the world of cults, hippie culture and conspiracy theories.
Anderson’s film demands to be watched again and again. We get a little closer to unravelling Pynchon’s genius each time we see it.
6. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Described by critics as “a romantic comedy on the verge of a breakdown”, Punch-Drunk Love is a dark comedy that follows the misadventures of Barry Egan (played by Adam Sandler), the socially impaired owner of a small business-distributing novelty toilet plungers-in the San Fernando Valley who is characterized by his impotent inability to find romance.
Funny as well as profound, Punch-Drunk Love is Anderson’s successful experiment of turning the one-dimensional screen persona of Adam Sandler into something that goes deeper, revealing the frustration and anguish of the modern man.
5. Phantom Thread (2017)
Visual beauty, sublime music and exquisite performances, especially that of Daniel Day-Lewis who received an Oscar for his role, punctuate Anderson’s arthouse film. Anderson paints a compelling portrait of a talented dressmaker. Set in 1950s post-war London, Phantom Thread is the work of an extremely talented filmmaker who weaves his art like the protagonist weaves his dresses.
It is an intense tale of passion and a masterful navigation of personal relationships.
4. The Master (2012)
Like Phantom Thread, The Master is set in a post-WW II world too but in America instead. A challenging, psychologically complex drama, Anderson’s 2012 film follows the story of an alcoholic sailor (played by Joaquin Phoenix) who returns home from the war and finds comfort in the cult of a faith leader (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman).
This oddly enigmatic film is a provocative masterpiece that raises a lot of important questions but in a typical postmodern fashion, it does not pretend to answer any of them.
3. Boogie Nights (1997)
Anderson’s 1997 film is a powerful evaluation of the hedonistic excess of the ‘70s. Boogie Nights takes us to the trashy world of the emerging pornographic industry of Southern California. A staggering work of early brilliance, Boogie Nights was seen by critics as the arrival of a new talent among the directorial greats.
The film is a passionate and painfully honest depiction of the American soul by a precocious filmmaker.
2. Magnolia (1999)
Much like most of his early work, this psychological drama constructs memorable characters who struggle to make sense of varying levels of crisis and introspection. Because of Anderson’s belief in the art of digressions, Magnolia comes across as a dynamic process of reuniting the various subplots and characters, from a brilliant Tom Cruise, as a self-proclaimed pied-piper, to a child forced to go on a TV game show and the pressures he faces from a ruthless father into a coherent artistic statement.
Anderson’s 1999 film is a three hour epic about the crisscrossing lives of a group of South Californians who try to make sense of it all.
1. There Will Be Blood (2007)
One of the best films of the 21st century, There Will Be Blood is undoubtedly the crowning jewel of Paul Thomas Anderson’s impressive filmography. The Citizen Kane of our generation, Anderson’s 2007 film chronicles the life of Daniel Plainview (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) and his towering ambitions. It is a devastating study of the figure of the Over-Reacher.
With stunning performances from Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano, There Will Be Blood is the best film to have come out of the brilliant mind of Paul Thomas Anderson.