Paul Thomas Anderson
As a hot, young filmmaker, Anderson demonstrated one of the most consistent work ethics ever seen in his industry. From 1997 to 2002, the man directed four films; garnering two Academy Award nominations for himself, a Golden Bear from the Berlin Film Festival and the Prix de la Mise en Scène (Best Director Award) at Cannes. Based on his track run, it seemed likely that Anderson might be trying to establish himself as another Woody Allen or Coen Bros., churning out a new film every year. Instead, with four films under his belt, Anderson decided to step away from the spot light and spent the next five years of his life dedicated to creating what would come to be the magnum opus of his current career: There Will Be Blood.
When I make the statement that Anderson is a director known to take impossible risks, 2007’s There Will Be Blood is my best supporting argument. There Will Be Blood isn’t one of those movies that was made with the intention of being modest. Every scene in There Will Be Blood, every shot even, demands the audience’s attention as it asserts itself as being probably the best American film since Citizen Kane. The film has plenty of chances to fall flat due. There’s an access of melodrama, little in terms of character background, and some laughably corny lines (I drink your milkshake). But miraculously, Anderson sidesteps all clichés to establish a sharp tone and make the film come off perfectly. Some of the most memorable scenes in the film include a fifteen minute opening segment of Daniel Day-Lewis’s character digging for oil without muttering a single ounce of dialogue, a halfway point where an oil well bursts into flames and deafens Day-Lewis’ son, and a baptism scene so powerful, it represents the apotheosis of the battle between capitalism and religion.
While Anderson had certainly been a well-regarded director before There Will Be Blood, it was this film that forced him out of his comfort zone of making Altman-esque dramadies and catapulted him into the top tier of directors where he was compared to likes of Stanley Kubrick and Orson Welles. In addition to dozens of critic’s awards, There Will Be Blood earned Anderson three nominations at the Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture. While he ended up losing all three awards to the Coen Brother’s No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood itself took home both Best Actor for Daniel Day-Lewis and Best Cinematography for longtime Anderson collaborator (and USC alum) Robert Elswit. While Anderson remained Oscar-less, he earned something far more valuable: the right to consider himself one of the great filmmakers of the 21st century and the opportunity to pursue any project he wished. Or so we all hoped…
One would think that with such an impressive résumé, Anderson would be given free reign to do pretty much anything he wanted in Hollywood. But the world of film is a cruel, ruthless place and what was supposed to be Anderson’s next film, tentatively titled The Master, had production halted on it with no current signs of resuscitation. Plot summaries of The Master describe it as the story of a science fiction writer who attempts to form his own religion in 1950’s America. With a plot so uncomfortably familiar, making the film will almost certainly be Anderson’s greatest challenge yet. While rumors are spreading through the industry that Anderson could leave the project for good to make the much more audience friendly adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice starring Robert Downey Jr., I sure hope this is not the care. I believe in Anderson now just as much as I believed in him the first time I saw Boogie Nights, and I am confident that the man who has tested the odds so many times before, will eventually succeed in making The Master and claim his position as one of the great American filmmakers of our time, a position he justly deserves.
Most Aesthetically Pleasing Scene:
Since I already discussed the best moments of There Will Be Blood, I’ll leave you with a sequence from Anderson’s third feature film. There are about a million ways to end a three-hour suburban drama like Magnolia, but Paul Thomas Anderson chose a sequence where frogs rain from the sky as the most appropriate climax. Despite the fact that this scene comes straight from Exodus 8:2, I still consider it the most original and daring moment of Anderson’s career and I dare another filmmaker to attempt anything like it.
By: Eric Weintraub