I must confess that two years ago today I wouldn't have been able to tell you one of the films that 39-year-old directing genius Paul Thomas Anderson directed. Then I saw "There Will Be Blood" and was interested, to say the very least. Over the past three weeks, I have seen two other films from him, and both have touched me deeply, both as a person and as a film critic.
The first film I saw was "There Will Be Blood" (***1/2), which is as flawed a masterpiece as any. It is a work of nihilism and despair--"mad genius" was what main actor Daniel Day-Lewis called it in an interview. The film has so many themes at work, so many ideas, that it's ashame, if forgivable that the film falls apart in the final act. Oh, the themes are working. The actors are acting. But it especially has a cold efficiency that didn't suit the beginning 150 minutes. And what a section those 150 minutes were. The film began as one of the truly great films in American history, something of a new "Citizen Kane," and ended as a slightly overrated (in the midst of all the hubbub, at least) curiosity of a high order. The film is as close to perfect as any imperfect movie that has been released since "The Fountain."
It's strange to consider that, with its electrifying, monumentally terrifying performance from Daniel Day-Lewis that ranks as one of the best performances by an actor in the history of cinema, "There Will Be Blood," for me, is somewhat inferior to its immediate predecessors.
"Punch-Drunk Love" (****) is so much more than just the best Adam Sandler movie ever made. It's a starkly realistic and intricately written romantic comedy that works on multiple levels and never misses a step. Sandler is indeed the best he's ever been (and could possibly be) in the film, but he doesn't carry his humorous antics. No, the antics are less desperate here, more dramatic, more believable. His bursts of outrage or breakdowns of nerve are sheer loneliness, the signs of which are trapped in a man unable (or is it unwilling?) to let go. And Emily Watson is utterly luminous as the woman who barges into Sandler's life and messes it up--in a good way. This is one of the best films of the decade, true and deep and sad and lovely.
"Magnolia" (****), which I watched tonight, is one of the most important and potently powerful moviewatching experiences of my lifetime. What unfailingly rings true is the fragility of life that Anderson is able and willing to bring across in this massive character epic, literally (not figuratively) flawless filmmaking for over three hours. With its career-best performances by William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, Julianne Moore, and Philip Baker Hall, as well as brilliant and well-rounded character work from Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman (as per usual for him), and Melora Walters, "Magnolia" is not a film to miss out on. If you love movies, any kind, you owe it to yourself to seek out the blistering and haunting masterpiece that Anderson wrought. I won't say it's the best film I've ever seen, but it's sure as heck one of 'em. (More to come on "Magnolia" in my 40 Best Films of All Time series.)
Just thought I'd share. Anderson apparently has a project called "Desperadoes" in the works. I'm there. He could remake "Bratz" and I'd go. He's an incredible talent and one of today's most diverse directors.