All of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Movies, Ranked
Your choice of Paul Thomas Anderson movies will depend on your preference for his bizarre comedies.Punch-Drunk Love, Inherent viceThe New Licorice Pizza) or his operatic psychodramas (There Will be Blood. The Master, Magnolia, Hard Eight). Sometimes, when you’re lucky, You get them both simultaneously (Phantom Thread, Boogie Nights).
Anderson is known for his ability to shift the tempo from one film to another, making him one of today’s most inspiring directors. Even when his films are sprawling, his work remains intimate and character-driven, using hyper-specific backdrops—Oft times, California is the California of yesteryear, where he was born—to illuminate a particular moment in time. In some sense, every story he tells is one in which humans’ desperate need for connection butts up against greed of one kind or another (usually a distinctly American kind).
Anderson has a great sense of humor, and is dedicated to making us laugh. His soundtrack curation alone is exquisite—no surprise, as he is also a music enthusiast, having helmed slick videos for Fiona Apple, RadioheadAnd Haim. In their unpredictability and well-constructed plots Anderson is a refreshing filmmaker. Anderson hasn’t made a bad film, and certainly not a boring one. It would be the same movie as any others at the multiplex, if he does make it.
Licorice Pizza marks Anderson’s ninth movie, which is as good an occasion as any to reflect on his catalog thus far. Its release is fast approaching (Pizza opens in select theaters on Nov. 26 and nationwide on Dec. 25), TIME rewatched and ranked Anderson’s era-defining oeuvre.
Continue reading: What waterbeds, teenage love and unhinged Bradley Cooper led to Licorice Pizza
9.Inherent vice (2014)
A single viewing Inherent vice won’t suffice. Even if you’ve read the Thomas Pynchon novel on which it’s based, this rambling tangle about a perpetually stoned private investigator (a mutton-chopped Joaquin Phoenix) drifting through a Manson-paranoid Los Angeles can feel as hazy as a cloud of pot smoke. It is, as the kids say, a vibe—and a dense one at that, tackling the changing cultural mores of 1970 with deceptively layered humor. Many people find it useful. Vice is a “like it or leave it” situation. Consumed like a We will be saying goodbye for a long time-esque Parade of unifying tableaux, led by an elegant cast that includes Owen Wilson, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Reese Witherspoon and Hong Chau. The movie provides a fun secondhand buzz. But it’s also a bit high on its own supply, lacking the emotional anchor needed to stay afloat.
8. Hard Eight (1996)
Anderson was shocked at the Hollywood egos of those in charge when Anderson saw that production companies were behind him. SydneyHis directorial debut was directed by. He recut and titled the film. Hard Eight. He agreed on the title and not the edit. However, he was able to convince the powers-that-be to let Anderson’s version go public. Even with Anderson’s thinnest plot, Hard EightThis movie is amazing. This movie shows Anderson’s early signature talents: cool tracking shots, striking close-ups and expressive monologues. It also has a plot that shifts around midway. A neo-noir about a down-on-his-luck stiff (John C. Reilly) and the mysterious gambler (Philip Baker Hall) who lends him a hand, this established Anderson’s bona fides, even though it was only released in 29 theaters.
7. The Master (2012)
Your first impression of a place is its name. The Master is Jonny Greenwood’s score, a propulsive ticktock that hypnotizes the audience before a single word has been spoken. The second is Joaquin Phoenix’s hunched posture. He is both diminutive and powerful, but he also has a childlike, depraved look due to his arch at the back. His Freddie Quell (Philip Seymour Hoffman as L. Ron Hubbard) is a man with contradictions. He has been beset by World War II horrors and is vulnerable to the lure of a seductive charlatan. You will notice the last thing in The Master is that it’s somehow a love story between Freddie and his new guru, even if said guru’s wife (Amy Adams) tends to call the shots, sometimes while giving hand jobs. That uneasy constellation of spiritual crises, like all of Anderson’s films, rewards repeat viewings.
6. Licorice Pizza (2021)
It unfolds like a collection of exuberant vignettes. Licorice PizzaAlong with a young, precocious showman (Cooper Hoffman son of Philip Seymour Hoffman), he wanders around Los Angeles along with the older of his friends (Alana Haim, of rock trio Haim). It’s a coming-of-age frolic about a bunch of schemes taking place amid the encroaching chaos of 1973, bridging the rise and fall of waterbeds with an international oil crisis. Anderson is at his most free. The plot zigs, zags and zips through the two young hopefuls’ whimsical adventures. It is a touching tribute to youth’s ingenuity and their many detours. One of these involves Bradley Cooper, a shrewd Hollywood producer Jon Peters. Licorice Pizza One big grin is all it takes to make a movie.
5. Magnolia (1999)
The success of Boogie NightsThe suits were introduced at New Line Cinema in 1997 Anderson was given carte blanche. It was the result of a 3-hour-long mosaic of psychological freakouts that was inspired by his experience as a PA. Quiz Kids Challenge, Aimee Mann’s music and the San Fernando Valley. MagnoliaIts feverish performances are a delight (Julianne Moor! Tom Cruise! Jason Robards Melora Walters!) and where-the-hell-is-this-going velocity, is a movie about choices. Each choice that a character makes triggers a chain reaction, leading to a series of narratives spiralling through them. The stories eventually coalesce into a biblical storm in which frogs crash from the sky. Anderson milks the conventions of melodrama, assigning everyone’s experiences—no matter how mudaneor misguided—near-epic scope. Ask Anderson what he would change about the movie during an interview. Reddit AMA four years ago, he responded, “Chill the f-ck out and cut 20 minutes.” Could it use a trim? Sure. But this is a rare behemoth unburdened by its running time, exemplifying Anderson’s masterly control.
4. Punch-DrunkLoving someone you love (2002)
After the wild sprawl of MagnoliaAnderson wanted to end his next project in 90 minutes. This was the result. Punch-Drunk Love, at once, paradoxically, Anderson’s most fantastical and most grounded movie. It feels too romantic to call it romance comedy, even though it’s a story of Barry (a career-best Adam Sandler), and Emily Watson (a shy sweetheart) who take a liking his eccentricities. Punch-Drunk is better described as a manic lark, from the abandoned harmonium that kicks off the story to the phone-sex extortion ploy that threatens to disrupt Barry’s newfound contentment. It’s a testament to Anderson’s peculiar dialogue and roving camerawork that he can make such a humanistic film that still manages to become an out-of-this-world fairy tale.
3. BoogieNachts (1997)
Boogie Nights established Anderson’s sense of scale. It’s a saga about family—the chosen kind, or at least the happened-upon kind—filtered through the disco-inflected California porn scene of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Anderson isn’t interested in trite ideas like “growth,” that gingerly Hollywood fixation that requires characters to change or mature by the time the plot expires. These outcasts, who are still the same person they were at the beginning of the movie, find shelter in Burt Reynolds’s demanding direction. This film was originally made by Anderson in high school. Evenings This is an excellent example of tone control: it’s dark, humorous, and comforting all at once. Alfred Molina’s The drugged-out finaleOne person alone is a member of a certain pantheon. Mark Wahlberg was then best known as Marky Mark. (He can thank Leonardo DiCaprio, who recommended Wahlberg for the role of well-endowed dunce Dirk Diggler because he’d already signed on to do Titanic.)
2. PhantomThread (2017)
Anderson created Anderson Phantom Threadwhile lying down in bed. “My wife”—that’s Maya Rudolph, though they aren’t technically married—“looked at me with a love and affection that I hadn’t seen in a long time,” He said. “So I called Daniel [Day-Lewis] the next day and said, ‘I think I have a good idea for a movie.’” That idea birthed one of the strangest and most rapturous romances of the last decade, in which tempestuous 1950s couturier Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) is mellowed by a soft-spoken muse (Vicky Krieps) who feeds him toxic mushrooms as a means of disarmament. It’s surprising to say that a film about the sadomasochistic eccentricities of coupledom produced Anderson’s wittiest script and prettiest cinematography, but Phantom ThreadDid exactly that. The film is a beautiful meditation on power and tenderness, just as you believe Alma wants to kill Reynolds.
1. There Will be Blood (2007)
There will always be blood Anderson was an important director at a crucial moment. At the time of its release, antiheroes weren’t as unusual in movies as they were on TV, with Tony Soprano’s influence trickling its way through prestige programming, and yet Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis) feels almost unmatched in his brand of hyper-articulate monstrosity. An early-1900s petroleum capitalist, Daniel has a misanthropic streak—to put it lightly—that reflects a quintessentially American nightmare. He plows through the West in a devilish manner, and he makes it big through greed and manipulation. A masterpiece loosely inspired by Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil!This movie, which is a disturbing psychodrama and a damning portrait about masculinity, as well as a frighteningly entertaining exercise in villainy, has it all.
Matthew Jacobs, a New York City culture writer who specializes in television and movies is located in New York City. His writings have been published in Vulture, The Cut, Vanity Fair, The Hollywood Reporter, The Wall Street Journal MagazineAnd HuffPost.