Retrospective: Paul Thomas Anderson retrospective

​To celebrate the release of Inherent Vice, David Bedwell takes a look back at Anderson’s previous works.

To celebrate the release of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, David Bedwell takes a look back at his previous works. It may make for a relatively small CV but it’s certainly an impressive one.

Not to be confused with Resident Evil’s Paul W. S. Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson is the one we adore for writing and directing some of the best loved movies of the past 19 years. Anderson is certainly a favourite of the critics and this often translates to commercial success but not always. Arguably the most important thing about his work is that there’s not too much of it. As a director he has only directed seven films since Hard Eight in 1996, a terribly small number in comparison to some other directors that are happy to turn up on set as long as they can blow something up. To that end, the works of Paul Thomas Anderson remain special occasions and that create debate before a single frame has even been seen. To attach his name to a project means a curiosity and excitement that is reserved for only the best writers and directors in the biz.

With Anderson there’s no real pattern to the genres of his movies. If it’s something he’s interested in and passionate about then he’ll do it. Beyond that, there’s no pigeon-holing of his talents or expectations of his works beyond ‘it’s probably going to be good.’ Well that and his obsession with California, but we’ll forgive him for that because it always makes for a stunning location. His latest, Inherent Vice is adapted from the novel by Thomas Pynchon and has been a passion project of Anderson’s on for years - as far back as during the problems with The Master - and finally reaches our screens with Joaquin Phoenix in the lead role as Larry “Doc” Sportello alongside Katherine Waterston as his ex-girlfriend, Shasta. The rest of the cast fills up with a who’s who of Hollywood with the likes of Owen Wilson, Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro and Jena Malone making appearances to name but a few. Certainly due to be one of the most divisive of all of Anderson’s works, Inherent Vice - as with with most of his back catalogue - will have you thinking about it long after the end credits roll.

1. Hard Eight (1996)

Moving on from shorts and festival work, Anderson hit the big screen hard with a wonderful cast led by Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Gwyneth Paltrow and Samuel L. Jackson. Not a film looking to be anything fancy, Hard Eight focuses on strong characters, solid acting and commands your attention with its fascinating air of intrigue, hooking you in with simple yet effective dialogue. Roger Ebert loved it so that speaks for itself.

2. Boogie Nights (1997)

If you’re not overly familiar with Paul Thomas Anderson as a name, then you’ll likely be more familiar with his breakout hit Boogie Nights. Fronted by musician turned actor Mark Wahlberg, Boogie Nights follows Wahlberg’s character Eddie Adams who transitions from dishwasher to porn star and his rise and fall from the 70s to 80s. It’s a very different subject matter from Hard Eight (and in fact any of Anderson’s works) and was hugely successful for Anderson and his cast. Taking a chance on former Funky Bunch leader and Calvin Klein under-cracker model, Mark ‘Marky Mark’ Wahlberg as the lead of the impressive ensemble, Wahlberg paid Anderson back in spades, nailing the innocent dazzled by fame - albeit porny fame - and it’s trappings. It’s a film that certainly stands up to modern standards and again has an eye popping list of stars - a personal highlight being the legend that is Burt Reynolds.

3. Magnolia (1999)

After the success of Boogie Nights, the world was Anderson’s oyster. The studio was offering him freedom and people like Tom Cruise were contacting him to work with him. Magnolia is arguably a mishmash of everything that he had learnt up to that point, taking the best of his previous experiences and running with them. Once again it’s a case of a stellar cast, a strong idea and numerous characters that are intertwined in such a delicate and precise way that it feels masterful. This time the music of Aimee Mann plays a large part in delivering the emotional punches along the way and emphasises Anderson’s ideas by driving the characters forward. Yes it borders on the strange and bizarre but underneath there’s a genuineness to it and a thought provoking nature that Anderson always manages to offer.

4. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

Adam Sandler. That’s a name that often strikes fear into the hearts of film fans across the world. Thankfully he hasn’t always been making Grown Ups, and Sandler wanted to challenge himself after being known for comedies like Big Daddy and Mr Deeds. It seemed a bit bizarre at the time but credit where credit is due - Adam Sandler wasn’t half bad. Or all bad, unlike some of his films now. Alongside Emily Watson, Sandler delivers what some see as a career best performance, and Anderson’s work truly pushes him to his limits. Part comedy, part drama and all romance, Punch-Drunk Love brings an emotional level that most other films could only hope to achieve.

5. There Will Be Blood (2007)

With one of the most quotable characters of the year played by Daniel Day-Lewis, and a rarely covered subject matter in the oil industry, There Will Be Blood impressed everyone across the board. Between triumphing at the cinema and winning everything from Academy Awards to BAFTAs, Anderson somehow managed to mesmerise the world more than he ever had before. No words can really do the film justice - whether it’s Day-Lewis’ genius turn as Daniel Plainview or Anderson’s control of the camera, it’s a piece of cinema that everyone really should go out of their way to watch and then watch again.

6. The Master (2012)

Many people would struggle to live up to the expectations of following a masterpiece like There Will Be Blood but Paul Thomas Anderson simply carried on. He’s not a man who rests on his laurels, instead choosing to bring all the ideas in his head together and focus them into a new idea. While The Master wasn’t a box office hit, there was no doubt that Anderson’s magic was still there behind the camera and in the characters. Joaquin Phoenix was back to his best, Philip Seymour Hoffman was as good as he always was, and Amy Adams certainly didn’t get left behind. While you don’t come away thinking of The Master as an automatic ‘must re-watch’, it is perhaps one of Anderson’s works that benefits the most from a second viewing.

Inherent Vice is in UK cinemas on Friday 30th January.


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