Director’s Chair Introduction: Paul Thomas Anderson

by Tony Cogan · December 14, 2021 · Director's Chair · No Comments

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Deadline: 8th January 2021

Hello everyone, it’s time to announce the featured director for the final Director’s Chair of the year and this month, for the release of Licorice Pizza, I’ve decided to highlight the work of Paul Thomas Anderson.

Anderson got his start working as a production assistant on various films and TV shows, feeling that a formal education in film would turn the experience into a chore, deciding to make a short film to act as his education. Anderson ended up making the short Cigarettes and Coffee. The short screened at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival and Anderson was invited to the 1994 Sundance Feature Film Program.

Whilst at the Sundance Feature Film program, Anderson ended up making his first feature, Hard Eight. Whilst there were issues with the production company Rysher Entertainment over the edit of the film, Anderson’s edit of the film eventually premiered at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival and the acclaim it received helped launch his career.

During the post-production of Hard Eight, Anderson decided to expand an earlier short film he directed, The Dirk Diggler Story, into a feature, which ended up becoming Boogie Nights, which helped put Anderson into the mainstream. Whilst Anderson initially wanted the film to be over 3 hours long and rated NC-17, the producers said that Anderson could only be one of those. Anderson decided to make the film R-rated, but also ended up making it less than 3 hours long. Upon release, the film was a critical success, getting Oscar nominations for its screenplay, along with the performances of Burt Reynolds (although Reynolds did not get along with Anderson during filming) and Julianne Moore.

The critical success of Boogie Nights led to New Line Cinema giving Anderson free reign to make whatever he wanted for his next film, which resulted in Magnolia. Whilst Anderson wanted this to be a more intimate film, it ended up being a more sprawling ensemble piece, which Anderson, shortly after his release, said was his best film. After Magnolia, Anderson stated a desire to work with Adam Sandler, and also to make a comparatively shorter film, resulting in Punch-Drunk Love. The film received heavy praise for Sandler’s performance, which was a marked departure from his other comedic roles, and won Anderson Best Director at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival.

After a few years, Anderson ended up making There Will Be Blood, the first of two collaborations with Daniel Day-Lewis and his first collaboration with Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. The film was a huge critical success upon release, being nominated for several Oscars, winning Best Actor and Best Cinematography and it is now considered to be one of the best films of the 21st Century, with it coming in third in the BBC’s poll of such films.

After the success of There Will Be Blood, Anderson made The Master, loosely inspired by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, which ended up being the first film shot and released in 70mm since Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet in 1996. The Master was another success upon release, with Anderson saying in 2018 that it was his favourite film that he made up to that point.

Following The Master, Anderson was able to get author Thomas Pynchon (who previously had not allowed any of his works to be adapted to screen) to let him direct an adaptation of his book Inherent Vice. Whilst it wasn’t as strong a success at the box office as other films of his, Inherent Vice was still a critical success, albeit a bit more muted, although it was still nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Costume Design at the Oscars.

Anderson followed up Inherent Vice with Phantom Thread, which marks the last film Daniel Day-Lewis has starred in to date. Whilst there were some controversies over the cinematography of the film, with Anderson’s long time DP Robert Elswit reportedly not being present on set and Anderson acting as DP, resulting in the film having no official credit for cinematography, the film was, again, a critical success. It ended up being nominated for 6 Oscars, ultimately winning Best Costume Design.

Anderson’s most recent film, Licorice Pizza, was a film that Anderson had been thinking of since 2001, evolving from stories told to Anderson by his friend, former child actor Gary Goetzman. The film marked the feature film debuts of Alana Haim, whom Anderson had worked with on music videos for her band, Haim, and Cooper Hoffman, the son of long time Anderson collaborator Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The film has been receiving heavy acclaim and, whilst it’s full success cannot be determined at this stage, it has been nominated for multiple awards, making it likely that it will be nominated for several Oscars when the time comes.

As a reminder, the films of Anderson’s you can cover are listed below.

  • Hard Eight
  • Boogie Nights
  • Magnolia
  • Punch-Drunk Love
  • There Will Be Blood
  • The Master
  • Inherent Vice
  • Phantom Thread
  • Licorice Pizza

I look forward to reading whatever you send me.