Paul Thomas Anderson, also known as PTA, is one of the best directors working today and an undisputed master of the craft. He is known for his proficient screenwriting, energetic camera movements, unconventional editing and for his deep understanding of the human psyche, resulting in some of cinema’s most iconic and memorable characters.
His films, usually period pieces, perfectly capture the time period they are set in because of the brilliant costumes, production design and music. They always mirror one particular aspect of American society, and although they are set in relatively unknown periods in time, almost anyone watching his films can relate to what’s happening on screen. Here’s all 8 of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films, ranked.
Paul Thomas Anderson MOvies Ranked
8. Inherent Vice
2014 ‧ Mystery/Crime
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Martin Short, Reese Witherspoon
IMDb Ratings: 6.7/10
Inherent Vice is a neo-noir mystery film set in 1970s California. It follows Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello as he investigates the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend, which leads him into the jaws of the Los Angeles underworld. This film is not a ‘bad’ film by any means possible, but it doesn’t compare to the brilliance of the rest of PTA’s films.
It does have some positives, namely Joaquin Phoenix with yet another great performance, some truly hilarious scenes, and beautiful neon cinematography. However, the dense and confusing nature of the plot along with the very off-putting pace of the film really diminishes the experience of watching this film. In spite of all its flaws, it’s a very interesting movie but unfortunately, it’s at the bottom of this list.
Hard Eight, PTA’s directorial debut, is about John, a broke youngster who befriends a man named Sydney, who teaches John the ropes of gambling at Reno. While it’s obvious that PTA was a talented filmmaker right from the very start, it’s clear to see that he’s still learning the art of filmmaking here. While there are a lot of his directorial trademarks in this film, he was still in the process of developing them and they don’t feel as smooth or polished as his later films.
There isn’t much of a plot, but the overall atmosphere and the characters more than make up for it. The gambling sequences are directed very well and the dialogues are very interesting. There aren’t a lot of flaws in this film, it’s very entertaining and keeps you engaged throughout it’s runtime. The only reason it’s so low on this list is because of how good the rest of the films on this list are.
6. The Master
2012 ‧ Drama
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Jesse Plemons, Laura Dern
IMDb Ratings: 7.2/10
It’s a testament to PTA’s talent as a filmmaker that a film as good as this one is so low on this list. This film is the story of Freddy Quell, a World War II veteran, who’s finding it difficult to adjust to civilian life and how he joins the Cause, a cult-like group in the hope of finding some purpose in life. This film is an exceptional character study, and is a realistic portrayal of PTSD and how hard it can be to readjust to normal life after having served in the armed forces.
It also was very refreshing to watch a movie about a cult that wasn’t a horror film but instead focused on the reason why people join these groups. Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman give two of the strongest acting performances I have ever seen, and i consider this to be one of the best acted movies of all time. The only major flaw in this film is it’s pacing, which is a bit too slow, and tends to alienate the audience at times.
Possibly one of the best rom-coms ever made, this film is the story of Barry Egan, who falls in love with Lena whilst also being involved in a phone exploitation scheme. This film genuinely feels like a fever dream, be it because of the way it’s paced, the atmosphere or the music used. This film is also the least realistic film by PTA, as there are a lot of plot points that seem out of place and are just left unexplained.
This film expertly portrays social anxiety, and Barry Egan is one of the most relatable characters ever. Adam Sandler gives one of the best performances of his career and Philip Seymour Hoffman is hilarious in his cameo. The film aims at making you experience the highs and lows of falling in love with somebody, and it does that brilliantly, leaving you with a warm, fuzzy feeling.
Magnolia is the story of a bunch of people living in the San Fernando Valley with interconnected lives, and how their lives change over the course of one day. This is definitely PTA’s most emotionally complex film, and also his weirdest. The film follows the hyperlink narrative structure, and tells a number of stories very effectively and every character in this film feels equally well-written with clear motivations and defined character arcs. The film is over 3 hours long, but feels like just 90 mins.
This is because of it’s extremely energetic and constantly moving camera movements and brilliant editing. This film keeps you constantly guessing about what’s going to happen next and is like a personal emotional journey that we take with all these characters. The acting is simply mind blowing with Tom Cruise, John C Reilly, Julianne Moore, Melora Walters and the rest of the cast giving amazing performances. This is definitely the most cathartic film I’ve ever seen and is sure to have a huge impact on you when you watch it.
This is a bit of a weird position since most people who are familiar with PTA’s work would consider this to be his masterpiece. In fact, the only reason why this film is not at No. 1 is because it didn’t have the emotional impact of the Top 2 on me. This film is the story of Daniel Plainview, a silver miner turned oil prospector, who wants to build his empire in the desert of California, where a large supply of oil has recently been found. Daniel Plainview is definitely the most complex character written by PTA. He is ruthless, ambitious, manipulative, greedy and will stop at nothing to get what he wants.
In spite of all of these negative traits, there are still times you can emphasize with him. Almost everyone who has watched this film has a different opinion on Daniel, and that is a testament to how well-written of a character he is. Daniel Day-Lewis gives probably the greatest acting performance of all time, and is absolutely awe-inspiring as the intimidating Daniel Plainview. Overall, a brilliant examination on the nature of greed and capitalism, and how it impacts individuals as well as society.
Phantom Thread is the story of Reynolds Woodcock, a high end fashion designer in 1950s England, who falls in love with Alma, a waitress who becomes his muse. While Punch-Drunk Love spoke about the positives of falling in love with someone, this one deals with the negative side of it. Reynolds and Alma are always in a constant battle of controlling each other, making the other person what they want them to be, and there is a constant friction that arises because of this.
This film covers the more difficult parts of being in a relationship, and is a nuanced, realistic portrayal of a toxic relationship which doesn’t glorify it, but just presents the characters to us as objectively as possible. This film was shot by PTA himself, and is definitely one of his most visually stunning films. The score is truly mesmerising, and transports you to another time and place. Daniel Day-lewis and Vicky Krieps are phenomenal, and the production design and costumes feel extremely authentic and you don’t doubt for a moment that this film is set in the 1950s.
Topping this list is 1997’s Boogie Nights, the tale of the rise and fall of Eddie Adams, who goes from being a busboy to adult film star Dirk Diggler and how his life and personality change after getting fame and wealth. Just like Magnolia, this film moves at a breakneck speed and tells us the stories about many different characters. This film perfectly captures the positive and negative effects of stardom, and the arrogance that comes with fame. . It’s essentially a coming of age film as we see Dirk go from innocent teenager to arrogant adult and eventually him becoming a more responsible and mature adult.
This film perfectly captures the aesthetic of the late 1970s in South California, and PTA’s great taste in music is at full display here, with every music choice being better than the last. This film is truly one huge emotional journey, and you can clearly see that everyone involved has given it their all in this film. Very few films have had the impact that Boogie Nights has had on me and this is, in my opinion, one of the best films ever made. This is the best Paul Thomas Anderson Movies of all time.
So that’s my ranking of Paul Thomas Anderson movies. Please comment what you thought of it and definitely share this article with your friends. Be sure to check out Anderson’s latest film, Licorice Pizza, when it hits cinemas later this year.