Paul Thomas Anderson movies ranked
It seems there’s no one else out there in the filmmaking world that even comes close to Paul Thomas Anderson. He insists on shooting with film, his films take their time and do not confine themselves to short, two-hour-or-less runtimes, they tell stories about realistic characters in realistic worlds, and they are always consistently entertaining masterpieces. He can’t be stopped. Whether he’s directing a music video or a three-hour-long feature film, PTA is one-of-a-kind and one of Hollywood’s most treasured filmmakers.
His style is inimitable: long takes, quick dialogue, superb acting, and incredible sets and costumes. His films are complex, deep, yet personal and willing to be dissected. Throughout his thirty years in filmmaking, he still continues to surprise audiences. Let’s take a look at some of his very best work.
There Will Be Blood
In what might be his magnum opus, Paul Thomas Anderson directs Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano into giving some of their best performances to date. Lewis owns an oil tycoon, while Dano’s two characters are religious men. Lewis is a desperately pathetic man and a bad father, while Dano’s try their best to be good. It’s a classic account of good vs. evil, inner turmoil vs. external struggles, man vs. machine.
Anderson’s most recent film is also one of his strongest. Again starring Daniel Day-Lewis as a pathetic, power-hungry man, Anderson tells the story of a strange and manipulative fashion designer in 1950s London. Complete with a strong cast of British women, Anderson and Day-Lewis deliver one of the best films of 2018 (and their careers).
The truest testament to Paul Thomas Anderson’s talent is that he manages to make Mark Wahlberg seem like a good actor. Boogie Nights tells the story of an up-and-coming porn star named Dirk Diggler, and Wahlberg nails the part with precision and excellence. It’s impossible to picture anyone else in the role. There have been countless singers-turned-actors over the years, but Anderson cements Wahlberg’s status as one of the best in this truly great film.
Magnolia is one of the best films of the 90s, thanks to its huge ensemble cast and its twisty-turny-intertwining plot and, of course, the sheer talent that Paul Thomas Anderson possesses. Magnolia is his most ambitious film to date, and it’s a must-watch for any fan of his.
This is where Paul Thomas Anderson’s movies start to get a little divisive: The Master is loosely based on L. Ron Hubbard and the origins of Scientology, and while it left some audience members wanting something else, it definitely remains one of the all-time greatest movies of his. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Jesse Plemmons, and Joaquin Phoenix each give performances of a lifetime.
Adam Sandler and Paul Thomas Anderson are like a match made in heaven. After the success of Magnolia, he made film fanatics laugh when he suggested his next project would be a 90-minute comedy starring Sandler. Turns out, not only was he telling the truth, but it would soon be one of the best movies of the 2000s. It’s like a strange romantic comedy from somewhere beyond the beyond. It’s so great.
Maybe Paul Thomas Anderson’s most controversial film, Inherent Vice tells the story of a stoner detective who meanders his way through 1970s California in search of his ex. It has a crazy cast of characters led by Joaquin Phoenix and is based on an equally crazy book by Thomas Pynchon of the same name.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s first feature-length project is no amateur outing. He gives it his all and manages to make a debut film that’s better than something some directors could work their whole lives to make and still not even come close. The film follows a professional gambler who imparts his knowledge on a friend, obviously to ill effect.
Strangely, Paul Thomas Anderson is also a skilled documentarian. In this short feature, Anderson follows his frequent collaborator and Radiohead band member Jonny Greenwood to Rajasthan, where he performs with a series of Indian musicians. It’s incredibly pleasant to watch, and proves to be a lot breezier than some of his heavier features.
Cigarettes & Coffee
Similar to Magnolia, Paul Thomas Anderson’s short film Cigarettes & Coffee follows the lives of five people as their lives intertwine—they all happen to be at the same diner at the same time, kind of like the end of Pulp Fiction (but made one year before Pulp Fiction came out). Just because its an early work doesn’t make it any less great, though. Each and every project with his name on it is more than worth checking out.