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An Ode to Paul Thomas Anderson

Who’s your favourite director? As far as difficult questions go, it’s truly up there; some people come to it very easily, others spent their whole lives never deciding, and some simply choose not to. To choose your favourite director is the same as choosing your favourite film, your favourite actor, your favourite scene, your favourite score etc. We are all spoiled for choice, and there are far too many factors to consider. In nearly nine years of loving films, I’ve only just realised who it is.

Between 2014 to 2017, if you asked me who my favourite director was, I would have said David Fincher. Now, this wasn’t founded in nothing; I think Fincher is a tremendous filmmaker who absolutely dominates the mystery genre as well as his more subversive or poignant pieces. This came about because I started college in 2014, and a piece of work I had to do for my Film course before starting was a Powerpoint on any particular director. I wasn’t experienced with or didn’t feel the same love as others for the likes of Hitchcock or Kubrick – To be honest, I’m still not – and I didn’t feel right picking a more prolific director who had a popular style. So I browsed my collection and thought of name after name, and in the end, Fincher was the most appealing. I wasn’t that good at analysis back then, so everything I had to say about Fincher’s style was well and truly pulled out of my arse. And yet, these vague and uninteresting observations I made pushed me a little bit further to a decision, and before I knew it, I was singing Fincher’s praises everywhere, especially as Gone Girl was released in cinema and my film course saw me studying Fight Club extensively.

Image result for david fincher

But in the last few months, I’ve struggled with my confidence in this choice. Was it true? Was this really my favourite director? And that was when a whole ocean of questions flooded my mind, and made me think about how you truly decide who your favourite director is: Do you have to like every film they’ve made? Do you have to see every film they’ve made? Can one or more bad films in their filmography be an accurate portrayal of them as a director? Does it matter if they haven’t made that many films? Can you still enjoy a director if they have controversial personal lives? Does the director of your favourite film have to be your favourite director? Do they even need to have a film in your top ten to qualify?

It’s insane.

To address all of those questions is a daunting task, but at the end of the day, it will always be subjective. It has to be about what speaks to you; my favourite film of all time is The Breakfast Club, but John Hughes has never been considered as my favourite, the reason being that I feel he has less to offer as a director than he does as a writer, which is exactly how I feel about Quentin Tarantino (Third favourite of all time – Reservoir Dogs). I’ve been a fan of his from the beginning of my film loving days, and yet, he’s never come close. As far as personal lives go, this is a question that has become incredibly more prominent in the last year. Ultimately, it’s up to you if you choose to separate the art from the artist, but it’s not yours, mine or anyone’s place to tell someone they should like a person’s films regardless of how terrible they appear in real life. It’s pure coincidence that I don’t care for the films of Mel Gibson and Woody Allen, who’s real life stories have left me sour, but I’ve openly enjoyed the works of David O’Russell and Quentin Tarantino, who aren’t shining examples themselves. To say that I don’t love their work would be a lie and I simply can’t pretend that I don’t for the sake of saving face. However, that doesn’t mean that I’m not willing to condemn their actions, and they do in fact play a part in them never quite reaching my number one spot.

I also don’t think it matters to have seen or even liked every film made by a director. I have a serious dislike for Fincher’s The Game, and to this day still haven’t seen The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This in no way says something about the way his films have affected me. To say you don’t like a film by a certain director doesn’t cast doubt on your admiration for them, it’s simply being honest, and as long as what you’re saying feels natural and feels right, it’s important to say so. On the other hand, it’s perfectly logical for a director’s weaker efforts to hinder your desire to call them a favourite if you feel they outweigh the good, and that doesn’t have to mean that they’re excellent efforts didn’t affect you the way they did. Star Wars is incredibly dear to my heart, and I will always respect and be grateful towards George Lucas for it. That being said…The prequels are trash, and they have personally kept me from placing him particularly high. As far as not seeing films, there is no objective standard of how “complete” your impression of a director can be; some directors have a very consistent style that define a considerable amount of their filmography. The films of Noah Baumbach, Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, and Christopher Nolan are quite easy to identify, and are usually consistently brilliant. All four of them could have a chance at my top spot, but still, nope!

Image result for damien chazelle

Alternatively, some directors jump from genre to genre, style to style with ease. Damien Chazelle is a good modern example, switching from the brutally intense nature of Whiplash to the whimsical dream-like state that is La La Land, and would hit my top ten for sure, while Kathryn Bigelow has wowed with her jump from fun action films to gripping stories based in reality. Steven Spielberg is another great example. He’s a director I admire greatly, and truly can’t believe he’s still as good as he is – I’m flying the flag high for The Post – and even he has jumped between blockbuster adventures, sci-fi oddities, intense horror and emotional dramas as effortlessly as possible, maintaining his undeniable talent throughout, and as far as I’m concerned, he’s exactly as good as his reputation describes. I didn’t come to appreciate him this much until I got older, and he now sits happily in my top five. But as far as variety goes, I can’t stress enough just how brilliant Martin Scorsese is. Long considered one of the greatest directors of all time, Marty will always be defined by his crime films, and though he’s the best at them, his attempts at biopics, dark comedies, thrillers, documentaries, period dramas, and adventures cannot be ignored. Even at this stage in his life, he’s still churning out some of the most consistently brilliant work in modern cinema. And yet…He’ll just have to settle for my number two.

A director doesn’t need a full filmography to qualify either; if your director only has a couple of films to their name, it’s great to be excited about what they’ve done and what will come soon. Recent first timers Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig are already hitting people’s lists, and that’s perfectly fine. So even with all these different approaches to it, it will always come down to the way you perceive their art, the way you choose to perceive them in real life, and the way their films have affected you, be it through their signature style and recurring themes, or their inane ability to pick and choose. Which brings me back to my quest for my true favourite director, and it was a decision made this past weekend. I love David Fincher, but I rarely talk about his films, and even rarer do I sit down to watch them – Though that can be put down to my habit of picking first time watches over re-watches – so when I sat down in the cinema last Saturday to enjoy a new film, it struck me that this particular director has been having this effect on me for quite some time.

The film was Phantom Thread, and the director was Paul Thomas Anderson

Image result for paul thomas anderson phantom thread

Phantom Thread is a spell binding film that needs to be seen; it’s riveting and enchanting, masterfully crafted with exhilarating yet quiet performances, and a score that will knock you to the ground. It’s like going to a restaurant and being served a delicious plate of divine cinema that you eat up until you’re absolutely stuffed and ready to burst. And as you sit there at the end, with your trouser button undone and painful knowledge that you’ve had enough, you realise what you’re full of is a desire to absorb more cinematic beauty, which convinces you there’s a little more room for dessert. Paul Thomas Anderson was the chef, and I’m adamant to pass on my compliments. That’s when it struck me that Anderson has been doing this to me for his entire career. I’ve never finished a film of his and not felt this way, be it the stupendous simplicity of Hard Eight, the tantalising discomfort of The Master, the hard hitting pain of Punch Drunk Love or the melancholic journey of Magnolia. Those sit at the top for me, though Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood cannot be ignored as sheer masterpieces. At one point in time, maybe even still, I considered the scene in Magnolia where the main characters sing along to Aimee Mann’s “Give Up” to be the greatest film scene of all time. I even wrote about it in great detail for a piece of college work about sound and editing. Now that was not an analysis that I had to extract from my rectum.

So while it may be decided that he’s my favourite, why did it take so long for me to realise? Well, I think it’s simple: Reflection. Reflection is an ever present tool in a film lover’s life. Our need to look back ultimately makes a lot of decisions for us; how often do we love or hate a film in the cinema, and by the time we’ve given it another chance, we’ve gone the opposite way? Or how about when you see a challenging film that doesn’t stick to the norm, and you couldn’t quite work it out? Days later, you may see something new. We’ve all said “It was good when I was younger” or “It was good when I was drunk”, or lament that it simply didn’t get enough of a chance when it came out. Maybe you realise a film that didn’t quite work out was ambitious, and you gain a little respect for it. Maybe an older film you loved represented some ideologies that you disagree with as you mature, and it doesn’t quite hold the same appeal. See? It’s all about reflection. Films are fleeting. They’re a couple of hours of our life that eventually get replaced by the next couple of hours in our life we choose to watch, because we love it and we want to have as much as possible. It’s very easy to not remember or comprehend what a film did to you when you carry on your journey, and becomes a little clearer when you look at it in the rear view mirror.  What a director does for you and what it means to you might not always be obvious, but when you know, you know. This is why I declared David Fincher my favourite director when I watched Gone Girl. On reflection, I took a step back, and I realised that it didn’t hold true to me. In the exact same way, I didn’t hold Paul Thomas Anderson to this regard when I watched Phantom Thread, and on reflection, I took a step back, and I realised that he’s been doing it to me for years.

It was a long winded process, but I got there in the end.


So tell me, who’s your favourite director, and more importantly, why?
Let us know in the comments!

4 comments

  1. I’m a big PTA fan as well. I could say Martin Scorsese, though that’s a bit too obvious for my taste. Funny how that works. For the sake of argument I’ll say Sidney Lumet. When I watch a PTA or Scorsese film I know it immediately, whereas with Lumet, his style is much less obvious. With him it’s more like the theatrical concept of knocking down the forth wall. He puts the human condition under his microscope and it always looks a little different and it’s almost always compelling.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, “…Devil Knows You’re Dead” is a great film. It’s one of his latest. Too bad about Hoffman. I still have a heard time with that one.
        Lumet is terrific. Dog Day Afternoon,12 Angry Men,The Pawn Broker, Network–not to mention the original Murder on the Orient Express. Iconic director. Check him out. I think you’ll become a fan.
        Nice post. I enjoy it.

        Like

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