Generation X Directors: Paul Thomas Anderson


He’s been hailed as a wunderkind; a kid with no traditional film training from the smog-riddled San Fernando Valley- Paul Thomas Anderson, master director.  His films feature ensemble cast extravaganzas, often set in the very neighborhood he grew up in.  To date, all 6 of his feature films have been nominated and won awards at the most prestigious venues, including the Academy Awards.

After a dismal two days at New York University, and despite enrollment as an English major at Emerson College, Paul Thomas Anderson (P.T.A.) quit school and began his career as a production assistant. His father was an actor frequently featured in Mel Brooks’ movies.  Using the money he won gambling, his girlfriend’s credit card and the $10,000 College fund his father set aside for him, Anderson shot his first short Cigarettes & Coffee. He submitted the short to the 1993 Sundance Film Festival.  So well received was his short, the Sundance Filmmaker’s Lab invited him to expand the short to feature length and Rysher Entertainment signed his deal for a feature film. The resulting film, Hard Eight, was finished with the financial aid of John C. Reilly and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Anderson’s next success came from the film Boogie Nights (1997), which revitalized the career of Burt Reynolds and kick-started the acting careers of Mark Wahlberg and Julianne Moore.  It was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Supporting Actor and Actress and Best Original Screenplay. The critical acclaim and box office success of Boogie Nights convinced New Line Cinema to grant Anderson complete creative control over his next project.

The result was Magnolia (1999), another ensemble film of flawed and desperate characters, reflecting the themes of dysfunctional relationships, alienation, regret, destiny and ghost of the pasts. These themes would be the common leitmotif of all Anderson’s works.  Magnolia was nominated for three Academy Awards and took home the Golden Bear of the Berlin Film Festival.

His next film in 2002, Punch Drunk Love, starring Adam Sandler and Emma Watson, won the Prix de la mis en scene for best direction at Cannes.  Five years later, Anderson floored audiences with There Will Be Blood, loosely based on the Upton Sinclair novel Oil! and starring the dynamic Daniel Day Lewis. Nominated for eight Academy Awards, There Will Be Blood took Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Actor. It also won the Silver Bear for Best Direction at the Berlin International Film Festival.  Anderson also directed music videos for Michael Penn, Aimee Man, Jon Brion, and his once love interest Fiona Apple.

Anderson’s latest film, The Master, starring Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams, has garnered Oscar nominations for all three actors.  It’s clear that Paul Thomas Anderson will continue to create emotionally evocative award winning films throughout his lifetime.

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