By John H. Foote

2020 has been a rough year at the movies, but film books have shone very bright. Well, most – my Spielberg book has been bumped to 2021, another near year before this hits the shelves.

When I was young, film books were plentiful, and I paid many visits to Cinebooks on Yonge Street in Toronto, later absorbed into Theatrebooks, now gone. Amazon opened a new world of shopping for great books on the movies but over the last 15 years if you get two great books published about film history, actors, or directors a year, that is a good year.

This year, so far we have had “Chasing the Light”, a superb memoir by Oliver Stone about his early struggles and success; “Made Men: The Story of GoodFellas”, a bouncy, wildly entertaining ride through the making and legacy of GoodFellas (1990) and now, the brand new “Paul Thomas Anderson – Masterworks”, a brilliant new book by Adam Nayman.

Nayman’s rich, detailed book is a thoughtful, profound study of the eight films thus far created by this most exceptional filmmaker who has drawn praise as being comparable to Robert Altman, Sidney Lumet and Martin Scorsese. High praise indeed but I like to think, as Nayman does, that P. T. Anderson is an original, that rare type of director who explodes onto the American film forefront, alters the existing landscape and creates films that will still be discussed 50 years from now. Blessed with a deep love of film, Anderson often pays homage to the films made in the past, yet almost always places his own unique narrative into the story.

Actors revere him – there has yet to be a weak performance in any of his films, with Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights); Tom Cruise, Moore, Melora Waters, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly and Jason Robards (Magnolia); Adam Sandler (Punch Drunk Love); Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood); Joaquin Phoenix, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams (The Master); Phoenix (Inherent Vice); and Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread) doing some of the finest – if not the finest – work of their careers, many lauded with Academy Awards and nominations, not to mention leading critics groups awards.

As explored brilliantly by Nayman, to perfection, Anderson’s work, is audacious, bold, and visionary, often with a sprawling scope and storyline, yet intimate in the study of the characters, as though he were capturing life unfolding. As Kazan did during his great run in the fifties, it is as though Anderson holds a mirror to society, recording what he sees. Capturing life with astounding truth.

With just eight films since his near seismic explosion with Boogie Nights at TIFF, each has been critically lauded, Inherent Vice less so, but a cult audience now surrounds this seventies like film. Critics and audiences may be initially flummoxed by his films, Magnolia and Inherent Vice, come to mind, but no doubt letting go of them is near impossible. With on oft moving camera, prowling the place where characters gather or a reverential stillness, Anderson finds the right tone each time.

Breaking down each film, exploring various scenes, discussing the performances, Anderson’s choices, the cinematography, the greatest aspects of each work, Nayman superbly hails Anderson as the genius he rightfully is. Nothing about his work feels or seems something familiar. Even those sparse oil fields in his masterpiece There Will Be Blood, familiar from Giant (1956), feel unique because of the lead character (Daniel) and his contempt for humanity. How can a man quickly accumulating so much wealth, have such hatred for mankind?

We know how directors can be so gifted – Chaplin, Huston, Kazan, Coppola, Kubrick, Spielberg, Scorsese, Bigelow, the Coens, Peter Jackson – all have shown us. Anderson continues to do so, and while at least half his output are films for the ages, I do not think we have seen his finest yet. Given the astonishing There Will Be Blood, Magnolia, Boogie Nights and The Master, that he could actually get better, evolve, grow artistically, that is truly exciting.

Order now, waste not a second. Published by Abrams.

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