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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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If We Picked the Winners 2018: Best Director

In anticipation of the Academy Awards, we polled our contributors to see what they thought should win the Oscar. Once we had our winners, we asked various writers to make the case for our selection in each category. Here, Christy Lemire makes the case for the Best Director of 2017: Paul Thomas Anderson for "Phantom Thread."


It’s sort of amazing that Paul Thomas Anderson has never won an Academy Award. He’s only been nominated for best director once before: for 2007’s “There Will Be Blood,” his first collaboration with the great Daniel Day-Lewis. And he has several screenwriting nominations for his work on some of the most original and influential films of the past generation, including “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia.” Now, he finds himself in the directing category again for “Phantom Thread.” And it would be so fantastic if he finally won. With “Phantom Thread,” he pulls off the most dazzlingly deceptive high-wire act. He tricks you into believing you’re watching one kind of film: a meticulously crafted but detached period piece, set within the luxurious world of 1950s London couture. Day-Lewis stars as the marvelously named Reynolds Woodcock, a world-famous designer who makes dresses for heiresses and aristocrats—a man whose life is as measured and precise the gowns he creates. But with the introduction of a headstrong waitress named Alma (the formidable Vicky Krieps), Reynolds’ perfect world gets turned upside down. So does “Phantom Thread”: It slowly but surely becomes another kind of film entirely, one that’s darker and weirder than you ever could have imagined, and deliriously so. The way Anderson sneaks in his brilliantly twisted sense of humor throughout the film—until it ultimately takes hold completely—is one of his hallmarks, and it’s one of the movie’s many strengths. You never know where “Phantom Thread” is going as it whisks you along with the help of a lush and transporting score from his usual composer, Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. But you know you’re once again in the hands of a master, one who isn’t afraid to challenge you both intellectually and emotionally.  

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