Licorice Pizza Review

I’ve been grooving to the beat of Paul Thomas Anderson’s cinematic vibes for a quarter century. There was the magnificent Boogie Nights in 1997 and the iconic Daniel Day-Lewis milkshake monologue in There Will Be Blood ten years later. A decade after that, my PTA appetite was satiated by Phantom Thread. 

His latest is Licorice Pizza and it’s his most laid back experience. This coming-of-age slice of life takes place in the Valley circa 1973. It feels lived in and authentic and personal. There’s individual scenes where the filmmaker’s brilliance is on full display. Like all of his efforts, there’s memorable performances. And unlike most of his catalogue, this Almost Famous feeling flick has flaws I couldn’t overlook. It’s almost joyous and almost worth the viewing and ultimately more problematic than rewarding.

Loosely based on the teen years of former child actor Gary Goetzman (now a highly successful producing partner of Tom Hanks), Cooper Hoffman is 15-year-old Gary Valentine. He’s costarred in movies and commercials and is far more confident than anyone his age has a right to be. That self-assured nature is evident when he asks 25-year-old photographer’s assistant Alana Kane (Alana Haim) out on a date. She rebuffs his advances at first but ends up meeting him out. The two strike up a friendship and the benefit for us is watching Hoffman and Haim shine in their acting debuts. The son of Anderson’s late frequent collaborator Philip Seymour Hoffman and one third of a well-known rock band, Hoffman and Haim are naturals. The drawback is an age difference I couldn’t overlook… so let’s go there.

This is where the sunny tone of Pizza conflicted with their borderline (perhaps over borderline) inappropriate coupling. It’s not overtly sexual and Alana is well aware that hanging with the decade younger Gary is far from normal. Yet there’s enough of a leftover distasteful feeling that it hindered the entertainment value for me. One could argue Gary is more mature than Alana and perhaps that justifies some of what happens. That’s a tough needle to thread and I just couldn’t get there.

Pizza has a lazy hangout atmosphere that recalls Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Like that picture, it’s steeped in exploring a different showbiz era and the technical aspects we expect from PTA (production design, cinematography, costumes, and more) are top notch.

The episodic nature is hit or miss. Pizza‘s best course involves Bradley Cooper as hairdresser turned producer Jon Peters. His segment moves at a thrilling clip as Gary’s failing waterbed business and the 70s era gasoline shortage play important roles. I can’t say the same for Sean Penn’s bit as an aging movie star (based on William Holden) and his motorcycle exploits. By the time we arrive at Alana trying a new career as a campaign worker for conflicted mayoral candidate Joel Wachs (Benny Safdie), the pic was starting to run on fumes.

When a director of immense capabilities makes an almost misfire, there’s no denying it’s more of a letdown. That’s where I stand with Licorice Pizza and it brings me no joy to deliver that news.

**1/2 (out of four)

Oscars 2021: The Case of Paul Thomas Anderson

Now that I’ve completed by Case Of posts for the 10 Best Picture contenders, I’m moving on to the 25 hopefuls for Best Director, Actress, Actor, Supporting Actress, and Supporting Actor. I’ll alternate alphabetically among the categories between them and that means Paul Thomas Anderson’s behind the camera work for Licorice Pizza is first up!

The Case for Paul Thomas Anderson:

Prior to Pizza being delivered in 2021, PTA as he’s called had already received 8 nominations from the Academy between his producing, directing, and writing. He’s 0 for 8. He has three more at bats with his 70s set coming-of-age tale in Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay. In other words, there could be an overdue factor at play.

The Case Against Paul Thomas Anderson:

Licorice Pizza tied CODA with the fewest amount of nods for the BP nominees. Unlike his previous BP contenders There Will Be Blood and Phantom Thread, there were no acting nominations for his ensemble. And there’s simply the fact that Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog) is the major frontrunner.

Previous Nominations: 2 (for directing only)

There Will Be Blood (2007); Phantom Thread (2017)

The Verdict:

There’s a decent chance that PTA’s zero wins streak will be broken at the ceremony, but it would come in Original Screenplay (where it appears to be down to Pizza or Belfast). It will not be broken here.

My Case Of posts will continue with Jessica Chastain in The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Oscars 2021: The Case of Licorice Pizza

We’ve reached our seventh movie for my Case Of posts focused on the ten Best Picture hopefuls and it brings us to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza. If you missed my earlier ones, you can find them here:

Oscars 2021: The Case of Belfast

Oscars 2021: The Case of CODA

Oscars 2021: The Case of Don’t Look Up

Oscars 2021: The Case of Drive My Car

Oscars 2021: The Case of Dune

Oscars 2021: The Case of King Richard

The Case for Licorice Pizza:

Between his producing credits, direction, and screenplays – Anderson had already received 8 Oscar nominations without a victory (2007’s There Will Be Blood and 2017’s Phantom Thread were up for BP). He adds three more with Pizza for Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay. The Academy might feel that it’s time to honor one of the most acclaimed filmmakers of the past quarter century.

The Case Against Licorice Pizza:

Note that I only mentioned three overall nods and that ties the lowest of the 10 contenders along with CODA. This failed to nab mentions in other key categories – many thought Alana Haim could sneak in for Actress and lots of prognosticators (including myself) had Bradley Cooper getting a Supporting Actor nomination. Furthermore, its exclusion in Editing is notable (historically no BP winners get the big prize without competing in that race).

The Verdict:

The best hope for Pizza to get a piece of the Oscar pie is in Original Screenplay where it appears to be in a fierce competition with Belfast. Don’t expect a BP delivery.

My Case Of posts will continue with Nightmare Alley

Oscar Predictions: Licorice Pizza

When Paul Thomas Anderson writes and directs, the Academy takes notice and that won’t change with Licorice Pizza. Out in limited release November 26th before a Christmas Day expansion, the social media embargo is lapsed. Early word indicates the coming-of-age dramedy set in the Valley circa 1973 is one of the filmmaker’s most accessible and lighter works. And there are certainly categories where Oscar voters may bite.

Six out of the last seven PTA pictures have nabbed nominations. Two (There Will Be Blood, Phantom Thread) contended for Best Picture and its maker made it both times for his direction. He has been nominated five times for screenwriting with the aforementioned titles as well as Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and Inherent Vice. Despite the multiple ballot appearances, PTA has yet to get his hands on a gold statue.

That could change here, but it’s no guarantee. I do believe the initial buzz suggests a Best Picture nod is likely and he could certainly be recognized for directing. I don’t foresee wins in either race.

Original Screenplay is a different story. Belfast is the main competition at the moment and that’s significant considering it’s the frontrunner for Picture. However, I could see a narrative developing where Anderson could emerge victorious partly as a career achievement/overdue honor.

Down the line recognition for Editing might be its strongest opportunity in tech derbies. For the actors, PTA’s filmography has resulted in nine nominations for its performers. There’s just one win with Daniel Day-Lewis  in Blood. Interestingly, we’ve seen three nominees each in Actor, Supporting Actor, and Supporting Actress. None for Best Actress, but that’s where Pizza has perhaps the most feasible chance.

Alana Haim’s performance is already getting raves. The downside is that Best Actress looks awfully competitive in 2021 and it could be an uphill battle. She’ll need some critics awards love and precursors. Same goes for Cooper Hoffman who makes his big screen debut. He’s the son of the late Philip, who PTA featured in Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, and The Master. He too is being lauded though breaking into Actor could be an even taller order for him.

Finally, that brings us to Bradley Cooper. Playing film producer and Barbra Streisand’s former hairdresser Jon Peters, this looked like the kind of juicy role that might finally get the four-time acting contender some hardware. I’ve had Cooper listed at #1 in my Supporting Actor predictions since I began doing them over the summer (even in my updated estimates from earlier in the evening). It seems that Cooper’s screen time is quite limited in this… enough so that he might miss the dance altogether. One bright side is that Supporting Actor is so wide open that even his brief appearance could make enough of an impression on the Academy. I do suspect that Cooper will, at the least, not be in the top spot when I update next week.

Bottom line: the Pizza party at the Oscars could involve Picture, Director, and absolutely Original Screenplay. The cast faces some challenges. My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Best Director Race

After four posts focusing on the acting races at the 2021 Oscars, it’s time to turn to Best Director. If you missed those entries on the lead and supporting performer derbies, you can find them here:

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Best Actress Race

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Best Actor Race

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Supporting Actress Race

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Supporting Actor Race

With the directing category, I do believe there’s three filmmakers that have likely punched their ticket to a nomination. Before we get there, let’s take a look at how my projections panned out at the same early November time frame in 2019 and 2020.

Two years back, I correctly identified four of the five contenders: winner Bong Joon-ho (Parasite) as well as Sam Mendes (1917), Martin Scorsese (The Irishman), and Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood). Todd Phillips (Joker) was mentioned in Other Possibilities. 2020 was more unpredictable with two months left to go and that resulted in only two directors being accurately named: Chloe Zhao (Nomadland), who took the gold, and David Fincher (Mank). Lee Isaac Chung (Minari) was in Other Possibilities while neither Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman) or surprise nominee Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round) were yet listed in my top ten.

Back to 2021 and the three individuals who I believe stand probable shots at making the cut. They are Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog), Kenneth Branagh (Belfast), and Denis Villeneuve (Dune).

It was 28 years ago that Campion was nominated for The Piano. If it hadn’t been for Oscar juggernaut Schindler’s List, she likely would’ve been making a speech. Upon its premiere in Venice, Campion took the Silver Lion (equivalent to this competition) for Dog. I don’t see her being left off the ballot.

Belfast is the current frontrunner for Best Picture and it’s hard to envision  writer/director Branagh not making it in. If so, it would be his first nod in directing since Henry V some 32 years back.

Dune is being heralded for its technical wizardry and it should pick up numerous down the line wins and nominations. Five years after his behind the camera work was recognized for Arrival, Villeneuve should be a factor again.

Interestingly, I don’t feel there’s a clear favorite to win. There are plausible scenarios for any member of this trio to emerge victorious. Campion, Branagh, and Villeneuve constitute my top 3 (in that order), but it’s more of a 1a, 1b, and 1c at press time.

As for the other two slots, there’s a few contenders stemming from unseen product. There’s big names in that bunch: Guillermo del Toro (Nightmare Alley, who won four years ago for The Shape of Water), Paul Thomas Anderson (Licorice Pizza, a two-time nominee for There Will Be Blood and Phantom Thread), Ridley Scott (for House of Gucci and not The Last Duel), Adam McKay (Don’t Look Up, previously nominated for The Big Short), Lin-Manuel Miranda (Tick, Tick… Boom!), and Steven Spielberg (West Side Story,  a two-time winner for Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan).

Any of these gentlemen could bubble up to the surface once their pictures are screened. I’m sticking with the two I’ve had in my five recently: del Toro and Anderson.

King Richard has a chance to win Best Picture, but I’m skeptical its maker Reinaldo Marcus Green makes it here. The sports drama seems destined to be recognized more for its performances, but if the Academy really falls for it, Green could be theoretically be swept in. That holds true for Joel Coen (The Tragedy of Macbeth) and Pablo Larrain (Spencer) as well.

Lastly, Thomas Vinterberg’s nod in 2020 for Another Round came out of nowhere. While it was pegged to take International Feature Film (which it did), Round was not nominated in Best Picture. There’s a slew of directors who could fill the “surprise” slot this time around (many from foreign features): Pedro Almodovar (Parallel Mothers), Julia Ducournau (Titane), Asghar Farhari (A Hero), Paolo Sorrentino (The Hand of God), Joachim Trier (The Worst Person in the World). I wouldn’t completely count out Rebecca Hall for Passing. Yet none of these upset selections are in my top ten.

The one that is: Jonas Poher Rasmussen for festival darling Flee. While I don’t have it nabbing a Best Pic nom at the moment, I do foresee the Danish doc contending in Animated Feature, Documentary Feature, and International Feature Film. That kind of attention could cause the voters to include him.

Here’s how those rankings look at the start of November:

Best Director

Predicted Nominees:

1. Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog (Previous Ranking: 1)

2. Kenneth Branagh, Belfast (PR: 2)

3. Denis Villeneuve, Dune (PR: 3)

4. Guillermo del Toro, Nightmare Alley (PR: 4)

5. Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza (PR: 5)

Other Possibilities:

6. Pablo Larrain, Spencer (PR: 6)

7. Steven Spielberg, West Side Story (PR: 7)

8. Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Flee (PR: Not Ranked)

9. Reinaldo Marcus Green, King Richard (PR: 9)

10. Ridley Scott, House of Gucci (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

Joel Coen, The Tragedy of Macbeth

Julia Ducournau, Titane

Best Picture is next!

Daily Streaming Guide: March 31st Edition

Today’s Streaming Guide bring us an absolute masterclass in filmmaking and acting that is currently available via Netflix:

Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is an early 20th century tale of oil mining and greed with a towering and Oscar winning performance from Daniel Day-Lewis. As Daniel Plainview, a ruthless prospector turned tycoon – Day-Lewis pretty much won the Academy Award as soon as the picture screened for critics. Blood was also victorious in the Cinematography category and deservedly so. The pic also features dynamite supporting work from Paul Dano as a scheming preacher. And there’s a line regarding milkshakes that stands along the hit Kelis track as the best 21st century milkshake references.

Blood continued Anderson’s ascent into greatness after such features as Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and Punch-Drunk Love. It has since continued with The Master, Inherent Vice, and Phantom Thread (which is headlined by another terrific Day-Lewis role). I have a special place for Boogie Nights, which I considered to be the best movie of the 1990s not named Pulp Fiction. As far as PTA’s output, this ranks second.

That’s all for now, folks! Until next time…

Best Actor: A Look Back

My look back at the major Oscar categories from 1990 to the present arrives at Best Actor today! If you missed my posts covering Actress and the Supporting races, you can find them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/31/best-actress-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/25/best-supporting-actor-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/20/best-supporting-actress-a-look-back/

As with those previous entries, I am picking the three least surprising winners of the last 28 years, along with the three biggest upsets. Additionally, you’ll see my personal picks for strongest and weakest fields overall.

As a primer, here are the winners from 1990 to now:

1990 – Jeremy Irons, Reversal of Fortune

1991 – Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs

1992 – Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman

1993 – Tom Hanks, Philadelphia

1994 – Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump

1995 – Nicolas Cage, Leaving Las Vegas

1996 – Geoffrey Rush, Shine

1997 – Jack Nicholson, As Good As It Gets

1998 – Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful

1999 – Kevin Spacey, American Beauty

2000 – Russell Crowe, Gladiator

2001 – Denzel Washington, Training Day

2002 – Adrien Brody, The Pianist

2003 – Sean Penn, Mystic River

2004 – Jamie Foxx, Ray

2005 – Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote

2006 – Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

2007 – Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood

2008 – Sean Penn, Milk

2009 – Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

2010 – Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

2011 – Jean Dujardin, The Artist

2012 – Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

2013 – Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

2014 – Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

2015 – Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

2016 – Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

2017 – Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Let’s begin with the three that I’m deeming as the non-surprise winners. Whittling this down to that number was a challenge. The double wins by Hanks and Penn and even last year’s winner Oldman could’ve easily been named here, too. Here goes…

3. Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman

The legendary thespian was 0 for 6 when it came to nominations and wins entering 1992. He picked up his 7th and 8th nods that year with his supporting role in Glengarry Glen Ross and lead role as a blind former colonel in this Martin Brest directed drama. By Oscar night, it was clear he was finally going to make that trip to the podium.

2. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Like Pacino, DiCaprio had been an Academy bridesmaid before… four times. His fifth nod for The Revenant guaranteed he’d finally be a winner against weak competition (more on that below).

1. Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

I could have named the Method actor’s victory in 2007 for There Will Be Blood as well, but his win five years later as the nation’s 16th President edges it out. From the moment the Steven Spielberg project was announced, Day-Lewis was the odds on favorite and it never changed.

Now – my selections for the upsets:

3. Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs

While it might seem an obvious win nearly 30 years later, Nick Nolte’s work in The Prince of Tides had nabbed him the Golden Globe. Additionally, there was some controversy about Sir Anthony’s inclusion in the lead race due to his approximate 16 minutes of screen time. This is truly evidence of a performance so towering that it couldn’t be ignored.

2. Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful

The Italian director/writer/actor was an underdog against competition that included Nick Nolte (once again) for Affliction and Ian McKellen in Gods and Monsters. Mr. Benigni seemed a bit shocked himself when his name was called, as he famously bounded exuberantly to the stage.

1. Adrien Brody, The Pianist

The smart money in 2002 was with Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt or Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York. Brody’s win was pretty shocking, as was the giant smooch he planted on presenter Halle Berry.

When it comes to overall fields, I’m going recent history with both. For strongest, I’ll give it to 2012. That’s the year Day-Lewis won for Lincoln. All other nominees were rock solid as well with Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), and Denzel Washington (Flight).

For weakest, I’m picking 2015. This is the aforementioned year of DiCaprio’s overdue win. The rest of the field, however, was a bit lacking. It consisted of Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Matt Damon (The Martian), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), and Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl).

And there’s your Actor look back, folks! Keep an eye out for Best Picture soon as the final post in this series…

The Best Picture Coulda Been Contenders: 1990-2008

In 2009, the Academy underwent a change in the number of Best Picture nominees honored each year. The rule change allowed a fluctuation of five to ten nominees per year, as opposed to a finite five (all other categories stayed at that number).

As has been discussed on this blog, many felt the change was triggered by 2008’s The Dark Knight, the critically acclaimed comic book pic that was also highest earner of the year. It failed to a garner a Best Picture nod and the thinking was that it was time for more popular options to make it into the mix.

Since the change, the magic number has been nine nominated pictures in most years. This got me thinking: what if that rule had been in effect during prior years? What movies that failed to get a nomination would have certainly made it?

That brings us here. I have gone back to 1990 through 2008 and I’m listing two films from each year that I am confident would have made the shortlist. In selecting each title, here were some of the key indicators. If a Director was nominated for his work and the film failed to get nominated, that probably means it would have been included. Additionally, the screenplay races are a decent predictor of some titles that might have made the magic nine (or eight or ten). For reference sake, I am including the five movies that did get nominated.

So here goes! Two features from 1990-2008 that coulda and likely woulda been contenders…

1990

The Actual Nominees: Dances with Wolves (Winner), Awakenings, Ghost, The Godfather Part III, GoodFellas

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: The Grifters, Reversal of Fortune

1991

The Actual Nominees: The Silence of the Lambs (W), Beauty and the Beast, Bugsy, JFK, The Prince of Tides

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Boyz N The Hood, Thelma & Louise

1992

The Actual Nominees: Unforgiven (W), The Crying Game, A Few Good Men, Howards End, Scent of a Woman

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Malcolm X, The Player

1993

The Actual Nominees: Schindler’s List (W), The Fugitive, In the Name of the Father, The Piano, The Remains of the Day

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Philadelphia, Short Cuts

1994

The Actual Nominees: Forrest Gump (W), Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Bullets Over Broadway, Three Colors: Red

1995

The Actual Nominees: Braveheart (W), Apollo 13, Babe, Il Postino, Sense and Sensibility

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Dead Man Walking, Leaving Las Vegas

1996

The Actual Nominees: The English Patient (W), Fargo, Jerry Maguire, Secrets & Lies, Shine

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: The People Vs. Larry Flynt, Sling Blade

1997

The Actual Nominees: Titanic (W), As Good as It Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Huinting, L.A. Confidential

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Boogie Nights, The Sweet Hereafter

1998

The Actual Nominees: Shakespeare in Love (W), Elizabeth, Life is Beautiful, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Gods and Monsters, The Truman Show

1999

The Actual Nominees: American Beauty (W), The Cider House Rules, The Green Mile, The Insider, The Sixth Sense

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Being John Malkovich, Topsy-Turvy

2000

The Actual Nominees: Gladiator (W), Chocolat, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Erin Brockovich, Traffic

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Almost Famous, Billy Elliot

2001

The Actual Nominees: A Beautiful Mind (W), Gosford Park, In the Bedroom, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Moulin Rouge!

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Black Hawk Down, Mulholland Drive

2002

The Actual Nominees: Chicago (W), Gangs of New York, The Hours, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Pianist

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Far from Heaven, Talk to Her

2003

The Actual Nominees: Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (W), Lost in Translation, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Mystic River, Seabiscuit 

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: City of God, In America

2004

The Actual Nominees: Million Dollar Baby (W), The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Ray, Sideways

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Hotel Rwanda, Vera Drake

2005

The Actual Nominees: Crash (W), Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Good Night and Good Luck, Munich

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Syriana, Walk the Line

2006

The Actual Nominees: The Departed (W), Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Pan’s Labyrinth, United 93

2007

The Actual Nominees: No Country for Old Men (W), Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, There Will Be Blood

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Away from Her, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

2008

The Actual Nominees: Slumdog Millionaire (W), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: The Dark Knight, Doubt

And there you have it! There will be a part II to this post. What if the rule change had never occurred? From 2009 until the present, what would have been the five nominated Pictures if only that number was allowed. Stay tuned…

 

Phantom Thread Movie Review

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread serves up a recipe that is both deliciously lush in its look and sickeningly pitch black in its sneaky comedic sensibilities. It’s a fascinating concoction to behold with an alleged swan song performance by Daniel Day-Lewis where he’s occasionally upstaged by the women around him.

The three-time Oscar winner is Reynolds Woodcock, a brilliant fashion designer in 1950s London. He’s the go to dressmaker for high society and he delves into his work with the serious and intense manner in which, well, Day-Lewis inhabits his roles. Reynolds is a forever bachelor who worships his deceased mother and holds an extremely and maybe too close relationship with sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), who assists with his thriving and thrifty business.

A trip to the countryside introduces Reynolds to Alma (Vicky Krieps), a young waitress. He asks her to dinner and in quick succession, she’s moved in with him. Alma serves a dress model at first, but is soon his latest muse (we imagine there’s been several) and love interest. She quickly realizes that her new and fancy world revolves around Reynolds and his routine that he despises being disrupted. He’s a tortured genius and egomaniac. Yet the roads we foresee this union dissolving into are not always what writer/director Anderson has up his sleeve.

That’s partly because Alma doesn’t turn out to be just a needy girlfriend. Some of the film’s biggest surprises and key moments come from her choices on how to deal with Reynolds. Krieps gives us a feisty and fantastic performance to behold. Manville’s work is quite impressive as well. Sister Cyril is an intriguing presence – always steps away from Reynolds and bizarrely attached to him. She’s also the only person who can speak any truth to him until Alma enters the frame.

And there’s Day-Lewis, an actor who can do more with a line reading choice or facial expression than nearly anyone else. With Reynolds Woodcock, we have one more memorable and unique creation. He’s seemingly incapable of nothing less.

Anderson, of course, already directed Day-Lewis as the unforgettable oil baron in There Will Be Blood. They mix well together. Like all of Anderson’s work, this is a visually sumptuous experience where the gorgeous score from Jonny Greenwood and costume design from Mark Bridges are especially noteworthy.

Phantom Thread hides some of its best tricks for the end. It may have you wanting to watch the off kilter courtship of its subjects a second time – or to again watch a great auteur in fine form with a trio of performances to match.

***1/2 (out of four)

 

Oscar Watch: Phantom Thread

Daniel Day-Lewis could be the only performer other than Meryl Streep whose automatic participation in a project warrants Oscar buzz. It’s not hard to figure out why. He’s the only male to win three Best Actor awards – for 1989’s My Left Foot, 2007’s There Will Be Blood, and 2012’s Lincoln.

Therefore, it was no surprise that his latest picture Phantom Thread garnered immediate awards chatter. The dramatic thriller in which he plays an obsessive London designer in the 1950s reunites the actor with his Blood director Paul Thomas Anderson. Reviews are now out prior to its end of year release and they suggest Day-Lewis should easily nab yet another nomination for what he claims is his last acting role. Winning his fourth statue could be another story.

The front-runner appears to be Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour, even though Mr. Oldman curiously has been left out of many precursor awards. That could certainly change, however. As I see it, Day-Lewis is right behind him.

When it comes to the picture itself, that’s a bit more unclear. Thread stands at a solid 88% on Rotten Tomatoes and some reviews have praised it as one of the year’s finest. Others have been more mixed. I have had the film just getting in and just being outside of my predicted nine features to be nominated. At press time, I consider Thread, Darkest Hour, and Mudbound to be strong possibilities for inclusion, but certainly not automatic.

Thread‘s other performances include Vicky Krieps, who will be campaigned for in Lead Actress. That category appears too crowded for her to get in. In Supporting Actress, the possibility of Lesley Manville having her name called is more likely, but also not assured.

Writer/director Anderson probably won’t get in for Director, though his Original Screenplay has already won some precursors. Yet there’s no guarantee there because that particular race is also jam-packed.

Down the line, Thread appears to be a shoo-in for Costume Design (it’ll probably win) and the acclaimed Original Score. Production Design and Makeup and Hairstyling nominations are also feasible.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…