Oscar Directors: Anderson, Paul Thomas–Background, Career, Awards, Filmography

Research in Progress: October 23, 2021


Paul Thomas Anderson Career Summary:

Occupational Inheritance:

Social Class:

Nationality: US

Education: first film at 8, films on Betamax video camera father bought in 1982

Training: Sundance Institute

First Film: Hard Eight (Sydney), 1996; age 26

Turning Point/Breakthrough: Boogie Nights, 1997; age 27

First Oscar Nomination:

Other Nominations:

Genre (specialties):


Last Film:


Career Output: 8 features

Career Span: 1996-2019; 23 years


Politics: NA

Retirement: NA

Death: NA


Paul Thomas Anderson (June 26, 1970), born in Los Angeles, developed interest in filmmaking from a young age. An alumnus of the Sundance Institute, Anderson is known for his epic psychological dramas set in San Fernando Valley, dealing with characters seeking redemption and forgiveness.

Anderson made his feature debut with Hard Eight in 1996.

He found critical and commercial success with Boogie Nights (1997), set during the Golden Age of Porn, and received further accolades with Magnolia (1999), an ensemble piece set in the San Fernando Valley, and Punch-Drunk Love (2002), a romantic comedy-drama.

Anderson’s 2007 film There Will Be Blood, about an oil prospector during the Southern California oil boom, achieved critical and commercial success, often cited as one of the greatest films of the 2000s.

This was followed by The Master in 2012 and Inherent Vice in 2014.

Anderson’s eighth film, Phantom Thread, was released in 2017.

He has directed music videos for artists including Fiona Apple, Radiohead, Haim, Joanna Newsom, Aimee Mann, Jon Brion and Michael Penn, and has also directed a documentary, Junun (2015), about the making of the album in India.

Auteur: Theme

Anderson’s films, populated by flawed and desperate characters, explore dysfunctional families, alienation and loneliness. He uses bold visual style, moving camera and long takes, and memorable music.

His frequent collaborations with actors Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, and Daniel Day-Lewis, cinematographer Robert Elswit, costume designer Mark Bridges, and composers Jon Brion and Jonny Greenwood. His films have consistently garnered critical acclaim.

Anderson has been nominated for eight Oscars, one Golden Globe Award and five BAFTA Awards, and has won Best Director Award at Cannes, Silver Bear at Berlin and Silver Lion at Venice.

Anderson was born in Studio City, Los Angeles, to Edwina (née Gough) and Ernie Anderson, an actor who was the voice of ABC and a Cleveland TV late-night horror movie host known as “Ghoulardi” (after whom Anderson later named his production company). Anderson grew up in the San Fernando Valley, as the third youngest of nine children. He had troubled relationship with his mother but was close with his father, who encouraged him to become writer or director. Anderson attended Buckley in Sherman Oaks, John Thomas Dye School, Campbell Hall School, Cushing Academy, and Montclair Prep.

Anderson was involved in filmmaking from a young age, and never really had alternative plan to directing. He made his first film when he was 8, and started making films on a Betamax video camera that his father bought in 1982. He later started using 8 mm film, but realized that video was easier.

He began writing in adolescence, experimenting with Bolex sixteen millimeter camera. After years of experimenting with “standard fare”, he wrote and filmed his first production as a senior in high school at Montclair Prep using money earned from cleaning cages at pet store.

Short: The Dirk Diggler Story (1988)

The film was 30-minute mockumentary shot on video called The Dirk Diggler Story (1988), about a porn star, inspired by John Holmes, who served as major inspiration for Boogie Nights.

Anderson attended Santa Monica College, before spending two semesters as an English major at Emerson College where he was taught by David Foster Wallace, and only two days at New York University before he began his career as production assistant on television, films, music videos and game shows in Los Angeles and New York. The material shown to him at film school turned the experience into “homework or a chore,” Anderson decided to make 20-minute film that would be his “college.”

For $10,000, made up of gambling winnings, his girlfriend’s credit card, and money his father set aside for college, Anderson made Cigarettes & Coffee (1993), a short connecting multiple story lines with a twenty-dollar bill. The film was screened at the 1993 Sundance Festival Shorts. He decided to expand the film into a feature-length film and was subsequently invited to the 1994 Sundance Feature Film Program. Michael Caton-Jones, who served as Anderson’s mentor, saw him as man with “talent and a fully formed creative voice but not much hands-on experience” and gave him some hard and practical lessons.

While at the Sundance Feature Program, Anderson already had deal with Rysher Entertainment to direct his first feature, Sydney, retitled Hard Eight. After completing the film, Rysher re-edited it. Anderson, who still had workprint of his original cut, submitted the film to the 1996 Cannes Film Festival, where it was shown at the Un Certain Regard section.

Anderson managed to get the version released, but only after he retitled the film, and raised $200,000 to finish it; Anderson, Philip Baker Hall, Gwyneth Paltrow and John C. Reilly contributed the funding. The version released was Anderson’s and its acclaim launched his career.

The film follows a senior gambler (Hall), who takes homeless man (Reilly) under his wing, while he becomes romantically involved with troubled waitress (Paltrow). It also featured Philip Seymour Hoffman as an arrogant gambler, beginning a five-film collaboration between the pair.

Anderson completed his next script in 1995, the breakout film Boogie Nights, which is based on his short film The Dirk Diggler Story and is set in the Golden Age of Porn. The film centers on nightclub dishwasher (Mark Wahlberg) who becomes a popular pornographic actor. The script was noticed by New Line Cinema’s president, Michael De Luca, who felt “totally gaga” reading it. It was released on October 10, 1997 and was a critical and commercial success. The film revived the career of Burt Reynolds, and provided breakout roles for Wahlberg and Julianne Moore. After the film’s production, Reynolds refused to star in Anderson’s third film Magnolia.

At the 70th Oscars, the film was nominated for 3 Oscars, including for Best Supporting Actor (Reynolds), Best Supporting Actress (Moore) and Best Original Screenplay.

After the success of Boogie Nights, New Line granted him creative control. Though Anderson initially wanted to make a film that was “intimate and small-scale”, the script “kept blossoming”. The result was the ensemble piece Magnolia (1999), which tells the story of the interaction of several individuals in the San Fernando Valley. Anderson used the music of Aimee Mann as basis and inspiration, commissioning her to write eight new songs.

At the 72nd Oscar, the film was nominated for 3 Awards, including for Best Supporting Actor (Tom Cruise), Best Original Song for “Save Me” by Aimee Mann and Best Original Screenplay.

Anderson stated that “what I really feel is that Magnolia is, for better or worse, the best movie I’ll ever make.”

Anderson liked to work with Adam Sandler, and was determined to make his next film  comparatively shorter length of ninety minutes. The result was the romantic comedy-drama film Punch-Drunk Love (2002), starring Sandler, with Emily Watson portraying his love interest. The story centers on a beleaguered small-business owner with anger issues and seven emasculating sisters. A subplot in the film was partly based on David Phillips (also called The Pudding Guy). Sandler received critical praise in his first major departure from the mainstream comedies that had made him a star.

At the 2002 Cannes Film Fest, Anderson won the Best Director Award and was nominated for the Palme d’Or.

There Will Be Blood (2007), loosely based on Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil!, follows a ruthless silver miner exploiting the Southern California oil boom in the early 20th century. Against a budget of $25 million, the film earned $76.1 million worldwide.

There Will Be Blood received 8 Oscar nominations, tying with No Country for Old Men for the most nominations that year. Anderson was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay, losing all three to the Coen Brothers for No Country for Old Men. Daniel Day-Lewis won the Oscar for Best Actor. Paul Dano received a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Anderson was nominated for Best Director from the Directors Guild of America.

There Will Be Blood was regarded as one of the greatest films of the decade, and one of the most accomplished American films of the modern era.

David Denby wrote “the young writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson has now done work that bears comparison to the greatest achievements of Griffith and Ford,” while Schickel proclaimed it “one of the most wholly original American movies ever made.”

In 2017, New York Times film critics A. O. Scott and Manohla Dargis named it the “Best Film of the 21st Century So Far”.

In December 2009, Anderson was working on a new project about a “charismatic intellectual” who starts a new religion in the 1950s. An associate of Anderson stated that the idea for the film had been in Anderson’s head for about twelve years. The Master was released on September 14, 2012 in North America to critical acclaim. The film follows an alcoholic World War II veteran, who meets the leader of a religious movement known as “The Cause”. Though the film makes no reference to the movement, it has “long been widely assumed to be based on Scientology.”

The film received three nominations at the 85th Oscars, including for Joaquin Phoenix for Best Leading Actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman for Best Supporting Actor and Amy Adams for Best Supporting Actress.

Production of the film adaptation for Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 novel Inherent Vice began in May 2013, and ended in August The film marked the first time that Pynchon allowed his work to be adapted for the screen, and saw Anderson work with Phoenix for a second time. The supporting cast includes Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Jena Malone, Martin Short, Benicio Del Toro, Katherine Waterston and Josh Brolin. After its its release in December 2014, the film received two Oscar nominations, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Costume Design.


Anderson directed Junun, a 2015 documentary about the making of the album by composer and Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, Israeli composer Shye Ben Tzur, and group of Indian musicians. Most performances were recorded at the 15th-century Mehrangarh Fort in the Indian state of Rajasthan. Junun premiered at the 2015 New York Film Festival.

Anderson’s ninth film, Phantom Thread, set in the London fashion industry in 1954, was released in late 2017. The film stars Daniel Day-Lewis in his first acting role since Lincoln in 2012, and his self-proclaimed final performance, following four decades in the profession.

The cast also includes Lesley Manville, Vicky Krieps and Richard Graham.[69] Focus Features distributed the film in US, with Universal handling international distribution. Principal photography began in January 2017. Robert Elswit was absent during production, and despite claims of Anderson acting as his own cinematographer, there is no official credit.

The film received six nominations at the 90th Oscars, winning for Best Costume Design.

His next film was reportedly announced to be “taking place in the 1970s and focuses on a high-school student who is also a successful child actor”, with production set to begin in 2020.

In 2000, Anderson wrote and directed a segment for Saturday Night Live with Ben Affleck, “SNL FANatic”, based on the MTV series FANatic.[77] He was a standby director during the 2005 filming of Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion for insurance purposes, as Altman was 80 years old at the time.[78] In 2008, Anderson co-wrote and directed a 70-minute play at the Largo Theatre, comprising a series of vignettes starring Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen, with a live score by Jon Brion.

Anderson has directed music videos for artists including Fiona Apple, Radiohead, Haim, Joanna Newsom, Aimee Mann, Jon Brion and Michael Penn. Anderson directed a short film for HAIM in 2017, Valentine, featuring three musical performances from the band.[83] In 2019, Anderson directed the short film Anima, starring singer Thom Yorke and featuring music from Yorke’s Anima album.[84] It was screened in select IMAX theatres on June 26 and released on Netflix on June 27.[84]

Anderson attended film school for only two days, preferring to learn the craft by watching films by the filmmakers he liked, as well as watching films accompanied by director’s audio commentary. He has cited Stanley Kubrick, Robert Altman, Jonathan Demme, Martin Scorsese, Orson Welles, Max Ophüls and Robert Downey, Sr., as influences.

In 1999, Anderson met Kubrick on the set of Eyes Wide Shut, thanks to Tom Cruise, who had been cast in Magnolia. Anderson asked Kubrick, “Do you always work with so few people?” Kubrick answered him, “‘Why? How many people do you need?” Because of this, Anderson “felt like such a Hollywood asshole.”

His films are set in San Fernando Valley with realistically flawed and desperate characters. Among the themes dealt with in Anderson’s films are dysfunctional familial relationships, alienation,[86] surrogate families,[90] regret,[86] loneliness,[25] destiny,[7] the power of forgiveness,[6] and ghosts of the past.[25] Anderson makes frequent use of repetition to build emphasis and thematic consistency. In Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love and The Master, the phrase “I didn’t do anything” is used at least once, developing themes of responsibility and denial. Anderson’s films are known for their bold visual style[88] which includes stylistic trademarks such as constantly moving camera,[39][88] steadicam-based long takes,[23][25][95] memorable use of music,[23][39][88] and multilayered audiovisual imagery.[23][95] Anderson also tends to reference the Book of Exodus, either explicitly or subtly, such as in recurring references to Exodus 8:2 in Magnolia,[96] which chronicles the plague of frogs, culminating with the literal raining of frogs in the film’s climax, or the title and themes in There Will Be Blood, a phrase in Exodus 7:19, which details the plague of blood.

In his first 3 films, Hard Eight, Boogie Nights and Magnolia, Anderson explored themes of dysfunctional families, alienation and loneliness.

Boogie Nights and Magnolia were noted for their large ensemble casts,[24][88] which Anderson returned to in Inherent Vice.[99][100] In Punch-Drunk Love, Anderson explored similar themes but expressed a different visual style, shedding the influences and references of his earlier films, being more surreal and having a heightened sense of reality.[86][95] It was also short, compared to his previous two films, at 90 minutes.[24]

There Will Be Blood stood apart from his first four films but shared similar themes and style such as flawed characters, moving camera, memorable music, and a lengthy running time.

The film was more overtly engaged with politics than his previous films had been, examining capitalism and themes such as savagery, optimism, and obsession.  The Master dealt with “ideas about American personality, success, rootlessness, master-disciple dynamics, and father-son mutually assured destruction.” All of his films deal with American themes, with business versus art in Boogie Nights, ambition in There Will Be Blood, and self-reinvention in The Master.

Frequent collaborators

Philip Seymour Hoffman appeared in five of Anderson’s films.
Anderson frequently collaborates with many actors and crew, carrying them over on each films.[104] He has referred to his regular actors as “my little rep company” that has included John C. Reilly, Philip Baker Hall, Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, Melora Walters, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.[105] Luis Guzmán is also considered Anderson’s regular.[106] Hoffman acted in Anderson’s first four films[107] as well as The Master.[108] Except for Paul F. Tompkins, Kevin Breznahan and Jim Meskimen, who all had equally minor roles in Magnolia,[109] There Will Be Blood had an entirely new cast. Anderson is one of three directors – the others being Jim Sheridan and Martin Scorsese – with whom Daniel Day-Lewis has collaborated more than once.

Robert Elswit has been cinematographer for all of Anderson’s films except The Master, which was shot by Mihai Mălaimare Jr. and Phantom Thread which has no credited cinematographer.

Jon Brion served as a composer for Hard Eight, Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love,[112] and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead for every films since.[113] Dylan Tichenor edited Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood and Phantom Thread. Anderson also regularly works with producing partners, JoAnne Sellar, Scott Rudin, Michael De Luca and Daniel Lupi,[116] as well as casting director Cassandra Kulukundis.

Collaborator Role Hard Eight Boogie Nights Magnolia Punch-Drunk Love There Will Be Blood The Master Inherent Vice Phantom Thread Total

Jon Brion Composer Yes Yes Yes Yes 4
Mark Bridges Costume designer, 8
Robert Elswit Cinematographer, 6
Jonny Greenwood Composer Yes Yes Yes Yes 4
Luis Guzmán Actor Yes Yes Yes 3
Philip Baker Hall Actor Yes Yes Yes 3
Philip Seymour Hoffman Actor Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes 5
Leslie Jones Editor Yes Yes Yes 3
Cassandra Kulukundis Casting Director, 6
Daniel Lupi Producer, 8
John C. Reilly Actor Yes Yes Yes 3
JoAnne Sellar Producer Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes 7
Dylan Tichenor Editor Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes 5
Melora Walters Actress Yes Yes Yes Yes 4

Anderson dated Fiona Apple from 1997 to 2002, and the two used ecstasy and cocaine; Apple described him as having a temper and leaving her “fearful and numb,” throwing a chair across the room and shoving her out of his car.

He has been in a long-term relationship with actress and comedian Maya Rudolph since 2001. They live in the San Fernando Valley with their daughters Pearl Minnie (October 2005), Lucille (November 2009), Minnie Ida (born August 2013), and son Jack (July 2011).

Paul Thomas Anderson Filmography

Hard Eight (1996)

Boogie Nights (1997)

Magnolia (1999)

Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

There Will Be Blood (2007)

The Master (2012)

Inherent Vice (2014)

Phantom Thread (2017)

Anderson has been called “one of the most exciting talents to come along in years” and “among the supreme talents of today.” After the release of Boogie Nights and Magnolia, Anderson was praised as a wunderkind.

In 2007, the American Film Institute regarded him as “one of American film’s modern masters.”

In 2012, The Guardian ranked him number one on its list of “The 23 Best Film Directors in the World,” writing “his dedication to his craft has intensified, with his disdain for PR and celebrity marking him out as the most devout filmmaker of his generation.”

In 2013, Entertainment Weekly named him the eighth-greatest working director, calling him “one of the most dynamic directors to emerge in the last 20 years.”

Peter Travers wrote that “The Master, the sixth film from the 42-year-old writer-director, affirms his position as the foremost filmmaking talent of his generation. Anderson is a rock star, the artist who knows no limits.”

In interview with Jan Aghed, Ingmar Bergman referenced Magnolia as an example of the strength of American cinema. Sam Mendes referred to Anderson as “a true auteur, and there are very few of those who I would classify as geniuses”

In his acceptance speech for the Golden Globe Award for Best Director, Ben Affleck compared Anderson to Orson Welles.

As of 2020, Anderson is the only person to win all three director prizes from the three major film festivals (Cannes, Berlin, Venice).

Year Award Category Nominated Work Result
1998 Academy Awards Best Original Screenplay Boogie Nights Nominated
2000 Magnolia Nominated
2008 Best Picture There Will Be Blood NominatedBest Director Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Nominated
2015 Inherent Vice Nominated
2018 Best Picture Phantom Thread Nominated
Best Director Nominated
2008 Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama There Will Be Blood Nominated
1997 British Academy Film Awards Best Original Screenplay Boogie Nights Nominated
2008 Best Film There Will Be Blood Nominated
Best Director Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Nominated
2013 Best Original Screenplay The Master Nominated
1998 Independent Spirit Awards Best First Feature Hard Eight Nominated
Best First Screenplay Nominated
2014 Robert Altman Award Inherent Vice Won
2020 Grammy Awards Best Music Film Anima Nominated
Awards received by Anderson movies

Year Film Academy Awards BAFTA Awards Golden Globe Awards
Nominations Wins Nominations Wins Nominations Wins
1997 Boogie Nights 3 2 2 1
1999 Magnolia 3 2 1
2002 Punch-Drunk Love 1
2007 There Will Be Blood 8 2 9 1 2 1
2012 The Master 3 4 3
2014 Inherent Vice 2 1
2017 Phantom Thread 6 1 4 1 2
Total 25 3 19 2 13 3
Directed Academy Award Performances

Oscar winning and nominated performances:

Academy Award for Best Actor

2007 Daniel Day-Lewis There Will Be Blood Won
2012 Joaquin Phoenix The Master Nominated
2017 Daniel Day-Lewis Phantom Thread Nominated

Best Supporting Actor
1997 Burt Reynolds Boogie Nights Nominated
1999 Tom Cruise Magnolia Nominated
2012 Philip Seymour Hoffman The Master Nominated

Best Supporting Actress
1997 Julianne Moore Boogie Nights Nominated
2012 Amy Adams The Master Nominated
2017 Lesley Manville Phantom Thread Nominated