This weekend brings one of the biggest events of the year for any movie buff: a new Paul Thomas Anderson movie. Liquorice pizza, the 70s screenwriter-director’s comedy about puppy love crush, is here earning rave reviews critics, though it will be a few weeks before most of the country can immerse itself in this digressive and meandering portrait of the San Fernando Valley of its creator’s youth. That the film is garnering praise, of course, should come as no surprise to anyone who has been following Anderson’s career since it first burst into the eyes of international film lovers in the mid-1990s. Virtually all of Anderson’s characteristics are appreciated, to one degree or another. He’s the rare filmmaker of any nationality or generation who seems to inspire something relatively close to consensus awe every time he plays at bat.
Where the fans naturally disagree it is a matter of preference within that filmography. You could poll 10 different Anderson fans and probably get 10 different opinions on what qualifies as the best and the worst (although, in reality, you would probably see some general agreement on the worst). All of which is to say that the classification that follows is nothing more than a writer’s opinion; if there were some other critic contributing to it, the results could be radically different. Truth be told, all of Anderson’s films are worth it, even his scrawl of an hour-long music documentary, Junun, which we have decided to exclude from the hierarchy. Hell, even this reviewer might disagree with his own ranking on a different day. That is the nature of evaluating an artist as consistently rewarding as PT Anderson: it makes the very concept of a “favorite” an ever-evolving opinion, as elusive as the psychologies of its characters.