Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread” unravels a farewell to Daniel Day-Lewis

Another day, another embargo lifts for a high profile December release hoping to make an Oscar play. Today, it’s Phantom Thread, the second collaboration between filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson and actor Daniel Day-Lewis. With Day-Lewis claiming that he’s retiring and that this is his final on screen appearance, the movie has an added bit of prestige to it. Anderson films always have that luster, but this classy outing doubles down on it. PTA and DDL made something special together last time around with There Will Be Blood. Since then, Anderson has challenged audiences with The Master and Inherent Vice, while Day-Lewis won another Academy Award with Lincoln. Able to speak freely, I must admit to being a bit puzzled by this new work. Still, it will generate plenty of discussion.

Plot wise, let me start here with what IMDb lists as the description: “Set in the glamour of 1950’s post-war London, renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) are at the center of British fashion, dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites, debutants and dames with the distinct style of The House of Woodcock. Women come and go through Woodcock’s life, providing the confirmed bachelor with inspiration and companionship, until he comes across a young, strong-willed woman, Alma (Vicky Krieps), who soon becomes a fixture in his life as his muse and lover. Once controlled and planned, he finds his carefully tailored life disrupted by love..” That’s accurate, if a gross simplification. Reynolds and Alma are an oil and water mixture that somehow fall in love. How he treats her and how she responds do subvert expectations, but this isn’t the film you think it is. Manville gets the other main part, playing Reynolds’ sister and business partner Cyril. Anderson writes and directs (plus does the uncredited cinematography), while other small parts here go to the likes of George Glasgow, Brian Gleeson, Gina McKee, Camilla Rutherford, and more. Jonny Greenwood outdoes himself with the score here.

Personally, this is a hard film to love. It’s easy to admire, with top notch performances, visuals, costume design, and a score to die for. That being said, it’s somewhat cold and impenetrable, which is problematic when doing a love story. Day-Lewis is more subdued than usual, though Krieps is a true discovery. She deserves to see her star rise. Anderson is experimenting here, no question about it. He just isn’t making anything that exciting. Honestly, I left my press screening a few weeks ago wanting more. Perhaps that’s just a case of overly heightened expectations? That’s a distinct possibility, I’ll concede that.

Phantom Thread has shown up here and there already on the precursor circuit, so Oscar could easily take notice of it. An across the board campaign is being launched, with Best Picture, Best Director (for Anderson), Best Actor (for Day-Lewis), Best Actress (for Krieps), Best Supporting Actress (for Manville), Best Original Screenplay (also for Anderson), Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Score getting pushed. Anderson has been showing up in Screenplay categories already, so Original Screenplay could easily happen. As for Day-Lewis, you have to believe he’ll slide right into a nomination in Actor, at least. Everything else is a question mark though, at least right now.

Here is how I would rank Day-Lewis’ ten best performances:

10. The Age of Innocence
9. The Ballad of Jack and Rose
8. The Crucible
7. The Boxer
6. Phantom Thread
5. In the Name of the Father
4. My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown
3. There Will Be Blood
2. Lincoln
1. Gangs of New York

Here also is how I would rank Anderson’s filmography to date:

8. Phantom Thread
7. Inherent Vice
6. Hard Eight
5. There Will Be Blood
4. The Master
3. Punch Drunk Love
2. Boogie Nights
1. Magnolia

Audiences won’t be seeing Phantom Thread until late December. Still, December 25th will be here before you know it, and while Christmas is a time for plenty of other things, it will also be a time to bid farewell to Day-Lewis. If he truly is retiring, Anderson has given him an unusual send off. Oscar voters may be puzzled by this one, but if they’re not, we could see the Academy make a real fuss over this one. Time will tell. In the meantime, sit tight for more on Phantom Thread. The week of release, there will be more to talk about. Until then, look to my predictions for hints as to how it’s doing…

Stay tuned for plenty more on Phantom Thread between now and its upcoming Christmas Day release date!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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