4. Paul Thomas Anderson
PTA, still only 42, is a problem case: His first two films Hard Eight, a mean little noir set in Las Vegas, and the classic 1970s epic Boogie Nights, made him a force, a filmmaker who could design characters as well as the best playwrights while combining music and pictures to make scintillating cinema.
Inspired by Robert Altman’s multi-character pieces, he employs a fluidity of camera movement and creates a broad canvas with exacting concentration and dedication. Enter a Paul Thomas Anderson film, and you’re engulfed and awed. Yet he has now made three films (or four, if you count Magnolia and its Tom Cruise character) about rage-fueled misfits — Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood and now this fall’s The Master. All three films are mesmerizing character studies, and the latter two feel as firmly grounded in their settings as anything you’ve ever seen, but they all end with the equivalent of a shrug. If Anderson returns to this theme again, it may start to feel old.