Creator of the ensemble dramas Boogie Nights and Magnolia and the dizzy romantic comedy Punch-Drunk Love, Paul Thomas Anderson (far left, with Daniel Day-Lewis) is one of America's most stirring, unpredictable filmmakers, and his newest effort is that rarest of Hollywood creatures: the product of a singular, uncompromising artistic vision.
The thudding heart of There Will Be Blood—which is loosely adapted from Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel Oil!—is Daniel Day-Lewis's astonishing turn as Plainview, a coolly calculating prospector who buys up petroleum-rich Texas land on the cheap, with his angelic son always by his side. A performance this preternaturally vivid borders on body snatching; still, Paul Dano holds his own as the young preacher who becomes Plainview's nemesis. But the film is more than great acting: There's the gliding grace of the camera work, the sensational production design—from the bone-rattling heft of machinery to the landscape's muck and grit—and the galvanizing soundtrack, which mixes original compositions by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood with Brahms and Estonian composer Arvo Pärt.
There Will Be Blood gives us an antihero for the ages, an increasingly ruthless competitor whose ambitions spin into calamitous overdrive. (The title, by the way, is no empty threat.) It isn't a reassuring film, or a familiar one—and that's only part of its genius and its thrill.
Siblings Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Wendy (Laura Linney) both have a passion for drama: He teaches theater studies; she's a would-be playwright and occasional fabulist. But there's no script to guide them when their estranged father (Philip Bosco) begins sinking into senility. Director Tamara Jenkins's mordant drama squarely confronts the pain and helplessness an adult child experiences as she watches a parent slip away, and Linney has one of her best roles yet: As the lovable and infuriating Wendy, she can invest a line like "We are horrible, horrible, horrible people" with layers of shock, sadness, and hilarity all at once.
With inky, often noirlike animation and a voluptuous piano-and-strings score, Persepolis adapts Marjane Satrapi's graphic novels of life in her native Iran before and after the 1979 revolution and her sorrowful European exile from her home and family. The everyday terror instilled by an oppressive political regime is chillingly evident, but much like The Savages, Persepolis digs out offbeat humor wherever it can—as in an aerobicized, off-key rendition of the Rocky III theme, "Eye of the Tiger."