At 53 years old, Paul Thomas Anderson has this physical status:
Anderson attended Santa Monica College before enrolling and 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 a production assistant on television, films, music videos, and game shows in Los Angeles and New York City. Feeling that the material shown to him at film school turned the experience into "homework or a chore", Anderson decided to make a 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 him for college, Anderson made Cigarettes & Coffee (1993), a short film connecting multiple story lines with a $20 bill. The film was screened at the 1993 Sundance Festival Shorts Program. He decided to expand the film to feature-length, and was invited to the 1994 Sundance Feature Film Program. Michael Caton-Jones served as Anderson's mentor. He saw Anderson as someone 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 Film program, Anderson already had a deal with Rysher Entertainment to direct his first full-length feature, Sydney, retitled Hard Eight. After completing the film, Rysher re-edited it. Anderson, who still had the 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 the $200,000 necessary to finish it. Anderson, Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly and Gwyneth Paltrow contributed to the final funding. The version that was released was Anderson's and the acclaim from the film launched his career. The film follows a senior gambler, who takes a homeless man under his wing, while he becomes romantically involved with a troubled waitress. It also featured Philip Seymour Hoffman as an arrogant gambler, beginning a five-film collaboration between the pair. In his review of the film, Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert wrote, "Movies like Hard Eight remind me of what original, compelling characters the movies can sometimes give us."
Anderson worked on the script for his second feature film during his troubles with Hard Eight, and completed it in 1995. The result was his 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 follows a nightclub dishwasher (Mark Wahlberg) who becomes a popular pornographic actor under his stage name. 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 Academy Awards, the film was nominated for three awards, including for Best Supporting Actor (Reynolds), Best Supporting Actress (Moore), and Best Original Screenplay.
After the success of Boogie Nights, New Line told Anderson that he could do whatever he wanted for his next film, and granted him creative control. Though Anderson initially wanted to make a film that was "intimate and small-scale", the script "kept blossoming". The resulting film was the ensemble piece Magnolia (1999), which tells the story of the peculiar interaction of several individuals in the San Fernando Valley. Anderson used the music of Aimee Mann as a basis and inspiration for the film, commissioning her to write eight new songs. At the 72nd Academy Awards, the film was nominated for three Academy Awards, including for Best Supporting Actor (Tom Cruise), Best Original Song for "Save Me" by Aimee Mann, and Best Original Screenplay. Anderson stated after the film's release, "what I really feel is that Magnolia is, for better or worse, the best movie I'll ever make."
After the success of Magnolia, Anderson stated that he would like to work with Adam Sandler in the future, and that he was determined to make his next film a comparatively shorter length of 90 minutes. The resulting feature 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 for his role in his first major departure from the mainstream comedies that had made him a star. At the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, Anderson won the Best Director Award and was nominated for the Palme d'Or.
There Will Be Blood (2007) was loosely based on Upton Sinclair's novel Oil!. It 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 eight Academy Award 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 and Robert Elswit won the prize for Best Cinematography. 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 by some critics as one of the greatest films of the decade, with some parties further declaring it one of the most accomplished American films of the modern era. David Denby of The New Yorker wrote, "the young writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson has now done work that bears comparison to the greatest achievements of Griffith and Ford", while Richard 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's stated that the idea for the film had been in Anderson's head for about 12 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 Academy Awards, 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 and ended in August 2013. The film marked the first time that Pynchon allowed his work to be adapted for the screen, and had 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. Following its release in December 2014, the film received two nominations at the 87th Academy Awards, including for 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 a group of Indian musicians. Most of the performances were recorded at the 15th-century Mehrangarh Fort in Rajasthan. Junun premiered at the 2015 New York Film Festival.
Anderson's eighth feature film, Phantom Thread, set in the London fashion industry in 1954, was released in late 2017. Day-Lewis starred in his final film role to date, after starring in his penultimate film Lincoln. The cast also includes Lesley Manville, Vicky Krieps and Richard Graham. Focus Features distributed the film in the United States, with Universal handling international distribution. Principal photography began in January 2017. Elswit was absent during production, and despite claims of Anderson acting as a cinematographer on the film, no official credit was given. On February 16, 2019, Elswit stated he would not work with Anderson on his next films. The film received six nominations at the 90th Academy Awards, winning one for Best Costume Design.
His next film was announced to be produced by Focus Features on December 18, 2019. On July 17, 2020, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer replaced Focus as the film's production company. The film takes place in the 1970s and is about a high school-aged actor, with production having begun in August 2020. The film, called Licorice Pizza, had finished principal photography by November 2020, with post-production having begun. On April 20, 2021, it was announced that the film was set for a limited release on November 26 and a wide release on December 25. Licorice Pizza received three Academy Award nominations, including for Best Picture and Best Director.
In 2000, Anderson wrote and directed a segment for Saturday Night Live with Ben Affleck, "SNL FANatic", based on the MTV series FANatic. 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. 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. In 2019, Anderson directed the short film Anima, starring singer Thom Yorke and featuring music from Yorke's Anima album. It was screened in select IMAX theatres on June 26 and released on Netflix on June 27.