You can’t get more of a high-faluting prestige picture than Paul Thomas Anderson’s eighth film, PHANTOM THREAD. Sure, THE POST comes close as it had a roster of Oscar winners both in front and behind the camera, but PHANTOM THREAD boasts what’s billed as “the final performance of Daniel Day-Lewis.”
Earlier this week, Day-Lewis earned his sixth Academy Award nomination (he’s won three times) for Best Lead Actor, while the film got nods for Anderson for Best Director (his second for direction; he’s also been nominated for Screenplay four times, but hasn’t won for either category), Lesley Manville for Best Supporting Actress for, Jonny Greenwood for Score, Mark Bridges for Costume Design, and, the big one, Best Picture.
By contrast THE POST only got two noms, but, despite one being Best Picture, and the other being Meryl Streep for Best Lead Actress, they seem pretty obligatory.
But enough about how much this movie out-prestiges that movie, let’s get to what it’s about. PHANTOM THREAD is a pristine period piece set in high society London in the ‘50s about the romance, or lack thereof, between Day-Lewis as a control freak dressmaker named Reynolds Woodcock, and a much younger woman, a waitress named Alma Elson played by Vicky Krieps.
Reynolds and Alma spend their somewhat timid courtship with him taking her measurements for elaborate dresses, under the watchful eye of his sister Cyril (Manville).
Alma nervously tries to please Reynolds, but she has to walk on eggshells around his creative process. In one instance, she brings him tea when he’s working, and she gets scolded. Alma quickly leaves, as Reynold angrily admonishes, “Yes, you can take the tea out but the interruption is staying right here with me!”
So the relationship between Day-Lewis’ Reynolds and Krieps’ Alma is a prickly one – I mean, he gets mad if she butters her toast too loud at breakfast – and it goes in a disturbing direction when Alma starts to mix poisonous mushrooms into his food.
Baring thematic similarities to such subtle old timey dark thriller romances like George Cukor’s REBECCA, and Alfred Hitchcock’s REBECCA and MARNIE, PHANTOM THREAD is a spare, elegant and somewhat odd experience. I admired it, but didn’t feel much of an emotional connection to it. The acting by Day-Lewis is impeccable, as is Kriep’s, who should’ve been nominated as she holds her own with the acting legend lead, but this look into these sad peoples’ lives fell short of being illuminating for me.
Perhaps I haven’t fully processed it yet. Anderson is one of my favorite filmmakers, and I know there are layers to his work that can take a bit to seep in like in his first collaboration with Day-Lewis, the stellar THERE WILL BE BLOOD (it took a second viewing of that to fully appreciate it), and his last film, INHERENT VICE (the same), so I’d be up for seeing it again.
One takeaway I can relay is that PHANTOM THREAD is a very white movie. And that’s not because it doesn’t have a black character in it (though that is a factor). It’s bathed in hazy white lighting, has many white dresses on display, there are walls of bricks painted white, and many big white spaces dominate the screen. Anderson, who did his own cinematography, has fashioned a beautiful looking picture immaculate frame by immaculate frame – a very white, clean, and, yes, very prestige-y picture.
As for its Oscar chances, I’m not thinking Day-Lewis is going to win a fourth Oscar here (I think it’s Gary Oldman’s year), but if he does I won’t protest because his portrayal is definitely up there with the other roles he’s won Oscars for (again, three!).
Otherwise, I doubt this will get the big one – Best Picture, and, right now, I’m not feeling Best Director, nor Best Supporting Actress (though Manville puts in a sharp performance). The piano-driven score, by frequent Anderson collaborator, Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, has a better chance, but when it comes to Best Costume Design, I’m betting Mark Bridges will be hard to beat.