Phantom Thread’s six Oscar nominations are a big surprise, especially considering its late (end of year) release date and its absence from many of the awards that preceded the Oscar Nomination announcements on January 23. Writer/Director Paul Thomas Anderson is a bit obsessive, and his attention to detail when he makes a movie is maniacal. I have sometimes found his films a bit indulgent, overlong and overdone in the past, but they are always interesting and immersive. Anderson’s characters’ tend to be Obsessive/Compulsive, ironically mimicking their creators own proclivities. In Phantom Thread, Daniel Day Lewis is Reynolds Woodcock a famous clothes designer and celebrity dress maker living and working in London in the 1950’s.
Reynolds is a fussy, demanding, chilly perfectionist who often relies on young female muses who inspire him and also share his bed. Shortly after the film begins his sister, Cyril, played by Oscar nominee Lesley Manville, recommends that he find a replacement for the current muse, as the situation seems to be getting messy and more work than its worth. Manville, who has done great work for decades brilliantly underplays, but still commands every scene she is in as Reynolds’ controlling, manipulative frosty business partner. She steely runs the business side of things, and is her brother’s closest confidant. Manville’s nomination was a big surprise, especially since she was absent from both the SAG and Golden Globe nominations. However, no one seems to be unhappy that she was nominated. She is terrific.
A random encounter with waitress Alma (played by Vicky Krieps) brings Woodcock his latest muse. Alma, played by Krieps, a Belgium born actress who has worked mainly in Europe, at first is awash with naivety, humility and submissiveness. However, the subservient role soon wears thin on her, and when she attempts romance and the guise of a normal relationship and is met with Reynolds' icy resolve, she takes matters into her own hands. She is much cagier than she looks and Krieps never overplays her hand and so many of the Alma’s layers, motivations and intentions remain both ambiguous and ambivalent.
Daniel Day Lewis once again delivers and demonstrates why he has a reputation as one of the best film actors of all time. Lewis, even when playing someone as formidable as Woodcock, never seems to be acting, he just seems to “be.” When Lewis works as Reynolds; sewing, measuring, cutting and designing Day Lewis is completely credible, as if he had been doing it all his life. Daniel Day Lewis is so astonishing, it is nearly impossible to imagine him in his last Oscar nominated role, in Lincoln. But it is the same actor, and rumors of this being his last performance is enough to send me into mourning.
While watching Phantom Thread, I felt the middle could have used a little more conflict, the film sometimes feels like it is just satisfied inhabiting the world of 1950’s dresses, interiors and the lush Oscar nominated score by Jonny Greenwood – my favorite of the year. Even with this slight lapse of drama, the film is compelling. It has a slow intoxicating effect, not a knock down drunk, but a slow burn which sucks you in unexpectedly, but devastatingly. The film is fantastic to look at and listen to and you won’t soon forget the dynamics of the unconventional relationship between Woodcock and Alma. The beauty of their world is in stark contrast to the darkness that lies underneath.