Let's just take a moment to discuss one of the greatest love stories of all time. It's called The Collaboration of Paul Thomas Anderson and Robert Elswit, ASC. See back in 1995 these two teamed up for the first time to shoot Anderson's feature "Sydney". The film itself could be reduced to foreplay, the real sparks not igniting until two years later when they collaborated again and Boogie Nights was born. This was followed by Magnolia. Their most recent collaboration was There Will Be Blood. Also, clearly epic. What's so great about them? So glad you asked.
1.) The writing, the lighting, the shots, the acting, the content, the audio, the music, the composition, the execution. In every way that a film can succeed, they all do. Glad that's out of the way.
2.) I love watching films and being able to see through the director's influences. I don't think its cheap, I don't think it's necessarily unoriginal. Boogie Nights pays homage to one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, and upon seeing the film, even he didn't catch onto it. That man is Martin Scorsese. Both the opening and closing scenes of the film are inspired from memorable Scorsese features. The single long shot through the discotheque, landing on the exchanges of various characters we would meet again calls up a certain moment in Goodfellas. Dirk Diggler psyching himself up in front of the brightly lit vanity is reminiscent of a certain Raging Bull opener. (If we're on the subjec, I'll throw this out there: Punch drunk Love would be his Spike Jonze picture, Magnolia would be his Robert Altman piece, and There Will Be Blood would be his Kubrick).
3.) There Will Be Blood would be my top film of the decade, hands down. It's a masterpiece. It's visually stunning, it's artistic, it's over the top, even obnoxious at times, and yet in all the right places. I watched this film with the sound off once and it was incredible.
4.) Magnolia has one of my favorite shots. It's so simple but every time I see it I just really love it. It takes place in a bar, William H. Macy is in love with Brad the bartender and sits lonely in a corner booth feeling sorry for himself. The shot starts at the bar and tracks though the restaurant, lands on Macy, and falls perfectly into a dutch tilt imitating his mood perfectly. It's a great capture. We could even revisit the whole Director's influence topic and bring up Robert Altman's "Short Cuts". Clearly one lay the ground work for the next, PTA just happens to know how to kick ass and pay homage all at the same time. And the long single shot through the network building. Crafty.
I've never seen PTA work without Elswit. I have however seen Elswit work with others and it's just not as good. Almost vacant. These two just just keep doing what they do.
It's simple math. Awesome + Awesome= Awesome.