Movie review: Oscar-nominated 'Phantom Thread' now on Netflix

Fred Hawson

Posted at Apr 03 2020 03:27 PM

Movie review: Oscar-nominated 'Phantom Thread' now on Netflix 1
Daniel Day-Lewis stars in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 'Phantom Thread'

Of all the nine nominees for the Best Picture Oscar in 2018, this was the one that had the least buzz before the fateful announcement last January 23, 2018. The only news I heard about this film was that this was supposedly going to be the last film of its lead actor, Daniel Day-Lewis. But apparently, it was way more than just that. "Phantom Thread" was nominated not only for Best Picture, but also for Best Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Score, and expectedly, Costume Design.

It was the 1950s in London. Reynolds Woodcock is the couturier of the rich and famous ladies. He is an avowed bachelor, a strict stickler to his daily routines, with an obsessive eye for perfection based on his own high standards. He is deeply loyal to the memory of his departed mother and dependent on his spinster sister Cyril to manage the business side of his fashion label.

One day, Reynolds met Alma, a tall lissome waitress of uncertain foreign origin in a countryside restaurant. Alma eventually becomes Reynold's constant inspiration, until a testy kind of love developed between them. Reynolds' highbrow fastidiousness and Alma's easygoing simplicity were not a match made in heaven. Alma decides she needs to do something drastic to make Reynolds realize her value, even if it meant hurting him.

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Whether this is really Daniel Day-Lewis' last film or not, he gave a memorable performance here of a man with a difficult and flawed personality, the exact sort of character which Oscar loves to reward. Day-Lewis is the only actor who had won the Best Actor Oscar three times before: "My Left Foot" (1989), "There Will Be Blood" (2007), and "Lincoln" (2012). BAFTA also rewarded him for the same three roles, but added one more Best Actor award for "Gangs of New York" (2002). He may not have won in 2018, but his nomination was very much deserved. Not many actors could pull off playing such an unlikable man like Reynolds Woodcock with so much external charm and internal conflict.

Alma is played by Vicky Krieps, an Luxembourgian actress in her English language film debut. She had the right look for the part, with a lingering elegance when she wears those beautiful evening gowns, the perfect model and muse. With her delicate restrained portrayal, we felt the frustration of her character as she tried to live with this challenging conundrum of a man whom she loved. She ably provided the stark contrast as required.

Lesley Manville earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for playing Cyril Woodcock, Reynolds' formidbale elder sister whom he cannot live without. She manages all aspects of Reynolds' life to keep his mind clear for his artistry. Each scene with her had considerable tension, especially those with Cyril imposing herself between Reynolds and Alma. It is just too bad that her screen time was not as much than I was expecting.

There are two technical categories which I feel "The Phantom Thread" should really figure in prominently. The original score of Jonny Greenwood is lush orchestral or piano music with a Baroque flavor which pervades every scene. This type of music was something I did not expect from Greenwood, who is better known as the guitarist of Radiohead. As would be expected for a film about couture, the elegant costume designs of Mark Bridges are front and center in every scene.

Paul Thomas Anderson first gained prominence for writing and directing "Boogie Nights" (1997), and since then, all his films became cinematic events met with critical acclaim: "Magnolia" (1999), "Punch Drunk Love" (2002), "There Will Be Blood" (2007), "The Master" (2012), now this one. He missed a Screenplay nod this year, but he gained his second Best Director nomination.

In "Phantom Thread," Anderson foisted upon us a problematic relationship, where the toxicity of one's personality could only be countered by a toxicity of a more literal sort. It may not sound so good on paper, but on the screen it was as nail-biting as it was mesmerizing. That is what a good director can do.

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."