Critics Count the Ways They Love Phantom Thread

Paul Thomas Anderson’s stunning drama is a top-ten favorite 

As film critics put together their lists of the best movies of 2017, one title shows up over and over again––Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread. Set in the haute couture world of 1950’s London, designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), supported by his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), creates one-of-a-kind dresses that fulfill the fashion dreams of the British elite. But when Woodcock meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), his perfectly tailored life begins to come undone. With an attention to detail equal to his protagonist, Anderson has crafted a cinematic experience that works at nearly every level—story, acting, music, cinematography, etc. In detailing why Phantom Thread is on their best-of list, critics often showcase one aspect of this many-faceted masterpiece, qualities which we explore here.

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The official trailer for Phantom Thread

A love story like none other

Beneath the gorgeous costumes, Phantom Thread tells a complex and compelling love story. In including Phantom Thread on his top-ten list, the Associated Press’ Jake Coyle’s notes, “Its craft is mesmerizing and its couture is high, but don’t let that fool you. This is a very down-to-earth movie about finding your own idiosyncratic love, and getting outside your own head enough to appreciate it.” Scene by scene, the film slowly stitches together an unforgettable romance. It made Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson's top film list because “the delightful Phantom Thread caught me totally, happily off-guard—as all the best love affairs do.”

Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and Alma (Vicky Krieps) in love in Phantom Thread

Powerhouse performances all around

In putting Anderson’s movie on his "Best Films of 2017," The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy highlights the “excellence of his leads (Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville)” among other things. While nearly every critic has praised Daniel Day-Lewis, Newsweek’s Zach Schonfeld specifically names his “quietly superb” turn as Reynolds Woodcock as one of the best performances of the year. And his costar Vicky Krieps was not overlooked. IndieWire listed her “quiet dignity” as Alma as one of the “Best Female Movie Performances of 2017.” 

Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps' stunning performances in Phantom Thread

A winning score

In addition to its sumptuous images, the film has been generously praised for its memorable music. In making Phantom Thread one of his “10 Best Movies of 2017,” Vulture’s David Edelstein singled out how “Jonny Greenwood’s string-and-piano heavy score scales the heights of romanticism.” Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips added the film to his list for having “the year’s finest film music courtesy of Jonny Greenwood.”

Crafted to perfection

In putting Phantom Thread on their best-of list, many critics made the apt comparison between Woodcock’s immaculately tailored gowns and Anderson’s stunning demonstration of cinematic craft. Adding it to the Los Angeles Times’ list of “12 best films of 2017,” Justin Chang praises “Anderson’s exquisite chamber piece, a tribute to vintage romantic melodramas that also happens to be one of the most beautifully controlled movies I’ve ever seen about the limits of control.” IndieWire’s Eric Kohn made it a top ten by heralding its director’s skill: “Anderson’s most accessible work in years is proof of a filmmaker operating at the height of his powers.” 

Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Thomas Anderson crafting Phantom Thread

An object of beauty

In a film about the pursuit of beauty, many praised Phantom Thread’s visual style. As one of his "Best Films of 2017," Esquire’s Nick Schager marveled at the film's cinematic look: “Marked by lithe tracking shots, piercing close-ups, sumptuous transitional fades, and evocative use of Jonny Greenwood’s classical score, Anderson’s film is nothing short of breathtaking.” Phantom Thread made the Verge’s Tasha Robinson’s top-film list for being “a visually stunning film about fashion, elitism, snobbery, possessiveness, and the ego of an artist.”

Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) makes beautiful things in Phantom Thread.

A breathtaking cinematic experience

For many critics, it was not one thing, but the entire experience of watching Phantom Thread that made it so praiseworthy. In naming it as one of his top films, The New York Times’ A.O. Scott writes of its mystery: “It awakens other appetites, longings that are too often neglected: for beauty, for strangeness, for the delirious, heedless pursuit of perfection.” Salon’s Max Cea explained that Phantom Thread was “number one in my heart” for its emotional power: “I left the theater swooning... the film’s texture is everything — the wood, the wallpaper, the breakfasts, Daniel Day-Lewis’s smooth voice as Reynolds Woodcock, Jonny Greenwood’s gentle piano score; it’s all silky, velvety, luscious.”

Alma (Vicky Krieps) creates a sensation in Phantom Thread.

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