I watched Punch Drunk Love today, and I'll have a review of that tomorrow, but in looking online, I came across a really interesting quote from PTA.
"I have a feeling, one of those gut feelings, that I'll make pretty good movies the rest of my life. And maybe I'll make some clunkers, maybe I'll make some winners, but I guess the way that I really feel is that Magnolia is, for better or worse, the best movie I'll ever make."
- Paul Thomas Anderson
This is something I'd definitely agree with, but I find it interesting that PTA himself views Magnolia as sort of the pinnacle of his style, and despite being so young, he basically feels that he could never top it. Most directors do a bunch of movies and then do what I'd call their 'compilation movie,' a film that features all their stylistic tricks, the unique things that make a film theirs. For David Lynch, this was Mulholland Dr., with its 50s style heroine, red curtains, lip synching performers, blonde/brunette dichotomy, etc. For Tim Burton, it's The Nightmare Before Christmas, for Wong Kar-Wai it's 2046. These are the films that so immersed in the director's style, it basically means that they have to make a radical change with their next project.
Magnolia does this for PTA, it takes the style he'd developed in Boogie Nights and brings it to the extreme. In this one film he defines his style and makes any future explorations with it irrelevant. Magnolia is such a singular entity that to go back and make another big ensemble movie would be nearly impossible. It took Robert Altman 18 years to follow up Nashville with Short Cuts, and it could take just as long for PTA to go back to the style of film that defined him.
So, with Punch Drunk Love, I doubt he expected to top Magnolia, that's just too big a task. Magnolia is one of those transcendent films where everything comes together and works. I never expected PTA to top Magnolia, but I find it interesting that he agrees with me there. Is that a bit disheartening, yeah, but I think it's PTA being realistic and that I respect.