This weekend brings one of the biggest events of any cinephile’s year: a new movie from Paul Thomas Anderson. Licorice Pizza, the writer-director’s ’70s-set comedy of puppy-love infatuation, is already earning glowing reviews from the critics, though it will be another few weeks before most of the country can dip into this digressive, meandering portrait of the San Fernando Valley of its maker’s youth. That the movie is earning raves should, of course, be no real surprise to anyone who’s been following Anderson’s career since he burst into the international movie-lover’s eye in the mid-’90s. Pretty much every one of Anderson’s features is, to one degree or another, cherished. He’s the rare filmmaker of any nationality or generation who seems to inspire something relatively close to consensus admiration each time at bat.
Where fans will naturally disagree is on the matter of preference within that filmography. You could poll 10 different Anderson aficionados and probably get 10 different opinions on what qualifies as his best and worst (though, actually, you’d probably see some general agreement on the worst). All of which is to say, the ranking that follows is really nothing more than one writer’s opinion; were even one other critic to contribute to it, the results might be radically different. Truthfully, all of Anderson’s movies are worthwhile–even his doodle of a hour-long music documentary, Junun, which we’ve decided to exclude from the hierarchy. Hell, even this critic might disagree with his own rankings on a different day. That’s the nature of assessing an artist as consistently rewarding as PT Anderson: He makes the very concept of a “favorite” an opinion in perpetual progress, as slippery as the psychologies of his characters.