Paul Thomas Anderson

Directors in the Oscar race

There’s no spontaneous singing or frogs falling from the sky in Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood.” But this intimate epic — about greed and false prophets set in turn-of-the-century California and based on Upton Sinclair’s 1927 tome “Oil!” — comes as just as much of a surprise from the 37-year-old iconoclast. Unlike Anderson’s layered, multicharacter studies “Hard Eight,” “Boogie Nights” and three-time Oscar nominee “Magnolia,” “Blood” focuses more singularly on Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), a black-gold maverick who devotes his life to beating his competitors — and small-town preacher (Paul Dano), no matter the cost to his son or his sanity. If there are any similarities to Anderson’s last film, the eccentric romantic comedy “Punch Drunk Love,” they exist only in the angry outbursts and bold artistic choices that have continually marked the helmer’s career.

GENESIS: After “Punch Drunk Love,” Anderson says he felt “the world was full of possibilities,” but he can’t pinpoint the exact birth of the project. “It’s like you’ve written enough and there’s enough good scenes in a row that there’s a point of no return.”

VISION: “I didn’t want to be tied down with storyboards,” he explains. “We were working from research material of what a derrick and the town looked like, and we never made allowances for what a camera might do. It’s one of the nice things about shooting in a desert location: You’re just struggling for survival, because it’s hot, it’s fucking dusty, and you don’t have time to think.”

CHALLENGES: “I wouldn’t say there was anything tremendously difficult that we didn’t relish, that wasn’t fun,” he says. “But I’m Pollyannaish about that. I always look back and think, ‘That was fun,’ and everyone else is like, ‘That was a fucking nightmare.’ ”

MAGIC: The scene in which an oil derrick goes ablaze, “because you’re lighting something on fire and there’s thousands of gallons of diesel fuel and there’s going to be a match lit, but as much you prepare yourself, you can’t imagine how hot it was and how beautiful it was.”

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