10. The Master
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Ambyr Childers, Jesse Plemons, Laura Dern, Rami Malek
Paul Thomas Anderson doesn't make easily consumed films. Even at his most accessible (see: Boogie Nights or Punch-Drunk Love), he's an ambitious storyteller who's interested in writing contemplative and complex scripts anchored by multifaceted characters. The Master—the always challenging Anderson's most divisive movie to date—stands as the ultimate example of Anderson's singular sensibilities. It's cold, enigmatic, unconventionally structured, and altogether dreamlike. Fortunately, it's also brilliant, and, sadly, a source of widespread misunderstanding and rejection.
One can't blame viewers for leaving the film feeling either drained or negatively chilled. Inspired by the origins of Scientology, The Master centers on the combustible Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix, in the year's best performance next to Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln), a troubled drifter who difficultly connects on an emotional level with a jovial yet manipulative cult leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman, another marvelous performance).
Theirs is a strong, somewhat impenetrable bond that Anderson never sugarcoats or trivializes—not all friendships have happy endings or thrive on simple commonalities, and the writer-director commendably presents their complicated union with bewildering ambiguity.