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Paul Thomas Anderson Couldn’t Believe His Eyes While Watching ‘Dunkirk’: ‘How the F*ck Did Nolan Do That?’

The "Phantom Thread" director also praised "Lady Bird," "Get Out," and "The Shape of Water" during a talk at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

Paul Thomas Anderson

Paul Thomas Anderson

Rob Latour/REX/Shutterstock

Paul Thomas Anderson was just as floored by Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” as you were by it. The “Phantom Thread” director recently attended the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (via Collider) and he couldn’t help but rave about the movies made by his fellow Oscar nominees for Best Director. Anderson and Nolan have long been friends thanks to their shared love of celluloid over digital, so of course Anderson saw “Dunkirk” in 70mm and was totally blown away.

“I always get to see Chris’ films in the optimal setting, hot off the presses,” Anderson said. “I just remember thinking that, as many times as you’ve done this, there’s no greater pleasure than sitting in a movie theater now and saying, ‘How the fuck did he do that?!’ That was every single moment [with ‘Dunkirk’], really.”

Anderson had a similar reaction while watching Best Actress nominee Saoirse Ronan in Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird”: “You see this Irish actress be somebody from California, and more specifically from Sacramento, and you go, ‘How did she do that?!’ That’s the best feeling, when you see a magic trick in front of you and all the things you know about being a director go away.”

It turns out Anderson responded intensely to a lot of this year’s Best Actress nominees, especially Sally Hawkins in Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water.” When asked about his reaction to del Toro’s 13-time Oscar nominee, Anderson went straight to Hawkins, who plays the mute custodial worker at the film’s center.

“The first thing I think of, when I think of Guillermo’s film is Sally Hawkins and her performance,” Anderson said. “I’ve felt, for so long, that there she was, right in front of our faces. I wondered who was going to be the person to grab her and put her where she needed to be, and the most memorable thing about that film is seeing her, front and center.”

As for Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” Anderson had a strange reaction. The director was filming “Phantom Thread” in London at the time and so watching Peele’s social thriller ironically made him homesick. More importantly, it provided him with a creative spark when he needed it most.

“I got to see [Peele’s] movie in the middle of shooting, in winter in London, when I really needed a lifeline and I needed something to inspire me,” Anderson said. “I was cold and I didn’t think we were doing well, and I took myself to the movies on Sunday night. I was an enormous fan of everything he’d done in television, but the film inspired me so deeply and hugely. It was also a connection back to my country, as peculiar as that connection might be. It actually ironically made me homesick.”

Fortunately, Anderson’s fellow nominees also love “Phantom Thread.” Nolan was at Santa Barbra as well and revealed that he took his children to see Anderson’s new film. He raved about watching “Phantom Thread” in 70mm.

“The thing I found out about it, as it opened up on its photo-chemical version, is that I was suddenly very aware of how the use of sound in the film is extraordinary,” Nolan said. “It’s simple and gritty, and then extremely loud, like with the spreading of the butter on the toast. You feel it, up and down your spine. It’s amazing.”

So there you have it: Christopher Nolan loves “Phantom Thread” and Paul Thomas Anderson loves “Dunkirk.” The two directors will go head to head at the Oscars Sunday, March 4.

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