It's odd to think of all this talk praising Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood as a major evolution of style and maturity. While watching it, I thought "This is no Boogie Nights," with Boogie Nights being my previous least-favorite film of his. It makes me wonder what film critics consider maturity. I guess it's making a film that is an actor's showcase, rather than one that demonstrates an ability to recreate shots from I Am Cuba.
It's also more cynical than any of Anderson's other movies, less open-hearted, warm, and forgiving. I talked about a film critic who argued that film critics value cynicism more than humanism, which is why Billy Wilder is so beloved. I think Billy Wilder's great, personally, and I have a large place in my heart for cynicism. I didn't hate There Will Be Blood, I liked it just fine, but I think that it might be being overrated by critics right now, at least in relation to the director's other work. (I have no problem with people saying it's one of the best films of the year, although if I were to make a list, I'd probably put it below Superbad.)
I think it shortchanges a lot of the things that makes Anderson interesting and enjoyable. A reviewer for Philadelphia Weekly, in his top ten list, ranked it number four, with Zodiac as number one. He said that Anderson did the second-most-interesting stylistic shift, after David Fincher. Zodiac also kind of does a disservice to some of Fincher's skills and point of view. I bring this up because the two directors are opposed, with P.T. Anderson actually having made shots at Fight Club. I would take Anderson's side in that argument, and can't really bemoan the switch-up with Zodiac nearly that much- Less glib nihilism is fine by me.
All the Citizen Kane comparisons are bullshit though. That movie has Orson Welles' fingerprints all over it, and he identifies with the character's ambition, and that's what helps make the movie work. There Will Be Blood isn't about an ambitious man, just a misanthropic one. Anyway in which the film adopts the characteristics of its subject is probably to its detriment.