Oscar nominee profile: Third time could be the charm for director Paul Thomas Anderson (‘Licorice Pizza’)

Since making his feature directing debut with “Hard Eight” (1996), Paul Thomas Anderson has proven his versatility and unique artistry with eight subsequent films, all of which he also wrote. Over the past two dozen years, he has been nominated 11 times across four Oscar categories, with his three most recent bids having come for directing, writing and producing 2021’s “Licorice Pizza.” This marks his third inclusion in a Best Director lineup after landing bids for “There Will Be Blood” (2007) and “Phantom Thread” (2017).

SEE 2022 Oscar nominations: Full list of nominees in all 23 categories

In this year’s directing race, Anderson faces Kenneth Branagh (“Belfast”), Jane Campion (“The Power of the Dog”), Ryusuke Hamaguchi (“Drive My Car”) and Steven Spielberg (“West Side Story”). Hamaguchi is the only first-timer in the bunch, while Spielberg is the only previous directing winner, having triumphed for both “Schindler’s List” (1993) and “Saving Private Ryan” (1998); this is his eighth nomination in the category. Branagh and Campion have each contended here once before, for “Henry V” (1989) and “The Piano” (1993), respectively.

“Licorice Pizza” takes place in 1970s Los Angeles and focuses on protagonists Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman), a teenage actor, and Alana Kane (Alana Haim), an aspiring photographer in her mid-20s. After the two meet, they develop a strong friendship that becomes complicated by feelings of love and by Kane’s preoccupation with her life’s lack of direction. As the plot progresses, they encounter several fictional Hollywood figures, such as William Holden-inspired Jack Holden (Sean Penn), as well as real ones like producer Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper).

Anderson has also received Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture nominations for “Licorice Pizza,” the latter of which he shares with co-producers Sara Murphy and Adam Somner. He has previously been nominated for writing the original scripts for “Boogie Nights” (1997) and “Magnolia” (1999) and for producing “There Will Be Blood” and “Phantom Thread.” He also has two Best Adapted Screenplay bids to his name for “There Will Be Blood” and “Inherent Vice” (2014).

At 51, Anderson would rank 27th on the list of oldest Best Director champions and would be just 184 days younger than Spielberg was at the time of his second win. The category’s current high-end age record was set in 2005 by 74-year-old Clint Eastwood (“Million Dollar Baby”). Anderson would also be the sixth person to achieve his first directing victory on his third try after Michael Curtiz (“Casablanca,” 1943), Fred Zinnemann (“From Here to Eternity,” 1953), Carol Reed (“Oliver!,” 1968), Sydney Pollack (“Out of Africa,” 1985), and Roman Polanski (“The Pianist,” 2002). At the time of his win, Pollack was only eight days younger than Anderson will be on the day of the upcoming ceremony.

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