This one deserves its own heading. I was primed to love it and I did, but I was also surprised to find that it was less of a plot-heavy clash over land and oil rights (which the trailer had made it appear) and more of an elliptical character study of Daniel Plainview with emphasis on his personal and family life, in the persons of his son (Dillon Freasier) and half-brother (Kevin J. O'Connor, previously mostly known as the second banana in several Stephen Sommers movies). It's a terrific look at the American self-made millionaire, paranoid and scheming but capable and worthy of respect all the same - what I like to call a 'magnificent bastard' movie. The music by Jonny Greenwood (and assists from Arvo Part and Brahms) is terrific, the cinematography is excellent, and everyone else is saying it so I might as well, too: Daniel Day-Lewis is stunning as Daniel Plainview.
This movie also represents a step forward for Paul Thomas Anderson, too. I recently rewatched Boogie Nights, which I hadn't seen in several years and had always felt some lingering dissatisfaction with. Watching it this time I realized that even though the explicit subject of the movie is the porn industry in the late '70s-early '80s, the implicit subject of the movie is Anderson's own exuberance and joy at being able to make cinema, to play with what Welles called 'the best train set a boy could ever have'. And while I love movies like it, that reflect that Truffautian joy of creation, the problem is that it's a movie that's a little too exuberant for its own good. I love Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love for the same reasons, but they suffer from the same flaw in varying degrees.
In this movie, Anderson has found subject material from a pre-existing source that reflects his own personal thematic interests (the people and history of Southern California, father-son relationships) and also has forced him to hone his abilities like he never has before in the subject of a particular focussed vision, with less flash and frills and more steel underneath). It's a nice step forward and I hope this movie makes a lot of money so we don't have to wait five years for his next movie.
One question: how long did it take people to realize that Paul Dano was actually playing two characters? For me, it wasn't until the dinner scene when Eli jumps at his father. Yes, I know that's 2/3 into the movie. Oh well.