Paul Thomas Anderson

Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia (1999)

Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia (1999)

  • Born: 1970
  • Rank: 28
  • Score: 657.90
  • Awards:  LAFC / NSFC
  • Nominations:  Oscar / DGA / BAFTA / 3 CFC
  • Feature Films:  5
  • Best:  Magnolia – 1999
  • Least:  Hard Eight – 1996

Feature Films (in rank order):

  1. Magnolia – 1999
  2. Boogie Nights – 1997
  3. There Will Be Blood – 2007
  4. Punch Drunk Love – 2002
  5. Hard Eight – 1996

Top 10 Director Finishes:

  • 1997 – 3rd – Boogie Nights
  • 1999 – 2nd – Magnolia
  • 2007 – 3rd – There Will Be Blood

When you are only 39 years old and have made 5 feature films and the most disappointing thing that can be said about your career is that you haven’t made enough films in the last decade that’s a pretty good sign.  But everything about P.T. Anderson’s career has been a good sign.  He started out with a good solid debut feature film (Hard Eight), even if it did get jerked around with a release and with a new title (originally titled Sydney).  But then he made Boogie Nights, earning an Oscar nomination for Screenplay.  He followed that up with the epic length Magnolia, earning another Screenplay nomination.  In 2002 he returned with Punch Drunk Love, an offbeat comedy that made use of Adam Sandler’s violent nature and showed that Sandler can act if he wants to.  But it took 5 years before Anderson finally came out with another film, this time the critical rave There Will Be Blood and this time the Oscar nominations for Picture and Director that he deserved for Boogie Nights and Magnolia finally came his way.  Let’s hope for more than 2 films in the next decade because he’s too damn talented to make this few films.

Magnolia – #2 film of 1999

This is the film Crash wishes it could have been.  Crash relied on coincidence and manipulated situations (screaming “screenplay at work here”).  On the other hand, Magnolia which makes such a big deal about coincidences and chance in the opening segment actually relies on the connections that various people can have to one another.  Though there are numerous main characters in this film, it centers around two connected quite bad fathers in the entertainment industry and the films unfolds from there.

On one side we have Jimmy Gator, the dying television game show host played by Anderson regular Philip Baker Hall (the star of Hard Eight and one of the numerous great actors in supporting roles in Boogie Nights).  Hall must struggle to make it through his game show as the cancer starts to eat at him.  This same game show is how we become connected to two different characters – one who is a current champion and is stuck in a life of being smart with another bad father, one who is already scarred by his childhood of having been smart and is now stuck in a lifetime of being dumb.

Also on this side we have Jimmy’s daughter, Claudia.  As played by Melora Walters, Claudia is pretty, desperate and out of control, all of which come to play throughout the film and Walters in unashamed to press on any of these when she needs to.  She hates her father with a kind of fanaticism and when a cop comes to her apartment because of reports of a disturbance, she is so coked out of her mind that she agrees to go out on a date with him so he won’t stick around her apartment.

The cop, played by John C. Reilly is one of the two truly good, caring characters in the film.  Though in the course of this day he will find a body, ask out this desperate woman and manage to lose his gun, all he wants to do is protect people and when he makes a choice at the end of the film we know it is the kind of choice such a person would make in this situation.

The other good, caring character is Phil Parma, a nurse played by Philip Seymour Hoffman with a kind of touching honesty and decency, so different from the other role he had in theaters at the same time (the slimy friend of Jude Law in The Talented Mr. Ripley).  He is caring for the dying Earl Partridge, played by Jason Robards in his last film performance.  Partridge is a television producer and is the producer of Gator’s show, thus establishing the connection between the two families.  While Crash relies so much on connections being made, Magnolia takes a step back and looks at the connections that exist that we don’t even realize.

Partridge’s out of control wife, Linda is played by Julianne Moore and she is so good at different levels that it reminds us that this film was released in 1999.  That was the year of Julianne Moore; in the one year alone she was Oscar nominated for The End of the Affair, was fantastic as the mother of the dead child in The Map of the World, was deliciously devious in An Ideal Husband and was desperately trying to hold on in Magnolia.  Watch the difference between the scenes with the psychiatrist where she works to make sure she can get the drugs, then her interaction with Michael Murphy where she tries to get her husband’s will changed, then in the pharmacy where she feels the judging eyes upon her.  That she could give the kind of performances she gave in 1999 and Boogie Nights and The Hours and Far From Heaven and still not have an Oscar shows how sometimes the Academy just misses out.

They also missed out on the best performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in 1999 because that should have gone to Tom Cruise.  With longer hair and a cocky misogynistic attitude, Cruise is all bluster and confident energy in his seminar, then falls apart at his estranged father’s deathbed.  He is also part of the two key scenes in the film, one of them the bravest scene to put on film in years.

No, not the frogs.  I saw the film its first week in wide release and I already knew about the frogs.  Hell, there was a picture of a frog in the teaser.  It wasn’t exactly the secret of The Crying Game.  But in defense of the frogs, the scene totally works.  First, there are numerous references throughout the film, references that I noticed the first time I saw it (most notably the person in the audience for the television show holding up a sign that reads Exodus 8:2).  And it works because of the prologue and the way that poor Stanley watches it all and notes “These things happen.”

No, the scene that is so brave, the scene that was so unexpected is the use of Aimee Mann’s brilliant “Wise Up.”  The whole soundtrack is Mann and it is fantastic, especially her version of Harry Nillson’s “One” that appropriately opens the film and her Oscar nominated “Save Me” that almost seems to be sung by Claudia at the end, but it “Wise Up” that steals the show.  To have all these characters for a few moments be so interconnected to link through one song, a song that perfectly sums up where every single one of these characters is at that moment, that is truly audacious film-making.  And just like all the other choices in his career, Anderson pulls it off perfectly.

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