Tom Cruise Magnolia

2. Magnolia (1999)

1999 was probably the best year for movies I’ve ever experienced. For my money, Magnolia was the best of the bunch. Anderson’s cross-section of the San Fernando Valley is just stuffed to the limit will incredible characters, each one of which would have made an awesome movie on their own. Instead, Anderson weaves them together. So a nurse named Phil (Philip Seymour Hoffman) tracks down womanizer Frank TJ Mackey (Tom Cruise) who hates his dying father (Jason Robards) as the crazy step-mother (Julianne Moore) goes nuts. A former Quiz show champion (William H. Macy) runs into a jolly, dumb cop (John C. Reilly) who a also falls for coke addict (Melora Waters) whose famous father (Philip Baker Hall) drove her away. I could go on and on about the connections.

Aimee Mann’s music gives Magnolia its soul. Every single scene is not only perfect on its own, but joyous in tandem with everything around it. And then that ending. Wow. Sometimes, things are just so crazy. So wild. So messed up, it’s okay that frogs fall from the sky. You’d like to think Magnolia is just one of those things. But it’s not. It’s more than that. It’s a once in a lifetime movie experience that could very easily be Paul Thomas Anderson’s best movie if he hadn’t made one just as good right before it.

Boogie Nights Wahlberg Reilly

1. Boogie Nights (1997)

For me, Magnolia and Boogie Nights could easily be tied for the best spot. Everything I said about about that movie goes here. But with a gun to my head, forced to choose a favorite, I choose Boogie Nights. Compared to Magnolia, it just feels so much more raw. So much more lively and full of wonder. The whole section of the film set in the Seventies is not only a celebration of that decade, it’s a celebration of life. Then setting that vibrance in the world of pornography makes it all feel that naughty and fun. Smash cut to the Eighties and the whole thing comes tumbling down in a beautiful symphony of decay and destruction for these characters we’ve come to know and love. Characters that are so rich and fully realized that almost everything they do is both happy and sad at the same time.

I could literally go on forever about what I love about Boogie Nights. The opening shot, the music, every single performance. The way Anderson’s camera is constantly a wild observer, running around, taking it all in. The poster for Angels Live In Our Town, forever my most sought-after piece of movie memorabilia. Buck Swope. However, the reason Boogie Nights is my favorite, and I think the best Paul Thomas Anderson film, is the finale. “Long Way Down (One Last Thing)” is my favorite scene in any movie, ever. The mix of tension, unpredictability, the crazy characters, the perfect song choice, all lead up to that epically long shot on Mark Wahlberg as Dirk Diggler. He’s totally coked out, he’s a mess, he’s staring into nothing and we’re staring right back. To have the balls, as a filmmaker, to let your actor do nothing for that long and have your whole movie hinge on it? Is truly something special.

With Boogie Nights, only his second movie, Paul Thomas Anderson proved he’s a star. He’s a star, he’s a star, he’s a star. He’s a big, bright, shining star.

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