The Directors: Paul Thomas Anderson

How have I not had a PTA post yet? Sheeesh. I recently bought “Magnolia” and “Boogie Nights” on Blu Ray, and they both look fantastically amazing. I know “Sydney (Hard Eight)” isn’t on Blu yet, and it’s only a matter of time before I reach out and snag “There Will Be Blood” on Blu. PTA is one of the best filmmakers of all time, creating an epic film that is nothing less than a character study of common, ordinary people. The way he writes his dialogue, his actions is far beyond most – and what is even more effective is the long takes he uses, rarely cutting quickly or too much. How he holds the camera with such grace and care, tracking characters through scenes. All this is very effect – but the actors he gets and the fucking performances that he can get out of them is amazing. He’s an amazing director that has made nothing but really, really great films (I still don’t count “Punch Drunk Love” – I know I know, I’ll give it another shot). He’s unlike any other director out there, Paul Thomas Anderson is not only the best director of our generation (sorry Mr. Nolan and Tarantino) but he is the next Martin Scorsese.

  1. “There Will Be Blood”
  2. “Boogie Nights”
  3. “Magnolia”
  4. “Sydney (Hard Eight)”
  5. “Punch Drunk Love”
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“Sydney” (“Hard Eight”) – 1996. Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson


With Phillip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Gwyneth Paltrow, Melora Waters, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Samuel L. Jackson.

“I think if you need help paying for your mother’s funeral, we can work it out. I want you to see that my reasons for doing this are not selfish, only this: I’d hope you would do the same for me.” – Sydney (Phillip Baker Hall)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s first film is an extremely small film that is a wonderful slow burn. It’s a film that isn’t like “Magnolia” or “Boogie Nights” at all; it’s more along the lines of “There Will Be Blood” (but not nearly as epic or perfect). Our man character is Sydney who is a very vague and ambiguous gambler who is out of Reno, Nevada. He meets a young drifter John (John C. Reilly) who is trying to find a way to pay for his mother’s funeral.

Sydney being a noble and generous man takes John to Reno with him, and teaches him how to gamble, how to work the system. John becomes Sydney’s protégé. From what we see of Sydney at the beginning of the film (and for that matter the rest of the film), Sydney is an honorable and noble man, but he does have his own personal reasons for taking John under his wing.

The film flash forwards two years and we find John has become a successful professional gambler who has become engaged to Clementine (Paltrow) who is the casino’s cocktail waitress and moonlights as a call girl. John begins to deviate from Sydney’s teachings and values and begins a relationship with Jimmy (Samuel L. Jackson) who is a shady and manipulative person. Sydney sees right through Jimmy’s bullshit – but Jimmy knows something about Sydney – something that will turn everything upside down.

This is a very, very good film. It’s vintage PTA where he starts his trademark character study that makes “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia” so wonderful. A PTA film is nothing less than a trip through the psyche of characters that are so interesting. Anderson is a remarkable storyteller who shows us everything yet tells us very little.

Anderson uses “Sydney” to set up his trilogy of beautiful sadness that is preceded by “Boogie Nights” and ends with “Magnolia”. When Jimmy confronts Sydney about his “past” he tells Sydney that he heard it from Jimmy Gator and Floyd Gondoli. Phillip Baker Hall played Gondolli in “Boogie Nights” and Jimmy Gator in “Magnolia”.

Anderson rounds out his small crew of character actors with a small scene with Philip Seymour Hoffman who plays a cocky gambler with a mullet, and Melora Waters. Robert Rigbey shows up as a casino manager. PTA has always struck me as the perfect combination of Sam Peckinpah and Martin Scorsese. The way he is so loyal to his actors, how he always reuses them in his features (aside from “Punch Drunk Love” which I still think is an abysmal film aside from Hoffman’s part and then he takes a 180 and makes his masterpiece “There Will Be Blood” where he starts from scratch with a new crew of actors).

This is a very small and quiet film that has flown under most people’s radars. It’s not as great has his other films, but this is the film that started it all, this is the film where we first meet Paul Thomas Anderson who is one of the best filmmakers living or dead. He’s truly unique and amazing and pays so much attention to detail. His films are very Kubrickian.

Rating: 8/10

“Magnolia” – 1997. Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

With Melora Walters, Tom Cruise, Melinda Dillon, John C. Reilly, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Jay, William H. Macy, Alfred Molina, with Jason Robards and Julianne Moore, and Phillip Baker Hall

“As the good book says: we may be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us.”

Nothing is a matter of chance – there is no such thing as luck. Paul Thomas Anderson who is undoubtedly the most important filmmaker of our generation takes us through a journey of crisscrossing lives in LA. There are ten major characters that are all linked together through one man – Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) who is a big wig television producer who is dying. He produces a game show (name?) “What Do Kids Know?” hosted by Jimmy Gator (Phillip Baker Hall) who has just been diagnosed with cancer. Jimmy’s wife Rose (Melinda Dillon) is supportive of him, loves him but can’t help but wonder about why their daughter Claudia (Melora Waters) is addicted to drugs and refuses to see them. Claudia starts a strange and odd romance with a police officer Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly).

There is a young child prodigy on the game show, Stanley (Jeremy Blackman), who is a direct reflection of the child prodigy thirty years ago, “Quiz Kid” Donnie Smith (who is played as an adult by William H. Macy). Earl Partridge’s caretaker is Phil Parma (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) who takes care of Earl while his wife Linda (Julianne Moore) drinks and swallows prescription drugs. Earl’s last wish is for Phil to get a hold of Earl’s estranged son, the egotistical motivational speaker who teaches men to “Seduce and Destroy” women – Frank T.J. Mackey (Tom Cruise).

If you followed this so far, it just gets even more unbelievably complicated from here with secondary characters that branch from the main ones. Alfred Molina comes back from his second PTA outing as Solomon Solomon – one of two brothers who run an electronics store that employs Donnie Smith because Solomon feels sorry for him. Tarantino alum Michael Bowen plays the struggling actor who’s Stanley’s father who is using his kid for the money he’ll earn. Frequent PTA and David Mamet player Ricky Jay acts as narrator and as Burt Ramsey, the director of “What Do Kids Know?” Luis Guzman is back in his comedic relief form as an Adult on the game show panel playing against the Kids. Henry Gibson is a philosophical drunk man who drinks at the same bar Donnie Smith does – the two muse together in a hostile relationship. And of course – Robert Downey, Sr. shows up as an operator in the control room of “What Do Kids Know?” and Thomas Jane has a two second cameo as a young Jimmy Gator.

This film is built upon it’s screenplay like every other Anderson film (since I don’t care at all for “Punch Drunk Love” I don’t acknowledge it as a PTA film) – but a great screenplay isn’t enough for an Anderson film. The original music by Aimee Mann is unbelievable which adds to the authenticity and remarkable showing of this film. Her music was the central foundation of this film – her music inspired Anderson to create the character of Claudia, and all the other characters were branched off from her. His usages of two Supertramp songs are just perfect – he’s ranked with Scorsese and Zach Snyder for his usage of popular music in film.

This film deals with the universal feelings of the absorbent emotional pain of loneliness and abandonment. After the prologue of Ricky Jay narrating three random events that at a quick glance all seem like a matter of chance – they are anything but. The film opens with Aimee Man covering Three Dog Night’s “One” and we are hurried and rushed through quick chaotic character introductions. What this film leaves us with is the signature plethora of beautiful long shots that Anderson is so well known for.

But, what truly makes this film absolutely wonderful is the exceptional cast of actors that bare their souls to us.

Jason Robards as Earl Partridge: Robards is a wonderful actor who seems to go overlooked even though he won two back to back Best Supporting Actor Oscars. He is unbelievably wonderful in this film. He’s an old lonely man who is bitter and left rambling about life, about “the goddamn regret”.

Melora Waters as Claudia: In an odd way Claudia is the bedrock of this film. You can totally see how Anderson wrote her first and how the other characters branched from her. She gives a painfully heartbreaking performance in the film. She’s amazing and you can’t help but think that she’s the alter ego to Aimee Man.

Tom Cruise as Frank T.J. Mackey: In an already impressive career Tom Cruise is the one who steals this film with a career best performance. He will never, ever be able to top his performance in this film. His character is so filled with absolute bullshit he actually believes it. The scene he shares with Jason Robards is one of the finest moments in cinema history.

Phillip Baker Hall as Jimmy Gator: This is by far my favorite character from the film. He’s this well liked and very distinguished man, but on the inside he’s hollow and heinous. I remember being in High School and seeing this film, and seeing Phillip Baker Hall and was amazed at what a terrific actor he really is.

John C. Reilly as Officer Jim Kurring: I know I’ve said this before, and of course I’ll say it again: remember when John C. Reilly was a good actor?

Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Phil Parma: This was the first film when I realized what an awe inspiring actor Hoffman really is. He’s pathetic and weak in this film – but in a way he’s the bridge that closes a lot of gaps. While watching this film, I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be his character with events that unfold.

William H. Macy as “Quiz Kid” Donnie Smith: Wow. Remember when William H. Macy was a good actor?

Julianne Moore as Linda Partridge: It’s almost as if she’s plays the daughter of her “Boogie Nights” character. Moore is at her best when she’s selfish, an addict and fucking insane. People talk about how they can’t believe Leonardo DiCaprio hasn’t won an Oscar yet – fuck that – Julianne Moore should get a Lifetime Achievement Oscar now.

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Jeremy Blackman as Stanley: Undoubtedly the weakest link in the cast – but he’s still pretty amazing for a child actor.

Melinda Dillon as Rose Gator: I’ve never felt so bad for someone in my entire life. Jesus…

There is a scene in this film that I had never, ever seen before. Most people give “Almost Famous” credit for a scene of this style. They are idiots. I can talk about this film for days. But I won’t – I’ll leave you with this:

“Boogie Nights” – 1997. Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

With Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, Don Cheadle, Luis Guzman, John C. Reilly, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Jay, Heather Graham, Thomas Jane, Alfred Molina with Robert Ridgley with Robert Downey, Sr. and Phillip Baker Hall.

Everybody has one special thing.

“Boogie Nights is the story of Eddie Adams, a young boy trying to find it place in life. The one thing that Eddie has that sets him apart from the rest of the boys is his enormous cock. Enter the world of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights”. You’ve all seen it, and if you haven’t I feel bad for you.

The film opens with a tremendously amazing opening long shot of the wonderful cast of characters in this film. The one continuous shot that Anderson creates here is a marvel of filmmaking (yes I am have seen “I am Cuba” and I know that’s where Anderson got the opening of his film from). With this long introduction we start outside the club “Boogie Nights” and carefully watch as legendary porn king Jack Horner (Reynolds) and his girlfriend Amber (Moore) enter. Through the bowels of the club, we are introduced to every important central character of the film.

Once things settle inside the club, Jack sees Eddie – and it’s love at first sight. They quickly form a bond that blossoms into a wonderful partnership. This is a simple generic “coming of age story” (GOD I HATE THAT TERM!) but it is so deeply complex. It’s this interweaving cast of characters that become so invested with the film and other characters and especially us, the audience.

Paul Thomas Anderson is the next Martin Scorsese.

PTA delivers us such an amazing feat – he doesn’t only show us the ups and downs of the characters, their births and redemptions, but also makes a complex story that is the film the prefaces “Magnolia” and shows us that this is the film “Crash” wanted to be.

The screenplay is unreal; it’s one of the best I’ve seen/read. But without a cast of excellent actors to match your excellent screenplay – you’re left holding the bag. Let me slightly digress:

Burt Reynolds – This is undoubtedly Reynolds’ finest performance. He is truly on fire in this film. The way his character flows, and commands our attention – we can’t take our eyes off of him, and his wonderful creamy hair and beard. Way to fuck up the rebirth of your career by punching PTA and publicly degrading the film – oh…but you got an Oscar Nomination for it. You were amazing in “Magnolia”…oh…wait.

Mark Wahlberg – People don’t give Marky Mark enough credit. When I was younger I thought he was the worst actor I’ve ever seen – but the joke of the matter is, that his character is a joke. He is just such a bimbo. I think Wahlberg getting nominated for “The Departed” might have been a slight make-up nomination.

Julianne Moore – Never in my life have I seen such a desperate character. All she wants is to love and be loved. She has a vacuum in her heart, and she tries to fill it with everything she possibly can. She is so amazing in the film – this is when I fell in love with her.

John C. Reilly – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Remember when he used to be a great actor?

William H. Macy – Another solid performance by one of the greatest character actors of the 1990’s.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman – The birth of an acting legend. It’s such a painful scene when Scottie professes his love to Dirk. It breaks what little is left of my heart.

Heather Graham – What happened to you? Your ass used to be beautiful.

Luis Guzman – This guy is almost as cool as Danny Trejo.

Don Cheadle – The scene that always sticks with me from the film is when he’s offered the chance to take that bag of bloody money during the botched robbery. Cheadle is covered in blood, his hands still in the air, everyone’s dead. Would you take that money?

Thomas Jane – In his small and vital role, he puts on a fucking clinic. What an amazing actor he is.

Alfred Molina – His part in the film is one of the most fucked up, stomach turning situations any character in film history has ever been in. That scene made me love “Sister Christian”.

Phillip Baker Hall – My AIM screen name all throughout high school was Floyd Gulondi (a misspelling of his last name in the film). That’s how much I loved his character.

Robert Ridgely – The Colonel…’nough said.

Robery Downey, Sr. – How fucking awesome for PTA to put RDS in his film. It’s so joyous to me when a younger filmmaker pays such a tribute to the filmmakers before him who inspired him. Rock on.

Ricky Jay – He’s awesome in everything he’s in. Way to get in with PTA and Mamet. I like his magic too.

Don’t you just love watching characters hitting rock bottom? I do. Watching the amazing cross cutting between Dirk Diggler jerking off for a guy in his truck for $10 – and watching Roller Girl (Heather Graham) getting nearly raped by a d-bag jock she went to high school with while Jack Horner sits and watches – Jesus Christ, it’s a lot to take in. Watching humans at their lowest form is such a humbling experience.

This film is very important to me.

This film is nothing less than poetic, marking the most poetic film that I have ever seen. All the characters are brought together in the beginning in a wonderful long shot – they’re all happy and living the disco dream – and in the end, they are all brought together once again in an incredibly amazing long shot – and once again, they’re happy, they are together. It just puts a smile on my face. God I love this film.

Rating: 10/10

PS: I bought this on Blu-Ray because I didn’t own the DVD and I thought that it would look really slick – you know the whole color schemes, the cinematography and what not. I did own the two disc special edition DVD when it came out WAY back in the day. It was the first film I ever watched with director’s commentary. While I was at college, I left it at my then girlfriend’s apartment. Needless to say we broke up after she flew to Ireland to have sex with this Italian pharmacist she met. No, I’m not making this up. It’s actually a pretty funny story now looking back, but when it was happening it was like a movie. But anyway she’s happily living in California working for the Producers Guild of America dating some rich guy and I’m still here in Chicago still paying off my credit card debt from that little deceptive twat. Anywho – I was disappointed with the Blu-Ray of “Boogie Nights”, I could tell that it was Blu-Ray but wasn’t that great. No need to make the jump for “Boogie Nights”.

The 10 Best Films of the 1990’s.

10. “In the Name of the Father” – 1993. Dir. Jim Sheridan. With Daniel Day-Lewis, Pete Postlethwaite and Emma Thompson.

“I’m a free man, I’m going out the front door!”

This is one of the most dramatically powerful films I’ve ever seen. Seeing the true story of Gerry Conlon (Day-Lewis) and his father (Postlethwaite) being wrongfully accused and imprisoned in London over an IRA bombing is just so heartbreaking. Emma Thompson gives an amazingly great performance as the two men’s lawyer and the only one who believes their innocence.

9. “Natural Born Killers” – 1994. Dir. Oliver Stone. With Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Tom Sizemore, Russell Means, Robert Downey, Jr. and Tommy Lee Jones.

Mickey and Mallory Knox are loose, Scagnetti’s dead, and they’re live on national TV!”

LIVE ON NATIONAL TV? JESUS HAROLD CHRIST ON A FUCKING RUBBER CRUTCH, IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME?”

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Olive Stone is the filmmaker of the times, making films that deal with our current status in America. With NBK Stone brings forth a film with a killer soundtrack and excellent cast that explores our need for Reality TV and the media and our cultures obsession with killers. It shows us how we as American are obsessed with the killers themselves and how we turn them into pop culture icons. This is one wild ride of a fucking movie! The finest performance in the film has to be Tommy Lee Jones as Warden Dwight McClusky. He’s out of his fucking mind!


8. “Boogie Nights” – 1997. Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson. With Mark Wahlbeg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Heather Grahm and Don Cheadle.

Wait a minute. You come into my house, my party, to tell me about the future? That the future is tape, videotape, and not film? That it’s amateurs and not professionals? I’m a filmmaker, which is why I will *never* make a movie on tape.”

The opening one shot is a magnificent display of talent. It shows much homage to Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” and much more to Russia’s 1950’s propaganda film, “I am Cuba”. It sends us into a furry and introduces us to all the major characters that we need to know about. I want to call this film his masterpiece, but I can’t – “There Will Be Blood” is. This was back in the days when John C. Reilly used to be a good actor – and when Burt Reynolds blew all of his chances of having anything resembling a comeback. I love this film.


7. “Goodfellas” – 1990. Dir. Martin Scorsese. With Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Frank Vincent and Paul Sorvino.

“You may know who we are, but we know who you are.”

Gosh, Martin Scorsese. What a master. I truly believe that this is the film that de-glorified the “romantic” life of mobsters. Sure “The Godfather’s” were brutal and violent, but we always sympathized with Michael – we were always pulling for him. We do that to a certain extent in “Goodfellas” but once we hit the second act of the film, and we watch Ray Liotta spin out of control – we know that he’s paying for the life he’s led. It’s amazing and beautiful and no one could ever do it better. Martin Scorsese is a God among artists.

6. “American Beauty” – 1999. Dir. Sam Mendes. With Kevin Spacey, Annette Benning, Mena Suvari, Thora Birch, Wes Bently and Chris Cooper.

“This is my first time.”

Man…all I can really saw about this is Chris Cooper winning for “Adaptation” was his make-up for not even being nominated for his role in this film. That’s it.

5. “Seven” – 1995. Dir. David Fincher. With Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Gweyth Paltrow, and Kevin Spacey.

“Where to?”

“Far away from here.”

People like to say that “Fight Club” is Fincher’s masterpiece. I think “Fight Club” is overrated and trendy – but “Seven”…oh my God “Seven” – this film is just downright amazing! Kevin Spacey steals the show as John Doe, Brad Pitt is great as the young and cocky cop and Morgan Freeman gives the performance of his career as a cop that the world has left behind. Remarkable filmmaking!

4. “Pulp Fiction” – 1994. Dir. Quentin Tarantino. With John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Uma Thurman and Harvey Keitel.

“You see – this is a moral test of one’s self. You’re going to go back, drink your drink, go home, jerk off and that’s all you’re gonna do.”

Fuck “Forrest Gump”.

3. “Bad Lieutenant” – 1991. Dir. Abel Ferrara. With Harvey Keitel.

“Where the fuck were you when I needed you? Why the fuck weren’t you there for me, when I needed you?!”

Harvey Keitel does nothing but bare his soul in this haunting and repulsive film about a cop who’s fallen so far from grace, Jesus himself can’t even help him. This is pretty powerful stuff, and if you think you’re tough enough to watch this, make sure it’s the NC-17 version.

2. “Schindler’s List” – 1993. Dir. Steven Spielberg. With Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes and Ben Kingsley.

“This is very cruel, Oskar. You’re giving them hope. You shouldn’t do that. *That’s* cruel!”

The reason I resent Steven Spielberg is because he has the talent to make this, “Jaws”, “Close Encounters” and “E.T.” – why waste it.

1. “L.A. Confidential” – 1997. Dir. Curtis Hanson. With Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger, Russell Crowe, Guy Pierce, James Cromwell, Danny DeVito and David Strathairn.

“Go back to Jersey, sonny. This is the City of the Angels, and you haven’t got any wings.”

Flawless.
Honorable mentions:  “The Insider”, “Unforgiven”, “Rushmore”, “The Thin Red Line”, “The Big Lebowski”