Friday, September 18, 2009

Magnolia (1999)

TOP 100 FILMS: #82

A group of strangers, each struggling with their day to day existence, are quickly thrust into interconnection as each of their lives experience a sudden change.

When I first saw Magnolia years back my only reaction was "wow." No real emotion, no jumping up and down, no cheering, just an overall sense of awe. The brilliant directorial feature of P.T. Anderson, magically follows up his coming out party in Boogie Nights, with such an insane visual treat the storytelling lover in you will scream for joy. It's amazing how in 3 hours these characters, each of which appear so different, some evil, some good, are dramatically shifted and become almost the very opposite of what you expected them to be. These characters are the only driving force in Anderson's masterpiece, one that has so much to offer, any minor flaw can easily be written off as nit-picking.

Not only that but Anderson has assembled probably the best ensemble cast of all time (yeah I said it). Don't believe me? Well here you go: Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, Tom Cruise (who should have won an oscar), Phillip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Robards, Alfred Molina, Luis Guzman, Ricky Jay, Melora Walters, Felicity Huffman, Melinda Dillon, and the recently departed Henry Gibson. You seriously can't do much better than that, most playing in part, but all so amazingly well executed you really get into these multi-layered characters, you fall into their minds, and as such you are rewarded with this journey.

Some criticize the ending for being unbelievable, but I'd argue it's an odd commentary on all of these characters. They're not what you'd expect, they're not what they appear to be, there's pain and long staining emotions sitting deep down inside, so painful they can hardly get through the day... and yet they do. Anderson captures this motif wonderfully, taking the time to get to know them, not cutting down half to appease studios/producers, and removing the substance. Instead we are rewarded with a truly moving experience of human emotion, triumph, and despair. The ultimate coming out of these characters is a statement to the true writing talent Anderson possesses.

And as for influential, yeesh, try to find a year since it's release in which a prominent film hasn't used the basically idea of a series of seemingly unconnected characters being thrust into one another's lives through a series of events (*paging Crash, please report to the blog*). I know I use the phrase "film experience" a lot, and it's because when it comes to great films, some are just fun, but others are something you experience, something that you maul over for the weeks after, debating, hating, loving.... Magnolia is an experience.

An amazing film, way to often overlooked, and way too often whined about being overrated, suffice to say... it's just a great great film, go watch it.

4 better thoughts:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Nice rundown. As I wrote before the film left me a little cold but I should see it again. I like when people explain why they like their favourites so good.
Seeing that you throw down the hypothetical gauntlet in terms of best cast I take your Magnolia and raise you Gosford Park>>>Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas and Clive Owen. Sorry...I could not resist. :D

Univarn said...

I concur that Gosford Park has a great cast list, but I still stand behind this film in terms of actors+acting delivered. Granted I am biased as I was not a fan of Gosford Park when I first watched it... I fell asleep (has only happened 2 other times in my film watching history). I need to revisit it at some point, I just never have.

Chase Kahn said...

"Gosford Park" is a terrific look at class structure and the relationship between servant and servee.

I do really like "Magnolia" -- my favorite sequence is the sing along, "It's not going to stop" montage. I'd say "Boogie Nights" and "There Will Be Blood" are greater, more distinct films, but P.T. Anderson is one of my favorite working American directors, no doubt.

Jake said...

I'm afraid I must count myself as one of the film's detractors. I find Magnolia an exercise in technical precision, one filled with emotion in the sense that its characters are emotional but utterly unable to convey any of it to us in an engaging fashion. For me, this represents Anderson at his most self-indulgent, attempting to mix Altman's ensembles with Scorsese's precision with a camera. Yet he left out the humanity of these two directors, precisely what made them so great in the first place.

I will say, however, that I more than admire both John C. Reilly and Tom Cruise's performances. Cruise in particular is astonishing and deserved the Oscar. Otherwise, the cast is great in name, yes, but surprisingly hollow put together: Julianne Moore, normally one of my favorite actresses, is absolutely horrible. Furthermore, too much of the film tries to take Altman's Short Cuts and tack on messages of family to that film's themes of the imperceptible yet powerful ties that link us all.

Though I love Boogie Nights, I find that Anderson's ideal milieu is with smaller casts, particularly in films like Punch-Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood, both of which border on the solipsistic. It allows him to pore over a character with the same detail as his camera work without sacrificing a whole cast of heavy hitters by limiting his time with each of them.

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