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Starring Tom Cruise, John C. Reilly, Julianne Moore
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson


     Every so often, a filmmaker comes along that brings a unique style and presence to his or her films.  They are almost certain to be passed over for the awards they deserve in their time, but will likely be remembered for their genius by critics and audiences for years and years after their prime has passed.  Well, we've got one in our midst.  Get excited.
     Paul Thomas Anderson has managed to start an amazing career with several amazing films.  In 1996, he made a movie called "Hard Eight" starring the considerable talents of Samuel L. Jackson, Phillip Baker Hall, Gwyneth Paltrow, and frequent collaborator John C. Reilly.  It was released quietly and garnered little attention from critics, including myself because I have yet to see it.  In 1998, Anderson achieved his biggest success with "Boogie Nights," a film that first showcased his gift for both writing and directing ensemble pieces.  The film went on to be nominated for several Academy Awards, of which it won none.  While "Nights" is quite infamously a film about the porn industry, it is more about the absurdity of the business and...people, just regular people living crazy lives.
     And, with "Punch Drunk Love" being released in 2002, he cemented himself as America's next all-time great director.  That film, featuring an unusually well-acted performance from Adam Sandler, brought him closer to the highest heights that can be reached in filmmaking.
     But he may have reached his peak, and an astounding one at that, with his 1999 offering "Magnolia."  Once again, his film contained an amalgamation of ensemble acting, brilliant directing, and clever and new writing.  And it's long, really long.
     With a runtime of over three hours, one must justify the amount of time the audience is supposed to put in with quality.  Anderson piles it on and takes us for an emotional ride that I couldn't have expected without first experiencing.  Yep, it takes a long time to finish this movie.  But it is surely worth it.
     The audience is treated to a rapid paced opening sequence where we are introduced to the cast of characters.  We've got Tom Cruise as Frank T.J. Mackey, a motivational speaker bent on giving men across America what they want (not all men, but, c'mon, most): control over women.  He does through informercials promising results and seminars promising obscenities.
     John C. Reilly plays Jim Kurring, a well meaning patrolman protecting the streets from rapping eight year olds and eccentric black women with dead bodies in their closets.  He feels underappreciated and embarrassed by the lack of respect he receives from the sheep to his shepherd.
     Phillip Baker Hall is Jimmy Gator, a quiz show host and television icon due to his longetivity.  He's facing illness with a side of offspring hate.  His daughter, Claudia Wilson Gator (Melora Waters), is a junkie with some long-brewing hatred for her papa.
     Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman), is a genius kid on the quiz show hosted by Gator.  He wrestles with anxiety at being what appears to be his father's main source of income.  He slowly boils towards a catharsis that will make or break him.
     A former star of the same quiz show, Donnie Smith (William H. Macy), hates his grown up job and relative social ineptitude.  He's got a thing for a bartender, but he can't or won't deal with it past the obviousness of his conversations with said subject.
     Julianne Moore plays the (methinks) gold digging wife of "Big Earl" Partridge, a man on the brink of death.  He lies in wait for death to find him through the cloud of plot and circumstance.  His male nurse, Phil Parma, is a well-meaning guy who sits and reminisces on life with Big Earl.
     Sounds like a lot to handle, doesn't it?  It is, but Anderson does it with such ease and slyness that we never stop caring about what happens to these characters...all of them.  I sat on the edge of my seat for each new development in the plot(s).  The movie is over three hours long and I was on the edge of my seat!
     The emotions that Anderson and his cast evoke are both real and binding.  You will not feel more involved in any other movie.  The ins and outs of the story just pull the viewer farther in, never leaving a single one behind.
     Once again, Anderson's film is one about people, the kind of people everyone can identify with.  The relationships keep the plot wound tight and it never lets up.
     That's enough to make my list of top-ten favorite films, but it actually strengthens its might with innovative storytelling techniques and an overall amazing cinematic experience.  Anderson allows an relishes the stuff you're not supposed to do in movies.  In one of my all-time favorite scenes, the cast, all of the main players I mentioned, sing along with Aimee Mann as she sings, not on the radio or in their heads, but along with the soundtrack.  It's gripping and spectacularly overwhelming.
     As far as the performances of the cast, they were all excellent.  In particular, Melora Waters, who I had never seen or heard about before, delivers a brilliant, layered performance.  I never quite got a handle on her character, her motives, but she was the most interesting.
     Tom Cruise was altogether different from "Tom Cruise," the Hollywood-delivered persona that we have come to associate him with.  His character, much like the rest of the film's characters, is surprising and always interesting.  The complex web woven around the shifts when he acts.  After watching his performance, I scorn myself for rooting for Haley Joel Osment for the 1999 Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
     And John C. Reilly, who never disappoints, even in disappointing movies, delivers what is probably his best performance.  He continuously gives great performances that are washed over come award season, but he is truly a great actor.  Remember his "Mr. Cellophane" number in "Chicago?"  How about his work in the other P.T. Anderson movies?  His betraying Irish cop in "Gangs of New York?"  The loser husband in "The Good Girl?"  He may be the best character actor of his generation.
     The soundtrack, featuring songs from Aimee Mann, is one of the best I have ever heard.  Few times does a film's soundtrack work with the actual film ("The Graduate," "Good Will Hunting," and "Moonlight Mile" come to mind for others that do work).  Magnolia's music works beautifully and is entirely captivating.
     I have only seen "Magnolia" once, but I have tried to get around to watching it again.  There are too many unseen movies and, quite frankly, it's hard to find a block of three hours that I can spend watching a movie.  Still, the effect it had on me is great (as you can tell by my unabashed gushing).  It may be the best movie I have ever seen.  Let that sink into you.   

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