Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tuesday Top Ten: PTA Performances

Paul Thomas Anderson makes me feel so unaccomplished. He’s 37 and I haven’t directed four great films at this age! Argh. Hate him. But I love his movies. From Hard Eight (also known as Sydney) to Boogie Nights to Magnolia to Punch-Drunk Love, they’re all really something. As are the performances inside of them. While we're anxiously awaiting There Will Be Blood, let's look at the performances in his fine filmography.

PTA is often compared to Robert Altman and though I think the comparison is a little simplistic, he invites it too. He’s often cited Altman as an influence and he even helped out with A Prairie Home Companion (Altman needed a standby auteur should his health prevent completion –thankfully it didn’t)

Top 10 Performances in Paul Thomas Anderson Films

10 Fiona Apple in numerous music videos.
I’m cheating here because there were too many performances to choose from (these are huge consistenly excellent ensembles) plus I’m Apple obsessed and still miffed about that breakup. I love all the videos he made with her including "Limp", "Fast As You Can", "Paper Bag" and "Across the Universe"

09 April Grace as “Gwenovier” in Magnolia
Her enemy combatant interview with Cruise is a marvel –my second or third favorite scene in the movie. No matter what one thinks of Tom Cruise as an actor, it’s hard to match his intensity in any given scene. Gwenovier is so formidable a scene partner (without doing much) that doesn’t it feel like even Frank TJ Mackey has to overreach to fight her off? And can someone get Grace more movie roles?

08 Mary Lynn Rajskub as “Elizabeth” in Punch-Drunk Love
I still thrill to the way she comically rampages into every scene. There’s just no brake fluid in her system. That anger problem runs in the family.

07 Philip Baker Hall as “Sydney” in Hard Eight.
I’ll admit that I don’t remember this movie, PTA’s first that well. I sought it out after being stunned by Boogie Nights and Magnolia and I recall immediately understanding what PTA always saw in this character actor mainstay. Gwyneth Paltrow is also quite good in this film.

06 Heather Graham as “Rollergirl” in Boogie Nights
What a gift this role was. It’s perfectly suited to Graham’s considerable yet slightly vacant charisma. It’s a great role as written but it’s also the best performance of her career: engaging, well judged, and more than a little raw once it needs to be.

05 Tom Cruise as “Frank TJ Mackey” in Magnolia
This sexist self-help monster role needed either a charismatic movie star or an intense but "off" actor to serve it. It was lucky enough to be channeled through both.

04 Julianne Moore as “Linda Partridge” in Magnolia
Possibly the most divisive performance on the list but I love that it doesn’t feel like other Moore performances. It’s large, stylized and forceful... Moore at her bravest as an aging trophy wife carrying tons of weight in guilt. I still remember the New Yorker review which deemed her work both nonsensical and mesmerizing.

03 Burt Reynolds as “Jack Horner” in Boogie Nights
It always alarms me when I hear about the actors who turned this role down. Reynolds almost didn’t take it himself. Insanity

02 Mark Wahlberg as “Dirk Diggler” in Boogie Nights
When this film premiered this star turn felt like a leap forward for a young actor and the promise of great things to come. Now it feels like the realization of promise. It's so right for both the demands of the film and the truth of the character that I'm doubtful Wahlberg can top it. A hilarious, sweet and sad take on a guy who is in over his head especially once his pants are down.

01 Julianne Moore as “Amber Waves” in Boogie Nights
Not just the best performance in PTA's fine filmography but one of the best of the past couple of decades. It deserves at least a 1000 words, not just a few sentences. too many things (to say)... too many things.

Agree? disagree?
Light a firecracker, collect some pudding, or throw some frogs around in the comments...


Anonymous said...

William H. Macy in Boogie Nights. That extended take on New Year's Eve 1979 is, I think, still the best individual scene in Anderson's extraordinary filmography.


the crazy thing about this is his films are so populated that you could do a top 30 and still not hit a bad performance...

Anonymous said...

I think I'd rank Moore's performance in Magnolia above her performance in Boogie Nights. There's something so awesomely intense about the former (the scene in the pharamacy is forever imprinted on my brain).

Also, Melora Walters from Magnolia... just so beautifully on the edge.

And THANK YOU for mentioning April Grace.

As for Fiona Apple, I think her greatest performance was in "Criminal," though "Paper Bag" is a close second.

Anonymous said...

a = Arkaan

Anonymous said...

No Philip Seymour Hoffman?? No John C. Reilly?? And worst of all... No Adam Sandler as Barry Egan???!!!

Anonymous said...

This is sad to say, I guess, but I've always been a little so so and PTA. I need to see Boogie Nights before really formulating an opinion, but I wasn't a huge fan of Punch Drunk Love or Magnolia (a movie I really do think needed some editing). That being said, he always gets the goods out of his actors. I mean, he made Heather Graham good, and THAT is not easy. Plus, Tom Cruise did not annoy me one bit in 'Magnolia'...in fact, he was quite good (along with Grace, by the way-thank you for mentioning her)

Anonymous said...

I would have put Adam Sandler ... and perhaps a couple of the other Punchdrunk Love performers, ahead of Moore's MAGNOLIA performance. Perhaps I'm having difficulty separating an annoying character from an off-kilter performance, but Moore's Linda Partridge always felt like the latter to me, even when I was trying hard to like it.

But agreed - he gets some very fine performances. Perhaps 'fine performances in films involving David Mamet' should be another list for you?

Anonymous said...

Magnolia was the first Julianne Moore performance I saw. She made such an impression I had to see everything else. So it has a special

I am continually amazed, though, at how layered her Boogie Nights performance is. Every time, I find something new. I think the third time I watched it was the first time I noticed her reaction as Dirk jumps in the pool. Something about it clicked and now it's probably my favorite moment in the movie.

Kurtis O said...

Tom Cruise's performance in "Magnolia" is his best work to date, probably because it's arguably the only film in which he doesn't play "Tom Cruise." I always tell people that "Boogie Nights" is, in many ways, an epic film - a saga; and then they look at me like my head's on backwards. But wouldn't you agree?

Anonymous said...

I can't believe you omitted John C.Reily's wonderful performance in Magnolia. It was Breathtaking!

adam k. said...

I would argue that Magnolia is the only film in which Tom DOES play "Tom Cruise."

And I think the greatest scene in PTA history is still the Boogie porn scene.

"Are you John?"

"I think that you have the job, but let me make sure of something...

This is a giant cock."

God. So brilliant. Though Julianne's Amber Waves is what actually started the f*cked up mother streak, so for that reason, I feel it's kind of tainted.

Regina George said...

kurtis11, I'd argue the exact opposite about Cruise. Perhaps this is the first time that he actually ever performed as himself. I imagine the real man to be much more Frank TJ Mackey than the person we see in normal interviews.

Glenn Dunks said...

I need to see Boogie Nights again. it's been a looong time. But I'm glad you threw in Philip Baker Hall. I'm always trying to trump up Hard Eight (it's my favourite PTA). Whereas I sort of really hate the parts of Magnolia I've seen - I was about an hour into it and decided I could be doing something better so I turned it off and went outside. I intend to watch it properly soon.

Anonymous said...

How could you leave off Adam Sandler AND ESPECIALLY Emily Watson in Punch-Drunk Love!! She gave one of the most subtle performances I have ever seen.

Anonymous said...

I think Julianne's performance in Magnolia might just as well be the only major PTA performance that struck a false note with me. I do love her work in Boogie Nights, though.

Also, I agree with everyone who said John C. Reilly - he is like the ultimate anti-P.S. Hoffman. When the latter goes over-the-top with ego acting, Reilly is the egoless glue that holds everything together... and still manages to be wonderful!


my favorite JOHN C REILLY is definitely in Boogie Nights (boogie nights so dominates for me... i think greater than magnolia for sure) and, as is oft mentioned at TFE I don't really much like PSH's work. Certainly not in PTA's filmography where he's allowed to run wild for some reason. argh

Anonymous said...

I would put Julianne's performace just behind her work for Haynes is terms of greatness. Not a likeable person, but her growing realization of that very fact about herself is very moving.

Plus, the scene in the pharmacy belongs in the pantheon of all-time-best rants.

Anonymous said...

I mean her perf in Magnolia...

Anonymous said...

whoops wrong entry. don't know how that happened.

For the sake of relevance, I will say that I think Cruise's performance in Magnolia is so successful not because he's playing himself (I don't think he is), but because playing a fun house mirror version of himself (or, rather, his public persona)... cleverly subverting his own unique charisma.

I still think his performance in Jerry Maguire is his best, though.

Anonymous said...

I agree with all of them. William H. Macy in Magnolia is also memorable. I can't look at an adult with braces without thinking of him.

It's great you included the Fiona Apple videos. They are like little masterpieces. "Paper Bag" is one of my favorite music videos of all time.

Anonymous said...

5 - Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights: great star turn playing the mirror De La Motta
4 - Tom Cruise in Magnolia: marvelous playing the motherfucker, astonishing when destroyed (this part is so scorsesean. Anyway, I see more Scorsese than Altman in PTA movies)
3 - Heather Graham in Boogie Nights, so beautiful
2 - Philip Seymour Hoffman in Magnolia: tender, delicate and real, like an angel. He surely has seen Wings of Desire before acting in Magnolia. Love this extremely subtle performance with no part, just that human angel aura.
1 - Julianne Moore in Boogie Nights: so beatiful, emotional, sexual, maternal, complex

- cal roth


you know. sometimes i speak too rashly. i didn't mean that PSH is out of control in ALL of PTA's movies. I actually think Magnolia is his best performance in anything (give or take Capote)

Anonymous said...

Moore and Cruise are the big names in Magnolia, but for me that movie is all about Melora Walters, John C. Reilly and Philip Baker Hall. The best scene in the movie is the one where Hall tells a hysterical Walters that he's dying. And what about the kid, Jeremy Blackman?

Agree that Moore gives the best performance in Boogie Nights, but I might throw in Alfred Molina for his brilliant single scene. Or why not Luis Guzman, who brings so much effortless comic relief to that film?

Glad you mentioned Hall in Hard Eight.

I love Punch Drunk Love, but I'd be hard-pressed to include a single performance from it on this list, although I found Emily Watson pretty beguiling in it.

Anonymous said...

Walters's performance in Magnolia is one of those that I don't understand why some people like it so much.

I mean, it's not awful or anything, but there are moments when I'm watching the movie (and I do pretty often... in my opinion it's the best of 1999) that I think it's particularly unsuccessful. Not sure why.

Beau said...

Julie in 'Magnolia' was fucking phenomenal. Exactly what that role required and more. The drugstore scene exhausts and enthralls me, all at the same time, every time.

Melora Walters was also sterling, yes.


steve i'm with you on walters in magnolia. i don't get it either. Though, that said, I think she's pretty f'in great in Boogie Nights.

and i just saw her in something else and it took me forever to remember where I'd seen her.

Anonymous said...

I liked her in Boogie Nights a lot, too.

Did you just see her in Big Love? She played Bill Henrickson's sister in law.


yes! that was it. i forgot. my big love review is here.

Anonymous said...

oh Julianne... she is luminous in MAGNOLIA and BOOGIE NIGHTS.... just LUMINOUS.... and she'll have a great comeback soon:


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