Before “Inherent Vice:” 10 Perfect Paul Thomas Anderson Moments.
Paul Thomas Anderson is the bee’s knees. If you were to have every working American director in a single room for an emergency meeting, PTA would be the spokesperson and everyone would shut the fuck up as soon as he took the mic. Same goes for David Fincher and Terrence Malick (though, the latter wouldn’t be getting up on any stage.) Anderson’s debuted in 1996 with “Hard Eight” (also known as “Sydney“), and it was already obvious how well he directs actors and how fantastically in tune he is with music and sound. While it also showed signs of things to come as far as the father-son motifs and smooth slicing of American values go, it wasn’t until “Boogie Nights,” the year after, that people started to realize this guy is good. This guy is really, really, fucking good.
Today, he’s one of the best, and he’s been the epicentre of a critical circle jerk for undeniably good reasons. His actors usually get some kind of award recognition (Julianne Moore, Tom Cruise, Bill Reynolds, Daniel Day-Lewis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, etc.) and even when his themes are too dark for cookie-cutter-loving voters, he might walk away with a nomination or two (as in the case of “There Will Be Blood“). He’s made 7 feature films by now, including his latest one “Inherent Vice,” which opened last Friday in limited fashion around NY and LA.
As my own little personal way of celebrating this modern auteur, this bonafide cinematic brainiac who will one day have libraries of books written about him, I’ve decided to talk about 10 perfect moments from his films. All of these moments reveal a perfect symbiosis of performance, writing and direction, often juxtaposing black humour with dark undertones, or simply gripped in the shackles of what makes us human.
A couple of provisos: since I’ve limited myself to 10, there will be nothing from “Hard Eight,” as much as that film is dear to me. Also, back off PTA fanboys; I realize that there are more than just 10 perfect moments in his films, but there’s no way I’m going to sit here and talk about everything that makes his cinema so fascinating because that’s a book and ain’t nobody got time for that. Not yet, anyway.
Jump the cut to read.
10. “Pig Fuck!”
Where is it: “The Master” (2012)
Who’s in it: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Evan Welch, Amy Adams, Joaquin Phoenix.
Why it’s Perfect: It shows how stupendously well Hoffman worked with Anderson’s dialogue, and how spectacularly Anderson evolved with his framing. The display of subtle brilliance from Phoenix, Adams (who don’t say a word, yet speak volumes through dazed looks and clenched teeth), and Welch (who has also, sadly, passed away while brilliantly playing Peter Gregory in HBO‘s “Silicon Valley“) also propel this pivotal scene in revealing the lunacy behind Dodd’s cultish theories. The”excuse me’s” introduce the humor, and the “pigfuck!” punctuates it, but underneath it all is a sinister kind of delusion.
9. Happy New Year!
Where is it: “Boogie Nights” (1997)
Who’s in it: William H. Macy
Why it’s Perfect: There are, of course, more people in this scene. Part of the reason it’s listed is because of how well he directed big ensembles, so you get to see the humorous pop-ins and pop-outs from the likes of Don Cheadle and John C. Reilly, but William H. Macy carries the whole scene. After years of humiliation, one tracking shot that lasts almost 3 minutes sees him end it all at the stroke of midnight, ushering in a new (much darker for our porno hero) decade. It also shows how fittingly PTA selected his songs, with The Watts 103RD‘s “Do Your Thing” almost playing like inspiration for Little Bill. Sad, funny, technically masterful.
8. Exodus 8:2.
Where is it: “Magnolia” (1999)
Who’s in it: John C. Reilly, Melora Walters, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Melinda Dillon, Philip Baker Hall, William H. Macy.
Why it’s Perfect: Anderson’s multi-thread storyline of hopelessly disjointed characters is weaved through various yarns, but the most miraculous of all is when shit gets Biblical. Teased throughout with various blink-and-you’ll-miss-them flashes of “8:2,” the prophecy comes true and, in different degrees, changes the lives of the characters we’ve been following from the start. It’s the most supernatural Anderson ever got, and it contains a plethora of marvellous moments: Hoffman’s reaction, the ambulance flip, the shot of the frog falling through Jimmy’s skyline, etc. Most of all, however, it strengthens the spiritual aura that elevates “Magnolia” into a sacred level.
7. The First Kiss.
Where is it: “Punch-Drunk Love” (2002)
Who’s in it: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson
Why it’s Perfect: Awkward, sad, funny, thrilling, and romantic. That’s the order of things in this scene that sees Sandler’s Barry leave Watson’s Lena after their first date. Barry couldn’t read a signal if it was staring him in the face with a big flyer miles discount attached to it, so instead of kissing her goodbye he hilariously and awkwardly says “OK, bye bye.” As he walks away framed in endless “Exit” signs, and goes down, Lena’s call brings him back up running through the endless “Exit” signs (this time, with a whole new meaning attached to them) and Anderson’s camera swoops in on him as he rings the door bell and kisses her sweetly and instantly. The whole scene is the nutshell of what makes the film so endearing.