(United States, 1999)
Let me nip one likely criticism of this choice in the bud. If Magnolia didn't make my Top 10 list for 1999, how did it manage to finish in my all-time Top 100? The reason for this has something to do with perspective. Magnolia has aged - insofar as a film can "age" in two-plus years - extremely well. Since its arrival on home video, I have watched it four or five times, and liked it better on each occasion. The 1999 Top 10 List is a snapshot of how I felt in December 1999. The Top 100 List is a more recent picture. Nothing arrived on this list my mistake - Magnolia is there because I currently believe it to be one of my personal Top 100. I have always admired the film, but it wasn't until my third watching that I started to like it. The film contains some brilliant scenes, some powerful and audacious material, some mesmerizing acting, and an ending that no one could have predicted. It gets me to think, feel, and emote - how many movies do that? And every time I think I have the whole film figured out, I watch it again and get something new to ponder over. Magnolia certainly isn't for everyone - you have to be an adventurous movie-goer to appreciate its eclectic appeal - but, for those that it speaks to, this film has a lot to say.
Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
In order to get a sense of where Magnolia is going, it is necessary to introduce the various characters. At the center of events is Earl Partridge (Jason Robards), a television producer who, stricken by cancer, lies on his deathbed. His young wife, Linda (Julianne Moore), is desolate with grief and guilt, and has trouble coping with her impending loss. His estranged son, Frank Mackey (Tom Cruise), the charismatic guru of the "Seduce and Destroy" lifestyle, has worked hard to sever all connections with Earl. His nurse, Phil Parma (Philip Seymour Hoffman), seeks to fulfill his employer's dying wish and reunite him with Frank. Meanwhile, Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall), who is the host of Earl's most popular TV show, the long-running "What Do Kids Know?", also has terminal cancer. Like Earl and Frank, a rift exists between him and his child. When he attempts a reconciliation with Claudia (Melora Walters), she rebuffs him. Later, she embarks on a strange relationship with a gentle but ineffectual police officer, Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly). And Jimmy must explain to his wife, Rose (Melinda Dillon), why Claudia hates him so intensely. At the same time, Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman), a child genius on Jimmy's show, finds that the only way to get his father's attention is to win money. And, as Stanley continues to answer questions right, a former quiz show star, Donnie Smith (William H. Macy), watches the remains of his life go up in smoke. Together, these characters make up the leaves and branches of this tree.
With Magnolia, director Paul Thomas Anderson has segued into the realm of the three hour movie. It's an ambitious step to take - making lengthy movies with tangentially related and occasionally interconnected storylines can be a risky endeavor, both creatively and financially. Fortunately, Anderson has a deft hand when it comes to filmmaking; not since Robert Altman in top form have we seen such a finely-tuned ensemble piece. Magnolia is a kinetic picture that doesn't stop moving and rarely stays with one story for more than a couple of minutes before moving to the next. This approach allows us to get to know the principals quickly, and keeps us interested in the plights of ten different characters for nearly the full running length - right up to and through the improbable climax.
Click Here (will exit ReelViews)