At present, I may have a difficult time defending 2005 as an exceptional year in cinema. But, I do not encounter the same obstacles defending 1999; the century that saw the birth of film could not end with appropriate punctuation. When Magnolia, a wonderfully original and narratively complex piece in a year of numerous inventive films (Being John Malkovich, Sixth Sense, South Park, American Beauty, Fight Club) gets only one Oscar nomination in a major caotegory (Tom Cruise as Supporting Actor, in his best performance to date), you know it is a great film year. P.T. Anderson, who is part of cadre of relatively young American filmmakers raised on a healthy diet of American blockbusters, French New Wave and gritty films of the 70s, has only made four feature films, with Magnolia as his third (a film he made at the tender age of 30).
Magnolia is P.T. Anderson's tribute to Los Angeles: a plastic city inhabited by emotionally shallow and morally ambivalent individuals driven by material success. As Magnolia suggests, even plastic is pliable and textured. Like L.A., Magnolia is without a center; the film weaves together the intensely personal stuggles of various disaffected and isolated, yet coincidentally interlinked, people that cultivates an emotional response rather than a coherent narrative focused on a single plotline or protagonist. Undisciplined ensemble films helmed by lesser directors often collapse into hackneyed stereotypes and narrative gimicks. However, Anderson grants his talented actors the freedom to bring the necessary humanity to each performance. He symphonically balances long takes, allowing each actor to explore the character in uninterrupted fashion, with well-paced, rhythmic edits that intimately ties together each character's inner turmoil. This time around, I was quite impressed with the narrative economy in which Anderson's develops each character's backstory; before the opening song finishes, we understand the demons each individual faces.
Despite warm, but no overly enthusiastic, critical response, Magnolia has escaped academic attention; few scholars have engaged this film beyond passing reference (Fight Club is the academic cinema de jour from 99). But I imagine as Anderson builds on an already impressive opus, film scholars will revisit this gem from the American auteur, a la Paths of Glory or Mean Streets.
Marcus suggests I should actually trash a film; I seem to only watch films I like or anticipate liking. Maybe one day I will, but not today. This smart and touching entry is well worth a (re)visit. Mind you, "if thou refuse to let them go, behold, I will smite they borders with frogs" Exodus 8:2.
And no, it is not a bad thing to confuse children with angels.