Films that Got Away: Magnolia

By Christian DiMartino

Title: Magnolia

Genre: Drama

Release Date: December 17, 1999

Film Rating: R

Leads: Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly

Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

In the opening sequence of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, the narrator (Ricky Jay) tells three very bizarre tales of murder. At the end of this scene, the narrator leaves the audience with a question: Does fate really exist, or does everything happen out of coincidence? This is actually the film’s main theme, and it leaves the viewer with this thought the entire way through.

Magnolia revolves around a group of people living in San Fernando Valley, California. On one very rainy day, each of the character’s lives is changed, for better or for worse. Some are seeking happiness, some are seeking forgiveness, and some, simply, are dying. Even though the characters have already been classified, they can be more specifically surmised.

The characters are thrown into three main classes: the do-gooders (John C. Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman), the evil-doers (Julianne Moore, Philip Baker Hall, Jason Robards), and those traumatized as children (Melora Walters, William H. Macy, Tom Cruise, Jeremy Blackman). Each of these characters is connected in some way, and all of it is leading up to a climax that will leave you saying, ”Huh?”

Let’s start off by saying that Magnolia is an amazing movie.  Each of these stories and characters is more fascinating than the next. Jon Brion and Aimee Mann’s constant tunes help these three hours flow by gracefully. There is not a boring second in this contraption. Each scene is funny, very powerful, or very sad. It is difficult choosing which scene is the best.

The three hour length may be off-putting to some, but I have watched Magnolia almost religiously for months. That said, some things still do not quite add up (The story involving “the worm”; the climax, which will only make sense if it is Googled) and it is a little long. But even with its flaws, Magnolia is one big, ambitious masterpiece. It is Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece. I love his other films too, but none of his previous films (Hard Eight, Boogie Nights) or later (Punch Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood, The Master) have quite matched this level of perfection. Anderson is arguably one of the greatest living directors, and even he agrees that Magnolia is the best of his work.

It is also an achievement for some of its actors. The acting alone in this movie adds to its perfection, but there is mainly one actor of the bunch that truly stands out: his name is Tom Cruise. Before seeing this movie, I was not a believer of Tom Cruise. He seemed a little wacko (still sort of does). But after seeing this movie, he has developed a fan.

He plays a guru named Frank T. J. Mackey, and basically his expertise is teaching guys how to seduce women. He is amazing in this movie. It is, without a doubt, his best work. It does not take very long to be convinced. Within a minute of Cruise’s presence on screen, it will leave you floored. The same goes for the rest of his scenes. It is bizarre how here he is in a supporting role and does better work here than ever before and after.

Cruise won a Golden Globe for his work here. He was also nominated for an Oscar, but lost to Michael Caine in The Cider House Rules, probably because, well, Michael Caine is Michael Caine.
Caine is great, but in other movies. Cruise should have won. Deep down, it is obviously true.

It also got two other Oscar nominations, for Original Screenplay (Anderson) and Original Song (Mann). That is it. Really? There is so much to admire here. It should have been nominated for Best Picture, Director, Editing, and probably a few acting nominations. I understand it not winning screenplay (American Beauty won). But the Best Picture (American Beauty won that too) snub is the most outrageous, considering it blows some of the nominees of that year away (The Cider House Rules is dull, The Sixth Sense is special for nothing more than a good twist).

Magnolia is the best movie of 1999. I will even go as far as to say that it is the best movie of the 1990s. Obviously, not many will agree, and that is fine. It is a beautiful, thought-provoking, powerful piece of work. One that only got three Oscar nominations, and that is why it is a film that got away.

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