Second in my modern day cinematic admiration to only Quentin Tarantino, the great San Fernando Valley auteur Paul Thomas Anderson, affectionately known as PTA (and hubby to SNL alum Maya Rudolph), is a cut above most other filmmakers of his generation. Creating, again like Tarantino, some of the most interesting characters to come down the cinematic pike in a long time, PTA is more than deserving of a list such as this.
The director has made just five films so far (with a sixth due out next year) but what a five they are with not a dud in the bunch. Even with such a small amount of films, there were still many characters I was forced to leave on the cutting room floor including Jimmy and Clementine from Hard Eight; Buck Swope and Colonel James from Boogie Nights; Jimmy Gator, Claudia Wilson Gator and Linda Partridge from Magnolia; Lena Leonard from Punch Drunk Love; Eli Sunday from There Will Be Blood). And now, without further ado, my choices for the 10 Best Paul Thomas Anderson Characters.
Special Mention: Rahad Jackson in Boogie Nights
Alfred Molina’s coke-fueled drug dealer with a rather overzealous penchant for Night Ranger’s Sister Christian may only be on the screen for a short period of time in Boogie Nights, but those few minutes may very well be the best few minutes in an already great movie, a movie already full of great minute after great minute after so on and so on. This penultimate climax of the film – a frenetic few minutes that ends up with several dead people and one pissed off Mr. Jackson – deserves a bit of love on this list, so here it is.
Very Special Mention: All Four Philip Seymour Hoffman Characters
Appearing in more Paul Thomas Anderson movies than any of the director’s He was an obnoxious craps player in Anderson’s debut feature Hard Eight; he was the pudgy, pathetic gay porn film lackey Scotty J. in Boogie Nights; he was empathetic nurse Phil Parma in Magnolia and he was slime-ball sex line con man Dean Trumbell in Punch Drunk Love. The only PTA film Hoffman hasn’t been in is There Will Be Blood but he will be returning in 2012′s The Master, as Lancaster Dodd, an L. Ron Hubbard-esque character. How can you go wrong with PSH?
10. Quiz Kid Donnie Smith in Magnolia
William H. Macy stars as a messed-up former child quiz show phenom, now a lowly electronics salesman who spends his free time hanging out at a bar, dreaming of the studly bartender with grown-up braces and wishing for his own set of braces. The character is flat-out pathetic and who does pathetic better than William H. Macy? A sad look at what fleeting fame can do for a person’s psyche, especially the genius kind of psyche that Donnie has. Macy’s performance of this tragically hilarious figure is dead-on. And just wait to see what happens when the frogs start dropping.
9. Barry Egan in Punch Drunk Love
Who would ever believe that Adam Sandler could actually play a genuine character as opposed to the caricatures that he usually portrays. Well, he does just that as Barry Egan in Punch Drunk Love. Playing an angry, lonely, disturbed, but ultimately loving manufacturer of designer bathroom plungers (yeah, that’s right) Sandler may be playing a little bit of that kind of doofus he usually plays, but in the creative hands of PTA and the quirky style of characterization he implements in his work, it comes out as a sad man just this side of Greek tragedy and in the end, a hero to boot. And he does most of this in the snazziest of bright blue suits.
8. Amber Waves in Boogie Nights
How often do you sympathize with a porn star? But when we see porn queen Amber Waves, played stunningly by Julianne Moore, crying outside of the courthouse where she just lost custody of her child, it is as heartbreaking of a scene as you are apt to see on the big screen. Wife to Burt Reynolds’ porn king Jack Horner and den mother to a gaggle of young, lost porn proteges, including Dirk Diggler and Roller Girl, Amber Waves is the surprising role model of the Golden Age of Porn. Probably just as fucked-up, or even moreso, as any of those she takes under her wing, Moore’s Amber Waves is the tragic heroine of the porn-love party known as Boogie Nights.
7. Sydney Brown in Hard Eight
Cool, collected Philip Baker Hall as cool, collected Sydney Brown. The perfect actor for the part. With a dangerous air of suaveness to his swagger, Sydney is teacher, father figure, mentor and savior to the down-and-out gambler John (played by fellow PTA regular John C. Reilly) and hooker-with-a-reluctant-heart-of-gold Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow). Though with some similarities, Sydney can be seen as the yin to the yang of Tarantino’s Bill (again, crossing over QT and PTA). A dangerous figure that never seems to swerve past that demarcation line of good and bad, Philip Baker Hall plays him beautifully.
6. Jack Horner in Boogie Nights
The seventies was known, in hindsight, as the golden age of the porn industry. It was before video and before the internet. An age where an x-rated movie could be seen as a form of erotic art. Granted, it was cheap art, but art nonetheless. These were the days of Deep Throat and Emmanuelle. These were the days where the line between pornography and European art film were blurred beyond recognition. This was the golden age and in Boogie Nights, Jack Horner was the king of this golden age. And this king is portrayed by the man who was once the king of the box office, Burt Reynolds, in what would be a comeback role of sorts (he received an Oscar nod). Ultimately the comeback petered out, but Reynolds’ portrayal of porn king Jack Horner will always be there.
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