by John Farr
Who knew that a bit part in The Fugitive would lead to such a prolific and polished silver screen career?
Vanya on 42nd Street (1994)
Director Louis Malle’s swan-song takes us inside a run-down New York theater for a reading of Andre Gregory’s upcoming presentation of “Uncle Vanya”. The cast, featuring Wallace Shawn (Vanya), Julianne Moore (Yelena), Larry Pine (Dr. Astrov), Brooke Smith (Sonya) and George Gaynes (Serybryakov) proceed to enact, in their shirtsleeves, Chekhov’s brooding tale of jealousy and isolation, with pauses for coffee-breaks between acts.
WHY I LOVE IT:
Pared down, offbeat approach to rendering of Chekhov may inflame purists, but actually makes the playwright’s dark, depressing work more accessible. We get the full treatment, with no flubbed lines or distractions to break the dramatic tension of the piece. And though Shawn and Moore may not be ideal casting, they turn in holding performances which transport us to that bleak, far-away time in rural Russia. A daring and intelligent piece of work from the late Malle, which takes us behind the velvet curtain to view at close quarters the practice and discipline of acting.
Boogie Nights (1997)
At a disco one night in the 1970s, adult-movie impresario Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) spots handsome busboy Eddie (Mark Wahlberg), and invites him for a casting call. Almost overnight, Eddie – a good-natured, slightly dim kid from a broken home who believes he has “something special” to share with the world – changes his name to Dirk Diggler and becomes a porn star, with all the perks and dangers such a lifestyle entails.
WHY I LOVE IT:
Loosely based on the life of ’70s erotic-film stud John Holmes, Anderson’s surprisingly human second feature is an Altmanesque blend of wistful humor and naturalistic ensemble acting. Dirk quickly discovers his “real” family in the cozy, coke-fueled decadence of Horner’s misfit milieu, where he’s nurtured by maternal porn actress Amber Waves (Julianne Moore), and befriended by numerous quirky types played by a who’s who of ’90s A-listers: Heather Graham, John C. Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Don Cheadle, and William H. Macy. An offbeat gem, with a tongue-in-cheek “money shot” that’ll make your jaw drop.
In the San Fernando Valley, a male nurse (Philip Seymour Hoffman) caring for a dying media titan (Jason Robards) tries to contact macho sex guru T.J. Mackey (Tom Cruise) to tell him about his estranged father’s fading condition. Meanwhile, an ailing TV quiz-show host, Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall), hopes to reconnect with his drugged-out daughter (Melora Walters), who’s being courted by a tender-hearted cop (John C. Reilly) in this sprawling drama of intersecting lives and fortunes.
WHY I LOVE IT:
Anderson’s magnum opus is an ensemble film like none we’ve seen since the heyday of Altman, clearly the young writer-director’s inspiration. Each member of the impressive cast, including Julianne Moore as a pill-popping wife and William H. Macy as a grown-up child celebrity, bring an angst-filled depth to the themes of personal and familial dysfunction that have defined Anderson’s work since “Boogie Nights.” Plus, playing a misogynistic motivational speaker, Tom Cruise registers with one of his most powerful performances ever. “Magnolia” is a revelatory, emotionally cathartic film full of energy and a robust enthusiasm for cinema. Despite a final, overwrought “plague” sequence which blunts its overall impact, this film remains a breathtaking psychological drama, full of twists, turns, and sing-songy surprises.