Magnolia (1999) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

We may be through with the past, but the past is not through with us.

I had no idea that director/writer Philip Thomas Anderson had this kind of talent. He's gone way beyond anything he's shown with his previous efforts (Boogie Nights, Hard Eight) to create a neo-biblical masterpiece, complete with prayer, frogs raining from the sky, and a sort of Hallelujah chorus sung by everyone together - things that sound stupid on paper, but that generate powerful screen moments in the context.

Like Noah, he's taken all his characters two by two. There are two women who can't cope without drugs, two quiz kids who need their fathers' love, two men dying of cancer, two compassionate but largely ineffectual caregivers, etc.

Together these people take part in several intersecting stories that deliver a tremendous emotional punch underlined by black humor, and a very high degree of cultural literacy. It's a bleak, draining, intellectual, emotional, arty movie, and it's umpteen hours long (3:11). Don't rent it for a pizza and beer experience, but if you are in the mood to see a film where the director has put his heart and soul and talent into creating a lasting work of art, you will want to see this unique film. It took me a while to get into all the stories, but when he got me involved, I couldn't draw away.


Melora Walters is naked very briefly on two occasions. In one, she's underneath a guy in a sexual tableau in which she has no interest.

In the other scene she is showering behind one of those frosted shower doors, so it's just suggestion

Tom Cruise parodies his own famous "dancing in the underwear" scene, and proves that he's still in flawless physical condition.

The film was not Oscar nominated. (American Beauty, Cider House Rules, The Green Mile, The Insider, Sixth Sense). Although that is a good list, in my opinion, Magnolia is without question a greater achievement than at least four of those films, and the other one is debatable. American Beauty is more polished and refined, but Magnolia is just up there in its sheer youthful love of filmmaking and compassion for the human race.

Let's take a look at the 1999 Oscar race (February, 2000) in light of the current ratings at IMDb.

2000 Oscar Eligibles nominated film? nominated director? IMDb rating Rank all-time
American Beauty Yes (won) Yes (won) 8.8 6
The Sixth Sense Yes Yes 8.5 28
Toy Story 2 No No 8.6 30
The Matrix No No 8.6 33
The Fight Club No No 8.5 37
Being John Malkovich No Yes 8.4 46
The Green Mile Yes Yes 8.4 52
Magnolia No No 8.3 60
Run Lola Run No No 8.4 61
The Insider Yes Yes 8.3 77
The Straight Story No No 8.5 85
All About My Mother No No 8.0 91
The Iron Giant No No 8.0 94
Boys Don't Cry No No 8.1 141
October Sky No No 8.0 165
Three Kings No No 7.8 190
Go No No 7.8 213
Cider House Rules Yes Yes 7.8 233
South Park No No 7.8 237
The War Zone No No 7.8  
The Hurricane No No 7.8  
Topsy-Turvy No No 7.7  
Election No No 7.7  
Sleepy Hollow No No 7.6  
The End of the Affair No No 7.5  
Tumbleweeds No No 7.4  
Sweet and Lowdown No No 7.4  
The Talented Mr Ripley No No 7.3  
Snow Falling on Cedars No No 7.3  
The Phantom Menace No No 7.3  

In passing, I don't think you can conclude that so many of the best movies of all time were made that year. It was a good year, but recent movies do better than older ones at IMDb. Having said that, let me add that there aren't many of this year's films on the all-time list, so 1999 was exceptional, and I think 1999 would have been the perfect year to break tradition and nominate more than five films. I believe that nearly every movie on the list above is better than The English Patient, which won one recent year, or The Full Monty, which was nominated one recent year.

But then again, several Jeff Fahey films are better than The English Patient.

(Hey, I'm kidding.)

Note: I haven't seen October Sky, Sleepy Hollow, or Tumbleweeds. Many people have told me that October Sky is marvelous and I need to see it, Tuna's caps show that Sleepy Hollow is obviously a stunner visually, and I don't know jack about Tumbleweeds.

This is one of the few years where the academy seems to have made a choice which can be defended. American Beauty still stands above the others. I don't have any quarrel with the winner, not do IMDb members.

The nominees, on the other hand - that's another question.

The table above speaks for itself. Among the other nominees, IMDb voters would have nominated only The Sixth Sense. I generally agree with throwing out Green Mile, Cider House Rules, and The Insider, but I don't necessarily agree that the replacements should be Toy Story 2, The Matrix, and The Fight Club. Cider House rules was clearly not as good a film as the top ten on this list, and was barely in the top 20 that year. The Green Mile is nominated because it met the criteria - serious movie about death row and the ultimate triumph of the human spirit, but it didn't deserve to be holding down a spot that could have been given to some very special and brilliant movies. The Insider is excellent, but out of its league in this competition.

If I can't nominate more than five, I guess I pick American Beauty, Magnolia, South Park, Lola Rennt, and ?????????. I just can't decide on a fifth one. Probably one of the fantasy movies: Toy Story 2, The Sixth Sense, The Matrix .... but which one? I liked them all, and I don't know how to pick a favorite. Maybe The Matrix, but I'm not sure. So nominate ten or more. Change the friggin' rules.

DVD info from Amazon.

The DVD is a two DVD set, which includes one entire additional movie - more than an hour long - which is a detailed diary of the films creation and release, and is fascinating.

Other features: deleted scenes, and the usual cheesy trailers and music videos.

Widescreen anamorphic. 2.4:1.

Back to Magnolia for a second.

PTA hired a tremendous cast for this film. I don't know if you can single out one or two performers, but if they gave an Oscar for best ensemble acting in an entire movie, this film would get my vote. Tremendous cast, backed with perfect mood-setting from the folk-operatic musical score, as well as the sweeping, slow grandeur of the camera movements. Tremendous film. About the best one I've seen since "The Sweet Hereafter", but please be advised it's not a mass-market entertainment movie, and will not be everyone's cup of tea.

Features a surprising self-parodying performance from Tom Cruise that is both scathingly funny and touching. He was nominated for an Oscar.

PTA is only 30 years old. Here is what's scary: he has now accomplished as much by his 30th birthday as famed boy genius Orson Welles. What does the kid still have in 'im?

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: Three and a half stars. Ebert 4/4, Berardinelli 3.5/4, Maltin 3/4.

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 80% positive. The negatives said it was pretentious, overlong, self-indulgent, and a sprawling mess. Among the distinguished reviewers, only Salon Magazine panned it. Since their reviewer is a good writer and a good movie critic, here is Salon's review, so you can see the other side of the coin.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb viewers rated it 8.3 out of 10. The puts it among the top 200 movies of all time.
  • With their dollars ... It was released only in selected theaters, ala American Beauty (1000 screens in January). It grossed 22 million dollars on a 37 million dollar budget. It won't make much, but it won't lose money, after factoring in foreign sales and other domestic revenues.

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