The Arbitrary Friday List is already a grand institution. I am filling in for B this week, so I hope that I can do it some small modicum of justice.
P.T. Anderson's (no, the other Paul Anderson, the good one) Magnolia is one of my absolute favorite films of all time. It's a phenomenal film and an amazing achievement. It's beloved my many and hated by many more. I've seen it more times than probably any other film not featuring Fozzie Bear.
It's an ensemble film in every sense of the word. The three-hour acting showcase weaves together some of the most compelling characters in cinematic history. And also Julianne Moore. So let's get to ranking them, shall we?
15. Linda Partridge
Last place goes to Julianne Moore. Last place always goes to Julianne Moore. I couldn't find any pictures of Ricky Jay from the film or the guy who says "I have perfect pitch" in the smuggest way humanly possible, or else they would get the last spot. Instead, it goes to Julianne Moore, who is supposed to be pilled up and distraught the whole film, but instead just reads her lines like she's hard-of-hearing Ecco the Dolphin.
She also has my least-favorite scene in the film and is responsible for the worst possible line-reading in a P.T. Anderson movie ever, as she is unable to make the (admittedly hard-to-make-work) line "Shut the fuck up shut the fuck up now you must REALLY shut the fuck up" sound like it's the first time she's ever used words. Also of note: "DON'T YOU CALL ME LADY"
Full disclosure: Julianne Moore is possibly my least-favorite actress of all time not named "the girl from Mrs. Doubtfire and Matilda" (that's probably her name), so your mileage likely varies.
14. Delmer Darion
Patton Oswalt plays a bit part in Magnolia. He plays a doomed blackjack dealer. It's Patton Oswalt, man, c'mon.
13. Mrs. Barringer
This lady is also from the prologue and makes the list more for her husband reacting to her screaming and firing a shotgun at him by saying "What." than for any other reason, but it's still a fantastic moment. Okay, this one is probably too high, but I wanted to put some distance between Julianne Moore and the rest of the list.
12. Rose Gator
Melinda Dillon has a fairly thankless role in Rose Gator, but it's the most understated of the film. "A long-suffering wife who finally has the strength to piece everything together" isn't very conducive to jokes, but it's an often-overlooked piece of the film that is integral to the ultimate redemption of two characters.
Also "Rose Gator" is probably also the name of Wally Gator's girlfriend.
11. Claudia Wison Gator
Oh, Melora Walters. You've made a career out of playing "crazy woman." When Amanda Plummer was getting long in the tooth, you swept right in and screamed "I'LL BE CRAZY" in a warbling voice. You've robbed Ms. Plummer of choice roles, from "slightly crazy porn star" to "crazy crazy-Mormon-sect member."
I bet Melora Walters gets all kinds of nasty letters from Amanda Plummer. Or maybe crazy ones.
10. Stanley Spector
Stanley is played by probably the least annoying child actor ever, which means that guy should probably get a god damn Nobel Prize. Usually child actors are all the worst parts of Full House and All That wrapped up in a bundle of baby fat. Generally the best you can hope for is someone who doesn't bug their eyes out on EVERY line, which is just another was of saying "D.J. from Roseanne." So if Stanley here is able to bring some goddamn subtext and nuance to a child's role, holy shit and god damn.
9. Luis Guzman
Yep, Luis Guzman shows up in yet another P.T. Anderson film playing a character named "Luis." In this case, he's a quiz show contestant who is pretty confident in himself despite not actually answering any questions. This really was the golden age of Luis Guzman playing himself in things. He should do that more often. Community gets it. Why did Luis Guzman ever fall off? Someone should correct this immediately.
8. Thurston Howell
Yep, this character's name is "Thurston Howell," although it isn't given in the film, only in the credits. Henry Gibson of Laugh-In fame appears as the competitor for the same heart as William H. Macy's character and man oh man I don't believe there has ever been a finer on-screen portrayal of "dignified old queen," which is an underutilized person in the real world that can all-too-often become merely a crass caricature. Gibson employs a deft hand and makes me totally want to hang out with him.
7. This Guy
Armenian Terry Funk here is Alfred Molina's right-hand man in the film and doesn't really do anything or say much. But there's a scene in the film (pictured above) where William H. Macy is asking Alfred Molina for money and is skirting around the issue of why he needs the money. Finally, Macy admits that the money is so he can get braces and the two other men are flabbergasted. Molina says it's ridiculous and This Guy just sort of sadly and obviously says, "No need for braces, Donnie."
"No need for braces, Donnie." must go through my head at least a dozen times every day. It's what I think to myself (and occasionally say out loud) any time there's no need for something to happen. It may very well be the best line delivery in the history of cinema.
6. Phil Parma
Phil Parma, the prototype Gene Parmesan.
Philip Seymour Hoffman is terrific. You know that. He'd make the top 10 in this list if he were just the lawyer in that awful fucking Julianne Moore scene. But he gets to basically out-act half the people in this film merely by reacting to them. He's fantastic trying to order porno magazines by phone. He's fantastic reacting to Tom Cruise threatening to drop-kick dogs. But he's most fantastic as just sitting and listening to the final monologue of Earl Partridge, before giving him a final dose of morphine and sending him on his way. Movies need people to act and people to react (unless you're Michael Bay or something). PSH's reactions are a big part of what makes the heaviest part of the film so haunting.
5. Earl Partridge
One of Jason Robards' final roles was as a man dying of cancer. You act long enough and you're going to play a dying person. I've always wondered about the ageism and weirdness of that. Obviously, old people die. It's sort of what the end game is. It's the basis of ageism, too. The elderly remind the non-elderly of their impending mortality and it fucks their shit up. But still, I wonder if "Rappin' Granny" from The Wedding Singer ever took a role and they were like, "And of course, your character dies in Act Two, because you're super old." How the hell do you react to something like that, as a person and as an actor? "Hey, we're casting this role. We think you'd be great because you literally look like you're about to keel over at any second."
Acting is weird.
4. Jimmy Gator
Philip Baker Hall is in nearly every Paul Thomas Anderson movie, because awesome guys like to be awesome together or something. Jimmy Gator is possibly the most complex character in the film, a beloved, philandering game show host who has learned he's dying of cancer and might be an incestuous diddler. Maybe.
This is a fairly bravura performance in a movie of only bravura performances (and Julianne Moore). Jimmy Gator slowly loses touch and falls apart on the air. Dig this suitcase-eyed motherfucker acting his ass off in this scene.
3. Frank T.J. Mackey
Obviously, this is the role in the film that gets the lion's share of the attention and publicity. And for good reason! This is easily the finest role Tom Cruise has ever had and he knocks it out of the park. It's the first time he was able to play a role that wasn't just him being "Tom Cruise" and he's clearly having a blast.
Mackey is a pick-up artist extraordinaire who is full of catchphrases that have been endlessly quoted ironically (and terrifyingly, non-ironically) over the years. He's over-the-top, sure, but Cruise displays true chops in the quieter moments later in the film, when he comes to terms with his dying father. Also, Cruise has a boner in one scene, wearing nothing but his tighty-whiteys. Tom Cruise's boner, everyone!
2. Officer Jim Kurring
John C. Reilly is a terrific comedic actor, but he's at his best when he gets to play an earnest guy just trying to figure out this crazy old life. Which I guess describes nearly every role he's ever had. Jim Kurring is the most genuine and well-intentioned person in the film and the closest thing to a true innocent. He screws up something that isn't his fault and he doesn't know if he can ever forgive himself for it. I don't know if there's anything in the world easier to relate to.
I'm just sad he didn't get to ask Tom Cruise how much he can bench.
1. "Quiz Kid" Donnie Smith
Everyone loves William H. Macy. It's hard not to. That's probably why his portrayal of "Quiz Kid" Donnie Smith is so profoundly heartbreaking. He just wants to be loved and he just wants to be okay, but he just can't figure out how to make it work.
"I do have a lot of love to give," he wails, in the film's most emotional moment. "I just don't know where to put it."
That line sums up the entire film and is the crux of what Magnolia is about. Moving through life is exceptionally hard. Emotions are overwhelming and confusing. Figuring out what will make you happy is terrifying. It's true for everyone. Magnolia is able to put that sentiment into words and pictures. If we can just make it through this one day, the film suggests, we might be able to come out a little better on the other side.
That's all you can ask for.
For more rankings of things you half-remember, check out our Arbitrary Friday List section.