The 3-Way Movie Challenge: Boogie Nights vs. Magnolia vs. There Will Be Blood

Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood:

They’re three great–no, fantastic movies from legendary director Paul Thomas Anderson. The films are epic mosaics of extraordinary colour and vision and they present amazing and enthralling tales. They’re all among my twenty favourite films, and this makes it even more difficult to pick the best one. An almost impossible task. But one I will attempt.

I’m not shy to admit that my personal favourite is Magnolia, but one of the other two follows very closely behind, and the third is an ever-lingering shadow trying to catch up. Just because it’s my favourite, does that mean it’s the best? Not necessarily. One of the others could be better. Let’s examine them, one by one, in chronological order, and see if we can figure it out.

Boogie Nights (1997)

This was P.T. Anderson’s second film, after the often-neglected Sydney (1996). It has a great ensemble cast of colourful characters, whose lives are all affected by involvement in the pornography industry. The cast is led by Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg), a young nightclub dishwasher who is discovered by porn director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds, the epitome of still got it) and propels to stardom through the films in which he ‘stars.’ He believes he is a big bright shining star, and along with his amateur kung-fu moves and a naive determination attempts to make it big. Anderson directs with grace, showing us beautiful tracking shots and a stunningly well-picked and suitable soundtrack. He recreates the 70s and 80s with the skill of experience, making a more realistic vision than we ever could’ve hoped for. Excellent.

Magnolia (1999)

Unashamedly my personal favourite, Anderson’s most sweeping, ensemble-casted film is ripe with emotion and deep, deep scars of humanity. The whole cast manage to give Academy Award-worthy performances, in my opinion. Anderson tells a story of cancer and cruelty, and the lasting effect such disasters have on the human mind and soul. Almost all the characters are hurt and feel alone, and many regret their past choices. The film’s screenplay is one of the most well-written pieces of the nineties, right up there with Pulp Fiction, a rather similar film. But Pulp never had the emotion and honesty of Magnolia. There was far less truth in Pulp, and it was more focused on the comic side of humanity, with a helpful splatter of violence. Magnolia has a unique knowledge of coincidence and chance, as well as ripping acting performances and a decent spoonful of heartfelt monologues. The coincidence theme is original and well-done, and helps to provide a more unique view of life in the San Fernando Valley and… life in general. Never have I felt the way I felt while watching Magnolia. Fantastic.

There Will Be Blood (2007)

Now the real contest begins. I’ve plead my case for Magnolia, but There Will Be Blood is a close runner-up in my favourites. But is it generally a better film? Let’s see… The story is an honest one with nice factual anecdotes and a vital attention paid to detail. The perfect Daniel Day-Lewis delivers his career-best performance as oil tycoon Daniel Plainview, who lacks but two emotions: greed and hate. By the sweeping, stunning ending, the greed emotion has been overcome by the hate, which seeps through his skin and explodes out of his body in fits of emotional, frightening rage. In Plainview’s words, “I look at people and see nothing worth liking.” His relationships with people are all mostly fake, and he lacks any real respect or love for his son, whom he cruelly abandons. There Will Be Blood pulls no punches, and is painful in its truthfulness. The cinematography earned an Oscar, and with good reason. The beautifully recreated early 20th century is punctuated with a sweeping camera which makes for enthralling, amazing viewing. The soundtrack is also worth noting. As usual, Anderson picks music which perfectly matches the mood and atmosphere and provides a notable addition to an awesome image. Spectacular.

So there you have it. Three quick reviews of three long, beautiful films. So which is the best? While Magnolia is my favourite, I’m going to have to go with There Will Be Blood. Every aspect of this film was perfect, and its cruel defeat at the Oscars by the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men was a painful sight to see. The true fact is that TWBB is a cinematic success, whatever way you look at it, and is a true masterpiece which tells, brutally, the true attitude and atmosphere of a greedy, sinful era.

Anywho, those’re my thoughts… What’s yours? Leave a comment and let me know.

Thanks for reading.


About Tyler

Patient observer of all things film and music, from Béla Tarr to Boards of Canada. Foul mouthed and clinging to the edge of sanity.

Posted on April 21, 2011, in Movie Reviews, Movies and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Seeing these three PTA films really drives home how fantastic he is as a director. “Boogie Nights” was a re-watch for me about a year ago. Times change and such, tastes develop, etc… And while I’d liked it a ton in college in 1998, John the Adult was blown away by it. (sorry, I don’t mean to start speaking in third person like that) The character arcs in that movie are tremendous. It’s hard enough to bring a few character arcs full circle. In Boogie Nights, PTA gives everyone closure in a really satisfying way. And there are a LOT of characters. Truly impressive.

    That said… I love “There Will be Blood”. It’s currently at #15 on my big bad list of all-time movies, and that’s ahead of a lot of tremendous quality. It’s on the short list of my favorites of all-time.

    • I didn’t see Boogie Nights until a few months ago, whereas I saw the other two earlier last year. I really love Boogie Nights (especially the soundtrack and tracking shots), although I do believe that seeing Wahlberg’s famed penis was unnecessary and gratuitous, and it disappointed me that P.T.A decided to show that, although the drug deal scene shown above more than makes up for that.

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