The Five Best Characters Created by Paul Thomas Anderson

It’s Paul Thomas Anderson’s birthday today, so I’ve decided to honour the greatest living American film director (that’s right, I said it!) by presenting us with a look into his amazing mind and five crazy, unique characters that only he could have created.

1: Rahad Jackson, Boogie Nights (1997)

Even more astoundingly memorable than Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler or Burt Reynolds’s Jack Horner is Alfred Molina’s Rahad Jackson, who appears in only one scene, but one of the best scenes Anderson ever directed. His great tastes in American music and fiery rage with a gun are only two of the great reasons he’s on this list. Anderson created a character that any director or writer could easily have taken overboard, but has the right amount of great comedic value and genuinely chilling attitude.

2: Officer Jim Kurring, Magnolia (1999)

A warm source of naive empathy and contrasting experienced wisdom that is naturally necessary for a film like this, John C. Reilly delivers perhaps the most convicted and developed performance of his career as a young cop who falls in love with a drug addict, just one of various storylines in Anderson’s epic Boogie Nights follow-up. Delivering empowered Cops-style monologues to an imagined camera, and suffering for his job in the name of a God he’s forced to believe in following the death of his wife, Kurring is one of the most easily relatable and intricately accurate portrayals of hilarious naivety and saddening realization. Tough part of the job. Tough part of walking down the street.

3: Frank T.J. Mackey, Magnolia (1999)

In a brilliant film like Magnolia with so many characters, it’s easy to pick more than one and so here is another: an Oscar-nominated performance from a surprisingly excellent Tom Cruise as one of the most basically complex characters in the Anderson universe. Mackey is a man who is easy to despise. But he, like many of us, has been hurt, his life changed forever, by cruelty. He’s more of a victim than he is a perpetrator, and misogynistic or not, he’s a broken, unmended man, and Anderson has captured that perfectly.

4: Barry Egan, Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

It just goes to show that Paul Thomas Anderson can get a brilliant Oscar-worthy performance out of an acting failure like Adam Sandler. His performance as Egan is multilayered and filled with mental complexity, but he is written so brilliantly, so excellently, that it is easy for Sandler to rip his teeth into it and shine in the role he was born for.

5: Daniel Plainview, There Will Be Blood (2007)

Daniel Day-Lewis gives one of the best acting performances of all time in a stunning role as a man consumed by greed and sin, a man on whose face we see nothing but unrelenting age, and in whose eyes we see only brutal, unflinching hatred. I look at people and see nothing worth liking, says Plainview, and it is one of many chilling observations that are windows into the soul of a truly evil man. Sure, Day-Lewis brought him to life, but Anderson conceived him, and without him, we’d be without one of the most formidable, terrifying villains of all time, beating the hell out of Hannibal Lecter or Norman Bates by miles.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Anderson, and hopefully with The Master, there’ll be yet another character/s to add to the list.


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 June 27, 2011, in Filmmakers, Lists, Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. I am really looking forward to The Master. Probably a big Oscar contender as well.

  2. Everyone has favourites. I certainly do. But your blog is a little too saturated in P.T. Anderson.

    I think I mentioned a while back that my DVD collection has quite a few dregs in it, mainly because I would be going through a phase where I was infatuated with a director/actor and bought their films indiscriminately. Many of which I have grown out of. I can’t stand too much of one thing at a time and I would like to think you must as well.

    I love Jim Jarmusch but I could not watch his films back to back, the majority of his lethargically paced films would put me in a catatonic state of apathy.

    So I break down the low key festival films with some mainstream frivolity. Something by Tim Burton perhaps, which again if watched consecutively merge into one macabrely energetic soundtrack by Danny Elfman. Seriously the overture of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland are virtually soundalikes.

    I certainly have nothing against P.T. Anderson, I too have Boogie Nights and Magnolia on DVD. But he was never in the forefront of my mind until I came across your blog and quite frankly his presence is aggravating me. Of course who the fuck am I to rain on your blogging parade. If the roles were reversed I’d tell you not to read it if you find it bothersome and I’d write yet another article about the ‘Top 5 Crash Zooms in Wes Anderson films.’

    I of course like you blog, hence my enthusiasm to try and mix it up a bit. So here is my challenge: produce a review, article, poll, quiz or any format your heart desires on either a mainstream blockbuster (or schlockbuster), esoteric B-grade or animated film.

    I once recall you mentioning Falling Down somewhere. Fantastic. No one ever talks about Joel Schumacher’s work except when the topic of ‘those God awful Batman movies’ arises. I personally never would have thought I would own a Schumacher film but there Falling Down sits, bold as brass, on my shelf.

    “And now you’re gonna die, wearing that stupid little hat.”

    • I understand what you mean. I could write a million articles about David Lynch but I’m really trying to restrain myself. I only did this P.T Anderson thing because it was his birthday, but I should probably give him a break.

      I, too have found myself liking the occasional Schumacher film (Phonebooth leaps to mind as one I liked particularly, as well as Falling Down). Perhaps I should do a post on the ups and downs of his career.

      • That would be an interesting post. He really isn’t the monstrous hack he’s been made out to be because of “those God awful Batman movies.”

        He has made some truly reviled films though – The Number 23 comes to mind – but I think the good (or should I say adequate) outweighs the bad.

        And some of the ‘bad’ is ‘good’ such as The Lost Boys. In retrospect I have three Schumacher films on DVD but Falling Down is without a doubt my favourite.

        I’ve only seen 10 of his 24 films.

    • But I will take PT Anderson over Wes Anderson anyday. So I tried to watch the Royal Tenenbaums one day and it really… didn’t… zzZzzZzzzZ… uh… ZzzZzzzzzZzz ZzzZz

    • I haven’t seen too many Schumacher films (though I grew up with the Batman movies as a child, I can barely remember them and have no wish to revisit them), but I’ll keep the idea for a post under consideration.

  3. I’m not sold on Adam Sandler being on this list…Maybe I need to watch the movie again and, while you were right about Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview in ” There Will Be Blood ” , I disagree he is a better villain than Norman Bates or, certainly, Hannibal Lecter !

    • It’s like when a big Hollywood director makes an indie film, you have Punch-Drunk Love. Strange and very original, it all really rests on Sandler, who gives a performance the world thought he was never capable of. I have my nitpicks for P-DL, but overall it’s a very impressive, small movie.

  4. My favorite directors are Spielberg and Kurosawa. Each creative in their own ways and masterful at telling stories

  5. I’m going to avoid adding anything to the above discussion and just go with hell yes, Daniel Plainview! Forget PTA, you could probably have him close to the top of any list of film characters in the century thus far. Apart from that, however, Boogie Nights in particular offers a range of memorable characters. Rollergirl might be one of the most superficial archetypes, but I’ll be damned if she hasn’t left her mark on pop culture. Scotty and Buck are memorable roles as well, but in terms of meatier characters…throw some love in the direction of Julianne Moore! I love her as Amber Waves, and let’s not forget that she kills it in Magnolia, too!

    • It’s impossible to pick only the five best characters, but I tried my best. Anderson knew how to create great and impressive characters in a similar manner to Tarantino. They were both gifted, and helped propel certain actors into the spotlight. Think about it…where would Julianne Moore be without Paul Thomas Anderson? Nowhere, probably. She certainly wouldn’t have scored the great roles in The Hours and Far From Heaven.

  6. Wow, I’d see Boogie Nights just to watch Alfred Molina disappear into his character again!

    • I know, it’s so awesome. Everything about that scene is awesome. The firecrackers, the shouting, the tension… and let’s not forget THE MUSIC….!!! Fantastic stuff.

  1. Pingback: The Open Bar: July 4th Weekend — ANOMALOUS MATERIAL

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: