Sunday, December 14, 2014

Top 10 Unsung Performances in Paul Thomas Anderson Films

As I sit moments away from seeing Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film, Inherent Vice in 70mm, I thought it’d be fun to take a look back at some of the unsung performances from his pervious films. There are many, many other performances that could be listed here, so do feel free to share your favorites as well.

Honorable Mention
Gwyneth Paltrow – Hard Eight (1996)
as Clementine
Gwyneth Paltrow’s work in Hard Eight is the Gwyneth Paltrow performance for people who don’t like Gwyneth Paltrow. Clementine is simple and sweet, a woman of the night with heavy mascara and smeared lipstick. Believe me, if you’re not typically a fan of Paltrow’s work (outside of say, The Royal Tenenbaums), then I can all but guarantee you’ll enjoy her performance in Hard Eight.

10. Paul F. Tompkins – Magnolia (1999)
as Chad, Seduce & Destroy operator
Paul F. Tompkins is best known for his comedy skills, but his performance as the empathic Chad in Magnolia is some of the finest voice acting I’ve ever heard. You really believe this guy is going to help Phil Parma out, thereby reconnecting a father and son.

9. Philip Seymour Hoffman – Hard Eight (1996)
as craps player
The collaboration between Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Thomas Anderson will remain forever indelible. And while their last four films together often get the most play, I promise you’ll have a blast going back to the source via Hard Eight. Hoffman isn’t in the film for very long, but he succeeds at being the most humorously obnoxious craps player in the history of cinema. “I don’t wait for oooold people, I don’t wait for oooold people.”

8. The Sisters – Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
The seven sisters in Punch-Drunk Love prove to be the only background we need to understand Barry Egan’s psyche. I mean seriously, could imagine growing up with that crowd? Interestingly, I just learned this marvelous bit of trivia via the amazing PTA-based website, Cigarettes & Red Vines:
“I went to meet with these two sisters and in talking discovered that they had two cousins,” said Paul Thomas Anderson. “So of the seven sisters in the film, six are non-actors and four are related. It was kind of crazy, especially given that we asked some of the women to bring their husbands along, but they all gelled perfectly. They had no fear.”
7. Robert Ridgely – Boogie Nights (1997)
as The Colonel
You can’t really beat that triple take Ridgely does the first time he sees Dirk Diggler’s diggler. The way his forehead melts and his smile dissipates, it’s as if he realizes in that moment that everyone involved in Dirk’s movies are going to be filthy rich. And then on the flip side, you have Ridgely’s heartfelt admission of guilt from behind a prison window later in the film. Silently begging for his good friend, Jack Horner, to acknowledge their friendship. Ridgely died mere weeks after they shot that scene, making it some sort of uniquely heartbreaking send-off.

6. Christopher Evan Welch – The Master (2012)
as John More
Who can forget the controlled yet quietly disruptive John More from The Master? More’s articulate and wholesome public damnation of “The Cause” is the first time we see Lancaster Dodd tested. And More and Dodd’s verbal exchange proves to be one of The Master’s most thrilling and telling moments. I could watch it over and over. Sadly, Welch died from cancer last year, months before he would’ve become a breakout success due to his turn on HBO’s Silicon Valley. Rest well, fine sir.

5. Ciarán Hinds – There Will Be Blood (2007)
as Fletcher
Fletcher is the guy who’s always there. He’s the right hand man. The confidant with a conscience. Hinds’ reserved and sympatric portrayal of Fletcher is a perfect juxtaposition to Daniel Day-Lewis’ ferocious Daniel Plainview. One thing I love about Hinds’ performance actually doesn’t involve Hinds at all. When we cut to those final scenes in the early ‘20s, we notice that Fletcher is no longer by Plainview’s side. I’ve always wondered what Fletcher’s breaking point was. When did he finally realize that enough was enough?

4. Thomas Jane – Boogie Nights (1997)
as Todd Parker
“That shit's jammin’, man. Start down low with a 350 cube, three and a quarter horsepower, 4-speed, 4:10 gears, ten coats of competition orange, hand-rubbed lacquer with a huplane manifold. Full fuckin’ race cams. Whoa.”
I fucking love Todd Parker. He probably has my favorite character introduction in Boogie Nights, a film full of amazing character introductions. New Year’s Eve, 1979. We hear tires screech to a halt, a fence door is kicked in, and in struts Todd Parker. A few cameras flash, and Todd just strolls on by, feelin’ it. I get endless enjoyment out of watching this guy in action.

3. Michael Bowen – Magnolia (1999)
as Rick Spector
Michael Bowen’s Rick Spector is such a concise yet thorough depiction of a tiger parent from hell. Rick is so eager to piggyback off the success of his genius son, Stanley. His patience is razor thin, his demeanor is appalling and his overall attitude is generally elitist. Rick’s meltdown in the TV studio marks some of the finest acting of Bowen’s career, but I love the way Bowen handles his final moment in the film. There’s no tearful plea for forgiveness. “Go to bed,” is all we get. And, knowing Rick, that’s about as much as we can expect.

2. Dillon Freasier – There Will Be Blood (2007)
as H.W. Plainview
I don’t know where Dillon Freasier came from, but thank god Anderson cast him as Daniel Plainview’s son, H.W., in There Will Be Blood. It’s genuinely one of the finest child acting performances I’ve ever seen, and I am stunned that Freasier hasn’t been in a movie since. It also speaks so highly of Freasier’s work that Daniel Day-Lewis was quick to thank the youngster in his many award speeches for There Will Be Blood. This kid has more nuance and restraint than most adult actors currently in the game.

1. Joanna Gleason – Boogie Nights (1997)
as Eddie’s mother
I wrote at length about Joanna Gleason’s towering work in Boogie Nights in this post detailing my favorite scene from the film. Her hellacious argument with her pre-Dirk Diggler son, Eddie, is Boogie Nights at its most visceral. Much of the intrigue about the scene is that Anderson doesn’t go out of his way to explain where the mother’s hatred comes from. Most all moms are upset with their teenage son at some point, but Eddie’s mom is emotional abusive to the point of shock. I’ve followed Gleason’s TV and film work closely since Boogie Nights. And while she always manages to churn out solid performances, she has yet to reach the combative peaks of Eddie’s angry mom. I could watch a whole movie about this mom’s life.

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  1. Goddamn, I'm envious that you're seeing P.T. Anderson's new film in 70mm. That is a bucket list of mine is to see a film in 70mm. I hope to that next year with The Hateful Eight.

    This is a great list as I liked Gwyneth in Hard Eight as well as Hoffman in that film.

    Ridgeley was so good in that prison scene as it makes me sad that he would died as he was so good in that. Thomas Jane and Joanna Gleason were also great as Gleason scared the fuck out of me in that scene with Wahlberg.

    That's one of the things about Anderson that I love. He gets actors to bring their A-game to the film and they often deliver. I'm going to have to wait probably a month at least to see Inherent Vice as it's the one film of 2014 that I'm eager to see more than anything else.

    1. He's so damn good at casting. Every one of his films is cast to perfection, whether an A-lister or a character actor. Love to hear your praise of Ridgely and Gleason in particular. So good.

  2. So many of these I love (and many are often in the highlight scenes of their respective movies). Nothing needs to be said about Gleason (not only have you already said it all already lol, but it's scarily good), and Welch's scene in The Master I think is the scene I always think of when I think of that film. Love that you brought up Ridgely and Hinds though, two very underrated performances in those films and their presences always stick with me even when neither of them are on screen.

    I am looking forward to Inherent Vice soooo much man, as I'm sure you and many other of your readers can relate. I am as excited as anything to see this movie man!

    1. Whenever I think about The Master, I usually think about that scene as well. I love the beat he takes before he says his name. "....John More." So good.

      I should have my Inherent Vice review up later today. It was, uh... somethin'.

  3. Excellent choices, Alex. I really need to watch Hard Eight again; it made a real impression when I saw it a while back. Both of those performances (especially Paltrow's) were so good. I'm still torn on what I think about The Master, but the scene with Christopher Evan Welch was one of the best. I know him mostly from the AMC show Rubicon, and he brought a lot to that scene.

    1. Thanks Dan. I love your praise for Hard Eight. I remember hearing the stories about that film before I ever saw it. How PTA got screwed by the studio and he more or less turned his back on the movie. But then I saw it and I thought... shit, this isn't bad at all. In fact it's pretty damn good. So I'm happy to hear that you're a fan.

  4. I've always thought Fletcher was intimidating in There Will Be Blood, particularly the scene where they meet Paul Sunday. I love how he introduces himself, "I'm Fletcher Hamilton". He says his name as if Paul should already know.

    1. Great call, I completely agree. He has such a strong presence. I love that guy.

  5. Great list with amazing performances! My favourite would also have to be Joanna Gleason. That scene is one of my favourites from the film, not only because of Gleason, but also because of the man who plays Eddie's dad (I can't remember his name though). Gleason was a one scene wonder in Hannah and Her Sisters, I really liked her there as well. From Gleason, my favourite performance of hers would be in Into the Woods. She was fabulous!

    Love that you have PSH in here. I haven't watched Hard Eight or The Master in a while, I should try watching them again soon.

    I hope you enjoy Inherent Vice!

    1. Now I'm even more excited to see Into the Woods! I love hearing that Gleason gives a strong performance in it. The dad in that Boogie Nights scene... wow, he floors me. What a powerful shot that is. Easily my favorite shot of the film. He's just sitting there on the edge of the bed, waiting for the horror to subside.

    2. Sorry if I confused you! Gleason isn't in the film version, she was in the original Broadway run, and she won a very well-deserved Tony for it too! Emily Blunt is playing her role in the film. I think that there is a filmed version with the Original Broadway Cast on YouTube, if you're interested in watching it before the film.

      Yeah, I didn't really notice it because when I first watched it because I wanted the film to quicken to get to where Eddie becomes Dirk, but after watching it a few years later, it just absolutely killed me, especially that shot.

    3. Ahhh gotcha, that makes sense. I've heard she is a really renowned theater actress. I'd love to see her live on stage on day!

  6. Bowen's performance as Rick Specter is so good. One of the things that stands out the most in the trailer is Rick having a fit throwing the chair across the room. It's such a tense moment in a film that pulls out all the stops.

    I really get throttled with that performance in Boogie Nights as well. As PT said in the commentary, I wish it was ten minutes longer.

    1. So glad to hear your praise for those performances. PTA's commentary for Boogie Nights is one of the best I've heard. Makes me wish he did them for all his films.

  7. GREAT list! I really loved Philip Baker Hall's performance in Boogie Nights.

    1. Thanks! He's so good in that movie. Hall and PTA work great together.

  8. Poor Stanley Specter ... that kid's plight was heartbreaking. Great list!

    1. Ahh I know right? Such a strong performance. Thanks for the comment!

  9. I can't believe i still haven't gotten around to checking out Hard Eight. It's the only PTA movie i have yet to see other than Inherent Vice. I'm gonna have to put that on my 'to watch' list right away.

    1. It's a lot better than many people (including PTA himself) give it credit for. The cinematography is WAY better than it should be (based on the film's budget) and the cast is universally superb. Let me know what you think when you check it out!

  10. Gwyneth Paltrow, The Sisters, Robert Ridgely, Christopher Evan Welch, Dillon Freasier, Joanna Gleason, all steals some scenes, love them. They got some great moments. I wanted to ask you what are your Top 5 Male Performances in PTA Films and your Top 5 Female Performances in PTA Films?
    For me:
    5.Adam Sandler (I'm a really big fan of his body of work)
    4.Mark Wahlberg (his best performance)
    3.Tom Cruise (maybe his best role, when I saw the film I said: Tom Cruise act for the first time)
    2.Daniel Day-Lewis (his greatest performance, the fact that I love about PTA, he makes his actors to act to their limit)
    1.Philip Seymour Hoffman in every single film (a legend lost, indeed, I cried when I saw him Lancaster Dodd in The Master, Dean Trumbell in Punch-Drunk Love, Phil Parma in Magnolia, Scotty J. in Boogie Nights, that man somehow became his character in every of this films)

    5.Heather Graham (she has great moments in Boogie Nights, love her there and in Hangover)
    4.Amy Adams (was great in The Master but I don't know why she was nominated, she is good but not that good)
    3.Emily Watson (her performance was absolutely wonderful in that film)
    2.Joanna Gleason (your favorite scene in Boogie Nights is my favorite scene in Boogie Nights, she nails her role)
    1.Julianne Moore (she was incredible in her role in Boogie Nights, she was perfect)
    1.Julianne Moore (she was a 100% her character, in that pharmacy she got me, my eyes were on her and just her)

    1. Ohh man that is so tough. Okay, let me think here...

      5. Joaquin Phoenix – The Master
      4. Tom Cruise – Magnolia
      3. Mark Wahlberg – Boogie Nights
      2. Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Master
      1. Daniel Day-Lewis – There Will Be Blood

      5. Joanna Gleason – Boogie Nights
      4. Emily Watson – Punch-Drunk Love
      3. Julianne Moore – Boogie Nights
      2. Amy Adams – The Master
      1. Julianne Moore – Magnolia

  11. Great list. This just reminds me that I need to rewatch most of these films, and I've not seen Hard Eight (or Inherent Vice) yet. Freasier and Welch stick out to me, but I really need to give Magnolia and Boogie Nights another look. Speaking of Paltrow, I saw Sliding Doors recently, and it might be her best performance. She can be great in the right role.

    1. You know, I've actually never seen Sliding Doors. The concept sounded very intriguing, but I've never checked it out. I definitely will now!

  12. Dillon Frasier, the adopted son of Regina Frasier, a TX state trooper, came from Dirks-Anderson Elementary School in Fort Davis. PTA sent casting on a mission for a tough little lad who could handle a rifle and generally keep his cool under pressure. School principals in the towns of Marfa, Alpine and Fort Davis were interviewed and asked to suggest pupils who might fit that description. Dillon, obviously, was the choice.

    Soon after filming ended, the Frasiers moved away from Fort Davis, and Dillon continued doing what he loved best, playing football and tussling with his classmates. He had no interest in furthering his acting career.

    1. Thanks so much for the personal insight! I'm very glad to hear Mr. Frasier is happy and doing well!

  13. You're welcome! I worked as an extra in TWBB, and it was quite an experience. Having been behind the scenes, I will never watch movies the same way again.

    In Fort Davis Dillon was quite the hero for awhile.

    1. Oh wow, that is SO cool. I would absolutely love to hear more about that experience. If interested, I would love to interview for this site and learn more about that shoot. There Will Be Blood is one of my all-time favorite movies. It would be an honor to have a glimpse into how it was made!

  14. What would you like to know? There's quite a lot to tell.

    1. My oh my, where to begin. Could I create a list of questions and email them to you? Or we could do a phone call so you wouldn't have to type so much. Whatever you're comfortable with - I really appreciate this!

    2. Best email? You can send me one first if you like: