"We're going to make film history, right here, on videotape." Info
With his second feature, 1997's Boogie Nights, writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson introduced the wider world to his penchant for sprawling ensemble casts and stories that search for redemption in the tawdriest corners of American life. On the surface, Boogie Nights tells the story of Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), a naive teenager who follows his dreams and massive penis into the booming porn industry of the 1970s. But the film quickly becomes a richly shaded study of what happens when dreams crater and egos slam into reality. Cocaine, delusional career movies, and the early-'80s rise of VHS derail Eddie (aka Dirk Diggler) and the costars and crew members around him. It's a brutal turn, one that Anderson builds up with both hilarious setpieces and spasms of violence.
The biggest and loudest presences in Boogie Nights are often the least sympathetic: Wahlberg and Burt Reynolds (as porn impresario Jack Horner) brilliantly play off each other to reveal the depths of vacuous ambition that drive their characters. But the film's arc of disillusionment becomes truly moving, thanks to a dozen-odd other performances: Philip Seymour Hoffman in a quietly gutting turn as a closeted boom operator, Julianne Moore as a an elder porn actress who tries to be a nurturing force for Dirk, Don Cheadle as another porn performer (the amazingly named Buck Swope) who dreams of opening up his own hi-fi store, and pulls off one of the film's most powerful scenes of moral compromise. Not to mention William H. Macy as harried assistant director Little Bill, Ricky Jay as cinematographer Kurt Longjohn, and John C. Reilly as Dirk's sidekick. The sheer number and depth of these performances make Boogie Nights an incredibly durable film about things that don't last. —Scott Gordon