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Magnolia (free)

  • Central Library 201 West Mifflin Street Madison, WI, 53703 United States (map)

Blessed with a teetering ensemble cast (which would have aged better if it weren't so overwhelmingly white for a film set in Los Angeles), 1999's Magnolia is one beautifully arrogant crescendo of a film. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson threads together a whole sprawl of storylines in a way that at once makes one admire his stylistic daring and makes one grateful for the more centered structures of films like The Master and There Will Be Blood. All of Magnolia's threads point toward catharsis and/or crisis and everyone ends up singing that Aimee Mann song. It can be a tough film to grapple with as a whole, but it's still a treasure trove of performances—Philip Seymour Hoffman as a tender home-care nurse, Tom Cruise as a vacantly spiteful pickup guru, John C. Reilly as an earnest cop, Melora Walters as a tormented cocaine addict, Jeremy Blackman as a put-upon game-show prodigy, and so forth. Does all this belong in one film? Maybe not, but it's magnetic anyway. —Scott Gordon