Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Anderson is at his best, and his most different from Altman, in his moments of inspired surrealism. In addition to the climactic act of God, the game show that Hall's character hosts is impossibly pompous: initial categories are "Authors," "Chaos vs. Superstring" and "Rub-a-dub." Later features of the game include Hall reading a line from an opera, then challenging the competitors to give it back to him in the language it was written, with bonus points if they sing it in tune. Yet another category features a musical piece being played while Hall asks what aspect of a picnic said tune is most likely to represent. Meanwhile, Moore conducts a masterfully defensive, let's-cut-through-the-B.S. nervous-breakdown scene simply by using different intonations of the phrase "Shut the fuck up!" Not to mention the scene where a dead dog is carried out on a hospital gurney.

In further reference to the aforementioned Exodus 8:2, the numbers eight and two have been carefully planted throughout the film, a strategy that may impress many but has been done before by Peter Greenaway, in Drowning by Numbers. But why hassle Anderson over his knowledge of film history? Doesn't everyone borrow from what came before? Isn't his choice of influences generally good? Well, yeah. Enjoy his movies all you want. But let's not allow ourselves to be deluded into thinking they're groundbreaking or original.

William H. Macy in Magnolia, which borrows heavily from the films of Robert Altman
William H. Macy in Magnolia, which borrows heavily from the films of Robert Altman

Opens Jan. 7.

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