Whether or not you’re a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson, one thing is certain — the man can direct actors. Over his seven features to date, no other American director (with the possible exception of Robert Altman, his idol) has helped inspire more great performances per capita to film. Sometimes, he’s working with actors who are no-brainer choices for roles: think Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood, or Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix in The Master. Other times, these great performances come from the most unlikely places: think of Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love, or Burt Reynolds in Boogie Nights. Or, hell, even Tom Cruise in Magnolia.
Anderson’s latest — the impossibly dense, surreal, and very funny Thomas Pynchon adaptation Inherent Vice — continues the trend. Like the book, the film follows the perpetually high hippie-cum-private-eye Larry “Doc” Sportello attempting to uncover a vague conspiracy involving a vanished ex-girlfriend, a kidnapped millionaire, Asian drug runners, evil dentists, powerful land-owners, corrupt cops, surf-musician stoners and a host of other warped Me-Decade denizens. And as with the rest of the writer-director’s back catalog, each of the movie’s performances feels like a mini tour de force.
As Inherent Vice is scheduled to hit theaters this Friday, we decided to look back over his body of work and select the 30 top performers in his films. Drink somebody else’s milkshake, skirt past that plague of frogs and dig in.