The mid-1990s were filled with low-budget, often direct-to-video films that embodied what at that time was a particularly ubiquitous strain of bad movie: macho, flamboyant action movies studded with has-beens, and worshipping at the altar of Quentin Tarantino. The defining feature of this strange, sad subsection of would-be cult movies was feverish audacity. The filmmakers invariably set out to make the most awesome B-movie ever: They didn’t just want to make movies that undiscriminating video-store customers would enjoy once the studio movies had all been rented, they wanted to make fans’ favorite movie. Each aspect of these films demanded specific attention. Every entrance screamed that viewers were privy to the introduction of a surefire legend, a character destined to go down in history alongside Darth Vader and James Bond and George Bailey.
It seems unfair to lump in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 breakthrough Boogie Nights with this disreputable crop of overconfident, underachieving knockoffs. But Boogie Nights shares with these lesser non-entities a confidence that often veers into cockiness, a youthful energy that’s partly attributable to the director’s own youth, and an obsession with introductions. Boogie Nights is a film of loving intros. It isn’t just the major characters being unveiled with a flamboyance and sense of showmanship that broadcasts that they’re embarking upon a great adventure; seemingly every character with a speaking role is brought through the door as if they’re so fascinating, it’s almost a shame the movie isn’t just about them. Anderson gives character actors like Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Robert Ridgeley, all of whom most people wouldn’t recognize if they started peeing on the audience’s legs, the kind of introductions Sergio Leone gave Clint Eastwood.”—The beautiful imperfection of Magnolia