Why Liquorice Pizza Should Win the Oscar for Best Picture movies

It’s agonizingly close, but this year Paul Thomas Anderson, along with co-producers Sara Murphy and Adam Somner, takes home the gold for his insanely delicious comedy Licorice Pizza. (Wait! is is it a comedy?)

I think I’d watch it everyday, twice a day if I thought I could get away with it. The sheer pleasure of this film is somehow not directly related to performances or narrative or genre (the genre here is almost impossible to pin down), but rather to its sheer texture, which is sensual and sublime. It’s a film that, in Chuck Berry’s words, has no specific place to go, but there’s a joy to the journey, the sheer bravado of filmmaking. Significantly, one of the key scenes involves a truck that has to be steered and guided downhill without fuel: the film has that same miraculous freewheel touch.

The performances are a wonder in themselves. Anderson took two complete novice film actors and found them to be perfect naturals. Cooper Hoffman (son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) plays Gary Valentine, a fast-talking high schooler and child actor in 1973 California with questionable skin who realizes his showbiz career is faltering now that he’s growing up and so decides to sell waterbeds as a sideline. He’s also fallen in love with a young woman who works as the school’s photographer’s assistant — and she’s the gorgeous Alana Haim from the pop band Haim, for whom Anderson has shot videos.

She is amused and annoyed and unintentionally fascinated by Gary’s attention and also, by her position in the studio audience, impressed by what turns out to be Gary’s last professional appearance as a child actor: his New York press tour for the imaginary family film Under One Roof: Alana was persuaded become his traveling companion – a really dysfunctional start to their romance or business partnership or whatever. Their relationship flips and flips, bouncing off various supporting characters: a shabby William Holden movie star played by Sean Penn, spirited producer Jon Peters played by Bradley Cooper, and a troubled political candidate played by Benny Safdie. Bowie and McCartney’s musical stings are swooning in their own right.

It’s a very pynchonic affair in its own right (appropriate since Anderson adapted Inherent Vice) and the surreal comic book scratches satirically coexist with meanness and grotesqueness: digs at anti-Jewish and anti-Japanese racism. Gary himself is based on Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks’ production partner – who really is one was a child actor and waterbed salesman in his teens – and also based on a kid Anderson saw hitting on a young woman 20 years ago. But in a way, Gary hovers free of those specific influences, he’s just a creation of that fervently remembered or imagined California era, like Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s actor and stuntman in Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood. Alana Haim herself is a triumph: a stylish, effortlessly charismatic character (actually more like Barbra Streisand). This is film hedonism, cine sensuality. It is wonderful.

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