#1. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzman
The moment of truth – my all-time favorite movie is one that I’ve seen dozens of times and a film I think back to almost every single day. Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2002 film Punch-Drunk Love is the most beautiful, unique, and challenging experience I’ve ever had with a movie. It explores themes of love, loneliness and isolation, and insecurity in a relatable and stylish way that resonates in ways that no other movie could ever accomplish. Punch-Drunk Love tells the story of toilet plunger distributor Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) as he struggles with his lonely, trapped, and insecure existence. He is alienated by his seven domineering sisters, and constantly made to reevaluate himself and his identity as a man. After an attempted extortion scheme from a phone sex operator, Barry meets a woman named Lena (Emily Watson) who is strangely attracted to him. On a whim, the neurotic and compulsive Barry surprises Lena in Hawaii, where the two hit it off and begin a romantic relationship. Unfortunately for the new couple, the phone sex operator’s extortion scheme leads to the couple being harassed, forcing Barry to fight for the woman he loves. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson brilliantly creates a palpable feeling of isolation and loneliness throughout Punch-Drunk Love, giving viewers a look inside the mind of Barry Egan. Barry is my all-time favorite movie character for a variety of reasons – his overly anxious, awkward, and nervous personality is something I’ve always been able to relate to, but also because it’s just plain funny to see his interactions with the world around him. He struggles to stay cool in social situations, and frequently has surprising and violent outbursts when he is left alone. Anderson’s writing of Barry Egan feels deeply personal and committed – he isn’t making fun of the awkward and lonely Barry, he’s empathizing with him and using the character to portray themes that are not often tackled in movies. Paul Thomas Anderson’s direction throughout Punch-Drunk Love is incredibly frantic and constantly on the move, but always feels small and relatively isolated which helps further the themes of entrapment. Anderson would win a well-deserved Best Director prize at the 2002 Cannes film festival for his work on Punch-Drunk Love. On top of incredible writing and directing from one of the world’s great contemporary filmmakers, the film features a truly terrific score from composer Jon Brion. Brion’s score is experimental and erratic, providing the perfect underlay for Barry’s many moments of nervousness, high anxiety, and misdirected anger. The use of the harmonium throughout is inspired and adds an extra layer of uniqueness to the score – the instrument is even reflected in the film’s plot. The film’s sound mixing plays a large part in the first half of Punch-Drunk Love, featuring constantly ringing phones, warehouse noises, and beautiful tone of the harmonium. Adam Sandler delivers a career-best performance as Barry Egan, being believably unpredictable and awkward at all times, but also surprisingly romantic and brave in his shining moments. Anderson’s brilliance as a director is reflected in Adam Sandler’s performance, as it’s clear that the actor was extra inspired in the performance. Emily Watson’s performance as Lena is equally as weird and compelling, even though she doesn’t have nearly as much screentime as Sandler. The two have more than enough chemistry to make the film’s central love story believable and adorable, and their interactions are some of the best moments in the film. I can’t possible state how big of an impact Punch-Drunk Love has had on my adult life – it provided me with a relatable, humorous, and beautiful story to escape in during some of my worst years. It’s a wonderful film that I can come back to again and again and still feel as moved as I was the first time – an unsung masterpiece whose brilliance can’t be understated. I’m proud to call Punch-Drunk Love my all-time favorite film, even if it’s a bond only I can understand – it’s a beautiful, incredibly well-crafted movie with themes that truly resonate with me.