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Why Licorice Pizza should win the best picture Oscar

Kicking off our annual series ahead of the Academy Awards, the Guardian’s chief film critic cheerleads for Paul Thomas Anderson’s delirious, delectable retro comedy

It’s agonisingly close, but this year Paul Thomas Anderson gets the gold, with co-producers Sara Murphy and Adam Somner, for his delirious, delectable comedy Licorice Pizza. (Wait! Is it a comedy?)

I think I would watch it every day, twice a day, if I thought I could get away with it. The sheer pleasure of this film is somehow not directly connected with performances, or narrative, or genre (the genre here is almost impossible to pin down) but with its pure texture, which is sensual and sublime. It’s a film which has, in Chuck Berry’s words: no particular place to go, but there’s joy in the journey, the sheer film-making bravura. Tellingly, one of the key scenes concerns a truck which has to be steered and guided downhill without gasoline: the movie has the same miraculous freewheeling touch.

The performances are a miracle in themselves. Anderson has taken two complete movie-acting newcomers and found them to be complete 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 iffy skin who realises that his showbiz career is on the skids now that he’s getting bigger and so decides to sell waterbeds as a side-hustle. And he’s also fallen in love with a young woman who works as assistant to the school photographer — and this is the wonderful Alana Haim, of the pop band Haim, for whom Anderson has already directed videos.

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