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Before you see Inherent Vice, watch this trailer that will help you understand it

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One of the year's best films has one of the year's best trailers

Movie trailers have a reputation for spoiling what they're meant to be promoting. Studios seem to have such little faith in the power of mystery, that their marketing materials tell us what happens deep into the second act of most upcoming films. But the new trailer for Inherent Vice, one of the year's best and most difficult to follow films, does that rare thing: it makes seeing the movie more enjoyable without giving everything away.

Set in California at the end of the 1960s, the gumshoe noir follows Doc Sportello, a drugged-out detective with good intentions. Doc takes a gig from his ex-girlfriend Shasta that sends him on a chronic odyssey involving biker gangs, the Black Panthers, a former tenor sax star, a maritime lawyer, and a dentist — played by Martin Short — with a fondness for fine cocaine. Tracking what happens is like tracking an animal in the snow: the footprints disappear sometimes, and other times they lead back to where they started.

But the movie isn't purely dependent on its plot. It's a thematic experience, where seemingly incongruous characters and settings capture a moment and a feeling. Here's what I wrote about after it screened in the New York Film Festival:

I think Paul Thomas Anderson made a prequel to Laguna Beach. Hand to heart, that's what I thought when the lights raised on New York Film Festival's screening of Inherent Vice. The director of There Will Be Blood, The Master, and Boogie Nights has drawn a curly cosmic line from Tim Leary to Lauren Conrad. It's a nostalgic retelling of California's wealthy elites terraforming the sunny, relaxed shores of Orange County into the tacky wasteland they are today.

I wish I had seen this trailer before watching the film. The voice-over, performed by the brilliant musician Joanna Newsom, establishes the big picture expectations of the film, and delivers all the necessary exposition up front. I wish more films were as challenging as Inherent Vice, and more trailers were as useful as this one.

For more on Inherent Vice, read my conversation with Jake Kastrenakes.