All the exciting movies come out at the end of the year in the U.S., which means we over here in Australia don't see them until, oh, about April the next year. If we're lucky. So, every movie I wanted to put on my "best of" list this year was actually released last year "where it counts," rendering my list rather cobwebby. TV is the same way. All the big-time shows in the States seem to be mid-season fillers over here, so while America enjoys Joe McIntyre in Boston Public, I'm still getting to know Michael Rapaport.
So, minus that, as well as Gangs of New York, Catch Me if You Can, Bowling for Columbine, Adaptation, 25th Hour, Secretary, 24 Hour Party People, Chicago, Far From Heaven, About Schmidt, Punch-Drunk Love, The Rules of Attraction, and all the other movies that'll I'll be forced to leave off my list next year, here are my faves in film and on TV for the year that is about six months behind everybody else.
Best Film: Session 9 (Brad Anderson)
Five HAZMAT workers are stationed at the abandoned Danvers Mental Hospital to remove asbestos from the dilapidated structure. From the moment they set foot in the creepy place, their minds are plagued by their own inner demons, and inabilities to control their fears or desires. Just what is causing these seemingly sane guys to suddenly fear everything around them, including each other? Anderson (Next Stop Wonderland) brings to life this haunting tale of fear and redemption with no supernatural elements coming into play, and no horror or visual trickery. The smart script develops each of the five guys --played by Peter Mullan, Josh Lucas, Steve Gevedon, David Caruso and Brendan Sexton III -- and drags the viewer along on a veritable scuba dive through the deepest, darkest pits of the mind. I was unable to forget the film's images for weeks. The only thing scarier than the film is the eight minutes of deleted scenes on the DVD.
Best Actor: Robin Williams in Insomnia (Christopher Nolan)
I was impressed this year by a number of good performances, including the very un-Affleck-like Ben Affleck in Changing Lanes and the super scary Dwight Yoakam in Panic Room, but I decided on Robin Williams. While I wasn't as impressed with this film as the rest of the film-going public seemed to be, Williams definitely stood out in my mind among its already stellar cast -- including Al Pacino, Hilary Swank, Paul Dooley, and the always impressive Jonathan Jackson -- with his performance as a reclusive author who ends up the number one suspect in the murder of one of his young fans.
Best Rack: Asia Argento in XXX (Rob Cohen)
Asia has enthralled me ever since I saw how eloquent she was in a documentary about her dad (Italian director Dario Argento) a few years back. She has also proven herself to be more than just a pretty face with the six offbeat-but-gripping films she has both written and directed back in her home country. She is, however, just a pretty face in this monstrous piece of junk. Everyone makes at least one bad choice, right?
AAAHHH!!!!: Jason Bateman in The Sweetest Thing (Roger Kumble)
I was in Australia when this film came out in America, and in America when it came out in Australia, so I am yet to actually see it. But just seeing Jason Bateman in the trailer was the highlight of my movie-going year. I am unashamedly addicted to '80s sitcoms, and if I'm not mistaken, he was in all of them. Even if the movie stinks (and I'm convinced it does), at least I can hope Jason (who was so good in 1991's Breaking the Rules) will get more work out of it.
I Might Like Jason Bateman, But I'm Not A Total Idiot: The Ring (Gore Verbinski)
The original Ring is one of my all-time favorite films, so I was expecting very little of the "Americanization." Even less, when I saw that it was written by Scream 3's Ehren Kruger. He stayed true to form, treating the audience like fools with constant cuts back to images already seen (yes, I remember the ladder!), repetitive dialogue (count how many times we're told Katie was Rachel's cousin), and making us believe Rachel (bland Naomi Watts) didn't crack in half when she fell down that well. Oh, and as if the aging Brian Cox could really heft an enormous TV set up a flight of stairs.
Best TV Show: Scrubs (NBC)
Scrubs began airing on Australian TV in the Christmas off-ratings period, squished in between John Ritter's 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter (ABC), According to Jim (ABC), and double episodes of Will & Grace (NBC), and Futurama (FOX). This irreverent melding of M*A*S*H*, Ally McBeal, and ER has managed to break away from the surrounding shows to become Aussie critics' favorite mid-season replacement. And rightly so, with its fast-paced action, strong character development, bizarre dream sequences, and perfect blend of comedy and drama. John C McGinley is a highlight as the rampaging Dr Cox.
They've Gone And Ruined The Whole Thing: Julia Roberts in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (George Clooney)
This one slipped from my list of must-see movies of the year for a few reasons, not the least of which being the inclusion of Julia "A Low Vera" Roberts. Charlie Kaufman's script for Confessions, about Gong Show host Chuck Barris's alleged other life as a CIA operative, is one of the brightest, most engaging I've come across. Yet, when I found out Clooney was in charge of the film and had seen fit to cast his cinematic frat-buddies (Roberts, Pitt, Damon) in it, I found myself depressed that, despite my excitement at its getting made, it was sure to end up one big in-joke for the so-very-cool (see also Steven Soderbergh's Full Frontal). I guess all will be revealed when the film is released in Australia sometime around 2005.
Best I'm On TV Now! Star: Kiefer Sutherland, 24 (FOX)
With Kiefer on 24, Jon Bon Jovi on Ally McBeal(FOX), and Anthony Michael Hall on The Dead Zone (USA), this year, it was tough to pick a winner. But, watching Kiefer as CTU Special Agent Jack Bauer -- in the first series of the show -- exist for 24 hours with no food, water or bathroom breaks and still manage to save the day for everyone (except his wife) was a complete thrill. And, the actor -- so underrated in the '80s and '90s -- gives the impression in real life, of being just a hardworkin' guy who's enjoying his time in the spotlight. It's about time.
Biggest Disappointment (or, I Was So Excited To See It, But It Ended Up Sucking): Ghost Ship (Steve Beck)
Two of my favorite things in the world are ghosts and ships, and I was so looking forward to seeing the two together on the big screen. With such a gloriously scary trailer filled with dancing girls, broken hulls, and a wet-haired Julianna Margulies, Ghost Ship (reportedly based on Alvin Rakoff's Death Ship, though the similarities are minimal) promised much. But, after the gruesome opening scene (which, sadly, I was laughing at rather than shuddering through), the film just became another dumb Deep Blue Sea-characters-die-in-order-of-actor-popularity film.
Biggest Surprise: Big Fat Liar (Shawn Levy)
It was on a Japan Airlines flight from Melbourne to Tokyo to New York that I saw this kiddie-movie gem featuring Malcolminthemiddle and the wondrous Amanda Byrnes from The Amanda Show (Nickelodeon), about a 14-year-old kid who's short story falls into the hands of a slimy Hollywood producer (Paul Giamatti) and becomes a blockbuster. And, after 27 or so viewings, it has not lost its spark.