Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Top 10 Visual Aids of 2005

10) Entourage (HBO)
This humorous look at a Hollywood star and his hysterical posse is worth watching week after week for just one reason—Jeremy Piven’s slimy agent Ari. Piven has always been better than most of the poorly written TV and movie roles he’s had over the years (PCU? Serendipity? Huh?) Finally he’s got some writing behind him that matches up to his acting prowess.

9) Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Touchstone)
I approached this film adaptation of Douglas Adams’ sci-fi humor classic with a wary eye. The book (in fact, the entire series) was a big part of my geeky adolescence, and I also enjoyed the BBC TV adaptation that ran on my local PBS station and the original radio play (which led to the book) that was aired weekends on the local NPR station. Thankfully this big screen version didn’t disappoint. Martin Freeman from the BBC version of The Office (which I found less funny the more I watched, so sue me) was perfect as Arthur Dent, and Sam Rockwell pretty much steals the movie as Zaphod Beetlebrox. It’s a shame Hitchhiker’s wasn’t a bigger hit, as I was looking forward to a sequel.

8) The 40-Year-Old Virgin (Universal)
Oh, my sides hurt after seeing this Steve Carell star-making vehicle. The scene where he gets his chest hair actually removed on camera is one of the funniest—and most painful—moments on film of this century. Watching Carell’s castmates like Paul Rudd and Seth Rogan wince with pain and then break into laughter that obviously was not planned during the waxing was worth the price of admission. And yelling out Kelly Clarkson’s name as a swear word was a great touch too. All in all, Virgin is a great mix of raunch and sweetness that Carell will have a hard time duplicating as his career moves ahead.

7) Bob Dylan: No Direction Home (PBS)
Gasp—something that aired on PBS made it to my list this year? What will all my right wing readers think of me? Wait, unless someone slips a copy under Rush’s door down the hall, I’m pretty sure that my audience won’t include Karl Rove. Sorry, got sidetracked there—I meant to talk about this almost four hour documentary that Martin Scorsese directed. Seeing Dylan talk concisely and clearly about his own life was even more shocking than when he wrote an autobiography. I wasn’t positive that everything Mr. Zimmerman was saying was actually the truth, yet I was inclined to believe him most of the time. The other surprising revelation in the documentary is how many TV shows Dylan appeared on when he was starting his career. These TV performances were so interesting that I wished the documentary had aired them in full instead of some of the yawn-inducing interviews. Oh, and seeing Joan Baez curse like a sailor a few times is one of the funniest things of this or any year.

6) Broken Flowers (Focus Features)
So one of my favorite actors ever (Bill Murray) teams up with one of my favorite directors ever (Jim Jarmusch)—there’s no way it could ever suck. Murray plays another variation on his “middle-aged man with a bag of regrets drifting through life” character he first perfected in Rushmore and Lost in Translation, which meshes perfectly with Jamusch’s storytelling style. The director also gets a great deal out of his supporting cast, as Jeffery Wright, Sharon Stone and Frances Conroy flesh out their characters in their brief snippets of on screen time. So question is this: will Murray every get an Oscar for his impressive body of work over the past 12 years (starting with Groundhog Day), or is he going to have to steal one from somebody who doesn’t deserve it? If I was Russell Crowe, Nicolas Cage or Robin Williams, I’d be locking up my statuette someplace safe.

5) Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking (PBS)
Double gasp—two programs from PBS in the same year? I bet you’re thinking, “He’s been drinking too much of that cheap can beer while writing this year—let’s get him some Guinness, that will snap him out of it.” I swear, I picked and wrote about of these PBS entries under the influence of nothing more than a couple of glasses of Diet Coke. I was a huge Sherlock Holmes fan as a kid, and I can look over at my bookshelf in the “D’s” and see my hardcover edition of The Complete Sherlock Holmes, which I read cover to cover twice as a teenager. This latest entry in the Holmes canon isn’t based upon one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, as writer Allan Cubbitt puts a decidedly modern spin on the proceedings with a killer who is a sexual predator. Rupert Everett—best known, I guess, for being that gay guy in that crappy movie with Madonna—was a great choice as Holmes. (Even though me and the two people I whom watched it with weren’t too sure it was Everett at first because he looked so different. I still think it was some sort of prosthetic nose, but I could be wrong.) Here’s hoping that Everett steps into this role again in the future.

4) The Daily Show With Jon Stewart (Comedy Central)
Since Jon Stewart took over The Daily Show, it’s always been the most reliable place for satire and laugh-until-your-guts-hurt comedy on television. In 2000 and 2004 it was required viewing for anyone interested in the Presidential elections, but I’d dare say Stewart and his crew have been even better this year. With so many political footballs this year (the CIA leak and Scooter Libby, the choices for Supreme Court, the utter failure of government to see the Katrina disaster quickly) the show hasn’t had to resort to as many of those “let’s interview the crazy person with a crazy idea” pieces. Stewart’s incredulous attitude about the actions and policies of those in power (and even those left on the sidelines) has always been there, and has been sharpened each week as more idiocy occurs in Washington. And any time you can get a U.S Senator (John McCain) to joke about his own time being tortured to the torture on the show 24, you’ve got to be doing something right.

3) The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)
If I was Bill O’Reilly, I’d be thinking about a defamation of character lawsuit soon. This Daily Show spinoff hosted by Stephen Colbert perfectly skewers The O’Reilly Factor and many of the other singular talking head shows on the cable news networks. Colbert plays the know-it-all buffoon role to the hilt and rarely drops out of character. The show’s little features like the Threat Down (one night the #5 reason we were threatened was pirates) and The Word (which just basically craps all over O’Reilly’s Talking Points) are pure comic genius. And Colbert has definitely improved as an interviewer from his time guest hosting for Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. This man has made New York’s attorney general and the head of Hayden Planetarium both seem rather interesting.

2) Arrested Development (FOX)
FOX sucks. FOX sucks. FOX sucks. FOX sucks. FOX sucks. FOX sucks. FOX sucks. I can’t believe they canceled one of the greatest sitcoms to ever air. So I’ll say it again: FOX sucks. FOX sucks. FOX sucks. FOX sucks. FOX sucks. FOX sucks. FOX sucks. FOX sucks. Whew, I feel better. I will miss that Bluth family making me laugh each week. I’m holding out hope that some smart network or cable channel out there will pick it up once its run is done on FOX in January, but since it’s not a reality show or a rerun of a crime drama, I can’t imagine that anyone will.

1) Lost (ABC)
30 plus episodes into this show and I have one question for my fellow Lost watchers: is this one of the best dramas ever? Seriously, the amount of character development on this show hasn’t been done on a network drama in, well, ever. And considering how fast last season’s other breakout hit, Desperate Housewives, jumped the shark in record time in its second season, the fact Lost is still this good makes me think we could get a few more great seasons down the road.

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