The Station Agent--You may have missed writer-director Thomas McCarthy's quirky, bittersweet tale of discarded social misfits creating a world for themselves, which means you missed one of the best films of this past year. Peter Dinklage stars as Fin McBride, a dwarf who moves to a rural New Jersey town after inheriting an abandoned train station. Fin is a world-weary loner determined to keep to himself, but fate has other plans, as he meets Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), an emotionally damaged woman, and Joe (Bobby Cannavale), a hyperactive snack vendor lonely for friendship. The three form an unlikely bond and begin to heal the wounds they have long endured. Dinklage gives one of the best performances of 2003 as Fin, a reluctant hero who has more to offer than even he suspects. McCarthy's writing and direction is understated and subtle, creating a sublime mix of nuance and observation. The recently released DVD features an audio commentary by McCarthy, but with a film this great, you don't even need bonus features. The Station Agent is the sort of wonderful film that restores faith in the motion picture industry.
Bad Santa--In one of the darkest, most cynical comedies to come along in years, Billy Bob Thornton stars as Willie, a pathetic loser who spends most of his time drinking himself into oblivion. But once a year Willie dons a urine-soaked Santa Claus suit and teams up with his longtime partner-in-crime, Marcus (Tony Cox), for their annual caper of ripping off department stores on Christmas Eve. This year Willie and Marcus have their eyes on a store in suburban Phoenix, but Willie's self-destructive tendencies and inability to function as a human being threaten to destroy their long-running tradition. Things get complicated when Willie meets the Kid (Brett Kelly), a fat simpleton with snot all over his face. Living with his senile grandmother (Cloris Leachman), the Kid is the perfect mark, and Willie soon moves in with him to prepare for a big heist. Directed by Terry Zwigoff (Crumb, Ghost World), Bad Santa is not for everyone. But that hasn't stopped it from gathering a cult following, and it's destined to be a holiday classic in its own right. Just released on DVD, Bad Santa is also available in an uncut version as Badder Santa, which features five extra minutes of depravity. Both versions also include deleted and alternate scenes, as well as a "making of" featurette.