9 · The Life and Death of Peter Sellers

Six months ago, figuring I was unlikely to be getting an iPod for a while, I picked up a cheap key-drive MP3 player to listen to on the bus. Before long I was trying to get more out of its pitiful capacity by filling it with low-bitrate recordings of The Goon Show, and listening to more of Spike, Secombe and Sellers than at any time since the age of twelve.

So I was well-primed for The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, the biopic which picked up his story at the height of his radio success. Everyone knows his movies—the Pink Panther series, Dr Strangelove, The Party, Being There—but his private life is less well-known. You might not want to know it, either, because seeing what a spoilt, egocentric maniac the man was takes some of the shine off the happy memories of his work. The more successful he got, the more hollow he became, as the “real” Sellers disappeared into a cacophony of funny voices; until, perhaps, just before the end.

The movie, which neatly mimics the visual style of Sellers’ greatest hits, is worth seeing not for this depressing tale, but for the performance by Geoffrey Rush as Peter Sellers—and as every character Peter Sellers played; and (in a series of remarkable pieces to camera) as every other actor in the film playing everyone Sellers knew. It’s the most extraordinary performance, not just of the year, but of Rush’s career.

Crazy people were the subject of more than one good movie this year (Enduring Love, for one), but the funniest had to be Bad Santa, Terry Zwigoff’s follow-up to Ghost World, starring Billy Bob Thornton as the most inappropriate (suicidal alcoholic bad-tempered lecherous safe-cracking) in-store Santa Claus ever. Angry dwarfs, angelic fat kids, dozy grandmothers: this darkest of Christmas comedies had it all, and almost (but not quite) stayed sentiment-free throughout.