IT’S hard to remember a week when so many good things were showing on pay TV, and I’m not counting such ancient classics as Mrs Miniver (Sunday, 8.30pm, TCM) or the muchloved Bette Davis vehicle Now, Voyager (Sunday, 6.25pm, TCM). I begin with two wonderful films by Australian women directors. Reviewing Sue Brooks’s Japanese Story (Saturday, 8.30pm, M Masterpiece) in 2003, I compared it with Jane Campion’s The Piano — both studies of contrasting cultures offering a sense of transcendental experience, love stories unfolding against unforgiving and barely explored landscapes. Toni Collette plays a Perth geologist who finds herself escorting a visiting Japanese businessman (Gotaro Tsunashima) around the mines and deserts of the Pilbara. It is a film that excels in every department — writing (Alison Tilson), camerawork (Ian Baker), music and, above all, performances. Look Both Ways (Monday, 5pm, M Drama/Romance) was the first feature of the animator Sarah Watt, who combines animated sequences to great effect with live action. A photojournalist (William McInnes) has been diagnosed with a fatal illness; he meets an artist (Justine Clarke), who witnesses a train crash after attending her father’s funeral. Look Both Ways is a film about people coping with mortality — issues of life and death — but it never feels morbid or pretentious. It won every major Australian film award in 2005.
Midnight in Paris (Tuesday, 10.20pm, M Masterpiece) is one of the great Woody Allen films, a late masterwork up there with Manhattan and Crimes and Misdemeanours. It is also one of Woody’s most visually enchanting films. My only regret is that Woody has no part in it himself. Thirty years ago he might have played Owen Wilson’s role as Gil Pender, a Hollywood screenwriter who finds himself caught in a time warp on a holiday in Paris and transported back to the 1920s, where he encounters all the leading literary and artistic figures of the time. Allen builds on his fantasy a meditation on the nature of nostalgia, the futility of yearning for a mythical golden age, either in the future or the past. He has written no wittier or more ingenious screenplay. The performances are spot-on, the soundtrack is crammed with good things, and Paris has never looked lovelier.
And quickly: Hugo (Thursday, 8.30pm, M Masterpiece) is Martin Scorsese’s gorgeous fantasy about an orphaned boy living in a clock tower at a Paris railway station and an old man (Ben Kingsley) who runs a toyshop — all combined with a loving homage to the birth of silent cinema. Alexander Payne’s About Schmidt (Sunday, 8.30pm, M Masterpiece) has Jack Nicholson in one of his greatest (and least typical) performances as a retired insurance clerk, a lonely and melancholic old geezer coming to terms with encroaching age.
(M) ★★★★ Saturday, 8.30pm, M Masterpiece
(PG) ★★★★✩ Thursday, 8.30pm, M Masterpiece
(PG) ★★★★ Tuesday, 10.20pm, M Masterpiece
Owen Wilson in