Synecdoche, New York. In interviews, Charlie Kaufman has floated the idea of building a scale-model Las Vegas in Las Vegas—which would entail building a scale-model scale-model Las Vegas, and within it a . . . well, you get the picture. That’s probably the easiest way to describe Kaufman’s dizzily ambitious directorial debut, a non-musical All That Jazz devoted to a terminal case (Philip Seymour Hoffman) riddled with the affliction of the age: impermeable layers of self-awareness, surveillance and scrutiny that filter the living out of life. On one viewing, there’s much in it I neither understand completely nor love, yet if any film resists the demotion of movies to one-time consumables, it’s this one: a puzzlebox that only starts to unfold after it has already been opened. (JR)

Wall-E. The most human film of ’08 featured two robots whose courtship takes place among the ruins of a planet destroyed by the greedy, spoiled humans who abandoned their apocalyptic trash heap to the compactors and cockroaches. Everything about Wall-E was sumptuous and warm and wise; no movie ached and laughed and soaredmore this year than this animated wonder, whose luminescence will linger for generations—or until science fiction becomes sad fact, and all’s erased. (RW)

Waltz With Bashir. If Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman had simply edited his own and his former IDF comrades’ memories of the infamous 1982 Sabra-Shatila massacre in Lebanon into a talking-heads doc, he’d have gotten a few respectful nods from critics and a brief tour of the marginal film-festival circuit. Instead, he and his creative team animated the soldiers’ testimonies into a vintage graphic novel, creating a surreal record of recovered memory whose deceptive emotional flatness amps up the terror of bearing witness to the murder of helpless Palestinians by Christian Phalangists. Waltz With Bashir is a giant anxiety attack of singular beauty and sorrow that also shatters the Israeli myth of invincible Israeli masculinity. (ET)

Che
K.C.Bailey/IFC Films
Che
A Christmas Tale
Jean-Claude Lother/IFC films
A Christmas Tale
Still Life
Albion Entertainment
Still Life
Synecdoche, New York
Sony Pictures Classics
Synecdoche, New York

Wendy and Lucy. Old Joy director Kelly Reichardt’s simple yet deeply felt road movie about a rudderless drifter (the excellent Michelle Williams) and her canine companion offered a lovely minimalist riposte to the year-end movie season’s many overblown acts of cinema maximus (see Australia, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, et al.). It was also, along with Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino, one of an increasingly small number of American movies devoted to a real, recognizable America, broken down by disappointments and yet suffused with possibility. (SF)

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