Topping three of five A.V. Club writers’ top-10 film lists for 2008, Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married (Sony) brings the full force of his humanity and compassion to a story of family reckoning and reconciliation that might have been Lifetime-movie material. Led by Anne Hathaway’s revelatory performance as a self-obsessed junkie who comes home for her sister’s wedding, the film combines a you-are-there immediacy with a stunning array of emotion, from bile and contempt to joy and contentment…

The DVD release of Gus Van Sant’s Milk (Universal) feels like a victory lap; the film is still fresh off its Oscar high, with awards for Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor, plus six additional nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. Van Sant’s biopic about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay American elected to public office, is a lumpy, strung-together series of events without much momentum, but its sense of time and place are exact, and Sean Penn inhabits Milk’s persona with his usual freaky dedication to disappearing into a role…

Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut Synecdoche, New York (Sony) hung on for months in arthouse theaters, but never did make its modest $20 million production cost back; that’s a pity, since it bodes ill for Kaufman’s future directorial prospects, and after a movie this intricate, meta, and personal, the open question was where he could possibly go next. The screenwriter behind Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind naturally serves up a twisty rabbit-hole of a movie, in which troubled playwright Philip Seymour Hoffman attempts to put on a play about life that rivals the real thing in scope and scale. It’s a difficult film, rich in metaphor and symbolism, but opaque and preposterously dense, and absolutely demanding the repeat viewings it apparently didn’t get in theaters…

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Quirky cult hero and Stella-kateer David Wain made a nice transition from defiantly non-commercial indie weirdness to mainstream studio filmmaking with the sleeper hit Role Models (Universal),a likeable, agreeably profane laffer about a pair of fuck-ups (Seann William Scott and Paul Rudd, who also co-wrote) sentenced to serve as mentors to Superbad’s Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Human Giant cut-up Bobb’e J. Thompson, respectively. Jane Lynch continues her streak of scene-thievery as the well-intentioned but clueless head of the mentoring program…

Sally Hawkins is utterly delightful as an almost preternaturally cheerful teacher skipping gaily through life in Happy-Go-Lucky (Miramax),Mike Leigh’s winning comedy-drama. Eddie Marsan is equally memorable as Hawkins’ driving instructor and emotional antithesis, an angry, hateful black cloud of a man driven insane by Hawkins’ indefatigable pep…

Destined for future cult status, Tomas Alfredson’s Let The Right One In (Magnolia) combines a sensitive drama about a bullied teen with a chilling vampire movie as if the two elements naturally went together. The Swedish film concerns two different sorts of outcasts—a lonely 12-year-old boy and a new girl with a macabre secret—who form a sensitive bond whose full price isn’t revealed until a final scene that’s equal parts sweet and tragic. What follows is a far cry from the jolt-a-second adrenalized remakes and rip-offs that have come to dominate American horror movies, and a far better hope for the genre’s future.

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