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'Synecdoche, New York': best movie of the year and one of the worst films ever!

October 24, 2008 |  1:27 pm

Oscar winning scribe Charlie Kaufman makes his directorial debut with the offbeat comedy drama "Synecdoche, New York." While the film, which he also wrote, earned enough rave reviews to push the Meta Critic score up to a respectable 65, that is a long way from the top notch scores earned by a trio of movies based on Kaufman's scripts: "Being John Malkovich" (90); "Adaptation" (83); and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (89). Furthermore, "Synecdoche" has also received some of the most damning reviews of the year.


So what is it: masterpiece or a mess? Opinions are so vastly divided that you, apparently, will have to have to decide for yourself. Either way, its success at the box office is crucial to help one of our most daring, wacky and brilliant film writers to get another chance to roll the cameras in the future.

The "Adaptation" and "Eternal Sunshine" screenplays earned Kaufman Oscar and WGA nods while "Eternal" won him both prizes. All three scripts won the BAFTA award and were nominated by the Golden Globes. And each won a major critics prize: "Malkovich" (LA); "Adaptation" (NBR); and "Eternal" (NY). So, how will Kaufman fare with his first film as both director and writer? Already, the Gotham Awards have nominated "Synecdoche, New York" for best feature and best ensemble. The cast is headed up by Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is surrounded by a bevy of Oscar-nominated actresses: Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Emily Watson, and Michelle Williams.

Strong reviews from the likes of Richard Corliss at Time who said, "No film with an ambition this large, and achievement this impressive, can be anything but exhilarating, a vital affirmation of the creative process" and Lou Lumenick of the New York Post who thought, "It's got more imagination than half a dozen movies combined; there's nothing else out there like this, and to me that's a very good thing" will help the cause. While Manohla Dargis of the New York Times is not a member of the Gotham crix circle, surely her rapturous rave will resonate: "To say (this) is one of the best films of the year or even one closest to my heart is such a pathetic response to its soaring ambition that I might as well pack it in right now."

Rex Reed of the New York Observer had the exact opposite response: "No matter how bad you think the worst movie ever made ever was, you have not seen 'Synecdoche, New York.' It sinks to the ultimate bottom of the landfill and the smell threatens to linger."

Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly warns, "It is one of those 'visionary' what-the-hell doozies. Prepare to be told that it's a masterpiece." Claudia Puig of USA Today found, "The meta-narrative is sprawling, disjointed and experimental, so often eluding comprehension that it seems intentionally and arrogantly unclear." And David Edelstein of New York bemoaned, "It's heartbreaking how rich this failed project is, with enough poetry for several great movies, but not enough push for one."

(Sony Pictures Classics)