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A haunted vet, a garbage robot and a happy-go-lucky charmer

"Waltz with Bashir," Ari Folman's animated film about an Israeli soldier's flashbacks, has been named best film of 2008 by the National Society of Film Critics, the most prestigious of the critic'a groups giving year-end awards.

The other big winner was Mike Leigh's "Happy-Go-Lucky," the story of a congenitally cheerful young woman and her conflict with a troubled, angry driving instructor. It tied for second in the best film category with "Wall-E"--and was also honored for best actress (Sally Hawkins), best supporting actor (Eddie Marsan), and best director and screenplay (both Leigh).


This was apparently the best showing by a single film in the history of the NSFC, and helps Hawkins' chances of being nominated in this year's competitive Oscar race. Leigh, a British director of coiling, bittersweet family stories, has piloted three other actresses to Oscar nominations, and has been nominated himself five times.

"Waltz with Bashir" is a film using animation to tell a harrowing adult story of a soldier piecing together a memory of a painful incident in Israel's fighting in Lebanon.

The tie for second for Andrew Stanton's animated "Wall-E" joins a long list of other year-end wins for the robot trash collector, including best picture honors from the Chicago and Los Angeles critic associations, and best animated feature nods from the New York Film Critics Circle, the National Board of Review and the Southeastern Film Critics.

Unlike other groups, the NSFC reveals its vote totals, to indicate close races and dissent. Heath Ledger, generally thought to be the front-runner in the Oscar best supporting actor race, placed second to Marsan, 41 votes to 35. Viola Davis ("Doubt"), probably a shoo-in for Oscar's best supporting actress, was in a technical tie with Hanna Schygulla ("The Edge of Heaven"), with 29 each, but placed second because Schygulla's vote total came from more individual ballots.

Although the critics obviously spread their votes widely in most categories, there were two landslides: Sean Penn ("Milk") won over Mickey Roiurke ("The Wrestler"), 87-40, and Sally Hawkins got 65 votes to 33 for Melissa Leo ("Frozen River").

Here are the complete results:

BEST ACTOR: Sean Penn, 87; Mickey Rourke, - 40, Clint Eastwood ("Gran Torino"), 38.

BEST ACTRESS: Sally Hawkins, 65; Melissa Leo, 33; Michelle Williams ("Wendy and Lucy"), 31.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Eddie Marsan, 41; Heath Ledger ("The Dark Knight"), 35; Josh Brolin ("Milk"), 29.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Hanna Schygulla, 29; Viola Davis, 29 (on fewer ballots); Penelope Cruz ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona"), 24.

BEST PICTURE: "Waltz with Bashir", 26; "Happy-Go-Lucky" and "Wall-E", both 20.

BEST DIRECTOR: Mike Leigh, 36; Gus Van Sant ("Milk", "Paranoid Park"), 20; Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire"), 16.

BEST NONFICTION FILM: "Man on Wire" (James Marsh), 55; "Trouble the Water" (Tia Lessin and Carl C. Deal), 34; "Encounters at the End of the World" (Werner Herzog), 26.

BEST SCREENPLAY: "Happy-Go-Lucky" (Mike Leigh), 29; "A Christmas Tale" (Arnaud Desplechin), 24; "Synecdoche, New York" (Charlie Kaufman), 17.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: "Slumdog Millionaire" (Anthony Dod Mantle), 29; "Flight of the Red Balloon" (Lee Ping-Bing), 22; "The Dark Knight" (Wally Pfister), 18.

BEST EXPERIMENTAL FILM – Ken Jacobs’ "Razzle Dazzle".

Reviews of all of these films except for "Waltz with Bashir" and "Razzle Dazzle," which I have not yet seen, are online.

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