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Critic wrangle: “A Christmas Tale.”

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11142008_christmastale.jpgArnaud Desplechin’s haute holiday tale “A Christmas Tale” is probably my favorite film of the year, barring a few yet-unseen stragglers like “Benjamin Button,” and from the reviews it’ll probably make plenty of critic top ten lists. Therefore Armond White at the New York Press dutifully dislikes it, though despite the requisite snipe at the hipster hoards, he can’t summon much heat, sighing that the film is “the latest pretext for director Arnaud Desplechin to wax ironic,” but allowing that “A Christmas Tale isn’t repugnant, just regressive.”

Elsewhere, praise ranges from measured to ecstatic. At the New York Times, A.O. Scott calls “A Christmas Tale” “a movie that is almost indecently satisfying and at the same time elusive, at once intellectually lofty — marked by allusions to Emerson, Shakespeare and Seamus Heaney as well as Nietzsche — and as earthy as the passionate provincial family that is its heart and cosmos and reason for being.” “[I]ts large down payments of nastiness are put toward well-earned, heartwarming reconciliations,” finds Leo Goldsmith at indieWIRE, while Ella Taylor at the LA Weekly cautions “[D]on’t mistake this movie for one of those mawkish domestic autopsies that begins with a gasp-inducing revelation from a designated black sheep and ends with a group hug and a voice-over whining on about how family relations are all very complex. They surely are, and there surely is rapprochement…but the tone is one of palate-cleansing astringency.”

Having seen the film twice, Stephanie Zacharek at Salon admits “I’m no closer to understanding how Desplechin works his weird magic… He lays out a large, potentially incomprehensible story in tattered pieces that somehow come together into an extraordinary whole.” “A Christmas Tale is a film experience to be seen and savored for its exquisite delineation of human feelings and foibles,” agrees Andrew Sarris at the New York Observer. (Unrelated: Why must the Observer have headlines like that?)

For Scott Tobias at the Onion AV Club, “It’s the definition of a film meant to be admired more than loved, but Desplechin’s fierce intelligence and uncompromising sense of character come through,” while J. Hoberman at the Village Voice declares that Desplechin has “invented a form of domestic magic realism,” and uses the opportunity to deflate two of the year’s other critical darlings, “Rachel Getting Marries” and “Synecdoche, New York”: “one hopes that they haven’t sucked the critical oxygen out of the atmosphere or overdrawn all available superlatives from the dictionary.”

“Is A Christmas Tale a masterpiece?” wonders David Edelstein at New York. “Maybe. I have to play with it longer. It’s certainly Desplechin’s most accessible film, in part because its dysfunctional-family-holiday-reunion genre is so comfy and its palette so warm.” “[O]ut of the most ordinary ingredients — an ailing mother, estranged adult siblings, a good meal ruined by bad behavior — the endlessly inventive French filmmaker Arnaud Desplechin has made the old look fresh,” writes Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly.

[Photo: “A Christmas Tale,” IFC Films, 2008]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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