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Original screenplays in the mix

'Happy-Go-Lucky,' 'Synecdoche, New York,' 'Frozen River,' 'In Bruges,' 'Seven Pounds'

Alternating between Sally Hawkins’ uberjovial Poppy and Eddie Marsan’s combustible driving instructor Scott, Mike Leigh’s “Happy-Go-Lucky” aims for and, ultimately, reaches a satisfying middle ground.

Charlie Kaufman’s Escher-esque look at mortality, “Synecdoche, New York” is ambitious, dense and unconventional — all the things cineastes complain they don’t get from Hollywood. Unfortunately some found it impenetrable.

Frozen River,” from debut writer-director Courtney Hunt, also tackles poverty, race relations and human smuggling with neither a heavy hand nor a bleeding heart. Pic won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance and already has a screenplay nom from the Spirit Awards.

Seven Pounds,” from Grant Nieporte, manages to surprise without feeling cloying or forced. Nothing is wasted in this story of a mysterious man with the power to drastically affect the lives around him.

A conversational, Mametian character study about squabbling hitmen hiding out in a sleepy Belgian town, “In Bruges,” from writer-director Martin McDonagh, struck a surprisingly effective balance between violent black humor and dramatic heft.

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