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Coens' 'No Country' is named top film

December 30, 2007|By DAVID GERMAIN

An Associated Press critic's picks for top films of the year.

1. "No Country for Old Men" - With businesslike savvy, Javier Bardem could teach Hannibal Lecter a thing or three about pitiless bloodletting. Bardem as a killer, Tommy Lee Jones as a wayworn lawman and Josh Brolin as a good old boy who stumbles on a fortune in drug money are one of the great triumvirates of modern film. Aided by cinematographer Roger Deakins' desolate landscapes, Joel and Ethan Coen bring Cormac McCarthy's Texas crime saga to life with all the regional authenticity they applied to their Minnesota tale "Fargo."

2. "Once" - The micro-budgeted tale from writer-director John Carney stars two non-actors, musicians Glen Hansard as an Irish busker and Marketa Irglova as an Eastern European immigrant. They meet, fall head over heels and, literally, make beautiful music together.

3. "Juno" - Jason Reitman's second film could have drowned in its own cleverness if it weren't so warm and funny and tart and, well, clever. This could be a star-making role for Ellen Page as the inconceivably cool and caustic title character, a pregnant teenager who challenges Katherine Heigl as the real darling of 2007's knocked-up set. Page and a brilliant supporting cast bring bottomless heart and humor to first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody's delicious dialogue.

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4. "Away From Her" - Speaking of darlings, beloved indie actress Sarah Polley makes one of the most impressive behind-the-camera transitions ever, while the hermitic Julie Christie comes out of seclusion for a role that could bring her a second Academy Award to go with the trophy she won 42 years ago for "Darling." Christie, co-star Gordon Pinsent and director Polley have crafted a gem of outer stillness and inner turmoil as a husband watches the love of his life fade into the oblivion of Alzheimer's.

5. "Into the Wild" - Great an actor as he is, Sean Penn really just wants to direct. He makes a strong case for the career change with his latest film, turning a story with the worst sort of downbeat ending into an enormously inspiring rumination on the possibilities of life and the necessity of conviction. Emile Hirsch is a force of nature in this real-life story of a fierce idealist who comes to a tragic end in the wilds of Alaska.

6. "American Gangster" - Denzel Washington as a classy bad guy, Russell Crowe as a slovenly good guy, their crime smackdown directed by Ridley Scott. Who could ask for more when it comes to big Hollywood entertainment? Scott's slick direction is virtually flawless in this story of Harlem heroin baron Frank Lucas and the cop who brought him down. Both actors are at the top of their game, and the closing image perfectly captures the sense of how times change and players are forgotten.

7. "Stardust" - If a falling star takes human form, let her turn out like Claire Danes. If an evil, life-sucking witch simply must chase you, let it be Michelle Pfeiffer. If you have to ride on a flying schooner with a cross-dressing skipper, let the captain be Robert De Niro. Director Matthew Vaughn crafts a sparkling fairy tale for adults with this fantasy romance between Danes' celestial object and the boy (Charlie Cox) who falls in love with her.

8. "Starting Out in the Evening" - The aging writer's life: Your dusty novels unremembered, your body and mind near their end, yet the desire to finish that last big fiction never fading. Then along comes a beautiful young admirer to distract and titillate. Frank Langella is quietly masterful as the novelist, Lauren Ambrose is a fetching muse and temptress, and Lili Taylor provides warm support in Andrew Wagner's sly commentary on creativity in all forms.

9. "The Band's Visit" - With the nocturnal restlessness of a Jim Jarmusch flick, this wondrous little comic drama captures a wayward day in the life of an Egyptian police band stranded in the middle of nowhere during a visit to Israel. Writer-director Eran Kolirin presents a beautiful story of cultural chasms vanishing through music and spiritual kinship, anchored by tremendous rapport between Sasson Gabai as the stoically lovable bandleader and Ronit Elkabetz as a vivacious Israeli diner owner.

10. "Year of the Dog" -With his directing debut, veteran screenwriter Mike White has done his job well if his tale of a canine fanatic can hook a confirmed cat lover who finds dogs unnecessary, even detestable. Molly Shannon is hilarious and heartbreaking as a woman who lives for her dog, then goes to canine extremes to fill the void after the little mutt dies. The film is a marvelous examination of obsession, and how succumbing body and soul to your compulsions might not be the worst thing for you, after all.

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