Part of being a movie-lover—or more generally, someone who cares far more about any one thing than the average person—is learning to live with marginalization. Sometimes that isn't easy, especially when you come to the stinging realization that more people have seen, say, Alvin And The Chipmunks, than all of the films on your Top 10 list combined. That's part of why putting together the A.V. Club Film Poll is such a pleasure: It's one thing to champion great films with quixotic fervor year after year, but another to learn that your readers are right there with you, waist-deep in chaff, seeking out the best cinema has to offer. This is moviegoing in an alternate universe—or, as reader Chuck Taylor dubs it, "the crazy-nutso-super-Oscars." We tallied a total of 216 ballots, most of which were annotated with thoughtful commentary, and here are the results:

  1. No Country For Old Men (607 pts., 150 ballots)
  2. There Will Be Blood (405 pts. 114 ballots)
  3. Zodiac (246 pts., 87 ballots)
  4. Once (159 pts., 55 ballots)
  5. The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (155 pts., 42 ballots)
  6. Ratatouille (132 pts., 52 ballots)
  7. Hot Fuzz (127.5 pts., 43 ballots)
  8. Juno (107 pts, 41 ballots)
  9. The Darjeeling Limited (93 pts., 30 ballots)
  10. Gone Baby Gone (63.5 pts., 22 ballots)

Significant others: Atonement (62.5), Sweeney Todd (60), Superbad (60), Grindhouse (59), The Bourne Ultimatum (54), Into The Wild (51), Eastern Promises (46), Knocked Up (36)

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Last year's poll ended in a nail-biter between eventual winner The Departed and scrappy underdog Children Of Men, but there was no such suspense this year. Many of you agreed with our assertion that 2007 was a particularly strong year for movies, but even given that, the Coen brothers' No Country For Old Men dominated the field, appearing on nearly 70 percent of the ballots. It's possible that There Will Be Blood might have presented a stiffer challenge if more voters had a chance to see it before deadline, just as Pan's Labyrinth would have fared better had it not rolled out just as slowly last year. But even that seems unlikely when you consider that No Country scored a whopping four points per ballot, which means it averaged a second-place finish.

Still, No Country's triumph was predictable (even if the margin of victory wasn't), since the film more or less swept the critics' guild awards, and leads this year's Oscar race, with eight nominations. So what was unexpected? For me, the big surprise was Hot Fuzz, which didn't appear on any A.V. Club Top 10s—not that we didn't love it, mind—but which leapfrogged all the way to #4 until late-breaking ballots knocked it down to a respectable #7. Based on the comments, many found it the most purely entertaining film of 2007—or, as reader Ed Robertson put it, the movie he'd most likely steal from his roommate's DVD collection. Other surprises: A Ben Affleck-directed film sneaking into the Top 10 (thus confusing many who thought they had him pegged), The Darjeeling Limited defying the lukewarm critical consensus to land at #9, and Superbad soundly thumping the more heralded Knocked Up for Judd Apatow comedy supremacy.

But that's enough from me, since this poll is all about you. A few more notes before I go: First and foremost, thanks greatly to everyone who participated, especially those who took the time and effort to share their thoughts on the year in film. The number of ballots increased sharply over last year's total, which tested the limits of what I can compile on my own (future interns: prepare for action!), but also offered an embarrassment of riches. As a result, some very good comments were left on the cutting-room floor, so don't despair if yours didn't make the final edit. Thousands of finely crafted words were slashed from this already-unwieldy piece, and it was painful work getting it done.

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And finally, we promised prizes for our three favorite contributors, so congratulations to Stephen Parkhurst, Greg Burland, and Jordan Miller. We'll be in touch soon about sending the A.V. Club T-shirts and other assorted miscellany you so richly deserve.

ON THE WINNERS

No Country For Old Men

[It] is even better than you think. While no one would dispute the mastery of the Brothers Coen, never have they presented a film so radically and effectively destructive. The people who were angry about the film's ending were likely the same ones who balked at the series finale of The Sopranos. It doesn't make sense only if you haven't been paying attention. The Coens take the familiar, comfy three-act structure that every single studio film (and 99 percent of indie fare) is built upon and rough it up real good. No Country lulls you into thinking it's just another crime thriller with a decent protagonist (he goes back with the agua!) and an evil antagonist (he flips a coin for your life!), and then cold-cocks you with the startling realization: neither Good nor Evil stands a chance against a chaotic and nonpartisan universe. Genius. —Stephen Parkhurst, Portland, Maine

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The Coen brothers' masterpiece is both an affirmation and a rebuttal to aging conservatives who declare that the world is going straight to hell, a complaint that crops up every generation. The film's message seems to be "Yes, the world is a terrible place, but it's always been that way," and yet there can be no denying that Anton Chigurh represents a new kind of evil, all the uglier for the methodical dispassion with which he casually blows away half of Texas. Part of me wonders if Javier Bardem should be so lauded for a performance where his main task was to keep his face neutral as his weapons did the talking, but no other character has burrowed into my head the same way as Chigurh. The fate of Sheriff Bell lets us know that if we want to weather the storm of history, it's best to keep our heads down and avoid confronting a force so powerful. —Justin Muschong, New York, New York

I saw this on Christmas Eve with my folks. We all loved it. The following day, we all prepared to leave for my grandmother's house, and my mother asked what time we were leaving. I said, "We're leaving now." She responded with "Now is not a time," in her best Chigurh. Happy Christmas. —Douglas, Chicago, IL

There Will Be Blood

With "epic" being thrown at it left and right, it's only natural to ponder what makes Paul Thomas Anderson's bleak period drama so enthralling. At least half of that acclaim can be attributed to the epic scope and cinematic daring with which the tale of Daniel Plainview is told. Jonny Greenwood's revolutionary score and Anderson's bold direction make There Will Be Blood epic by sheer will of ambition. The remainder of the praise, rightly so, belongs to the story itself. The saga of Plainview's rise to greedy opulence is a specifically, but not uniquely, American one. Daniel Day Lewis gives Plainview such a menacing grandeur that the character threatens to overrun the story. It doesn't, and across the span of 30 years, Anderson and Day Lewis show Plainview bully and plunder his way toward his twisted idea of success. Plainview is a man so singularly committed to winning at any cost that he discards any chance of humanity and turns his soul to ash. It's impressive that Anderson is able to juggle so many daunting themes (the fragility of familial bonds, the hideousness of retribution, the fraudulence of religion) while in service to such an imposing character. Plainview isn't just a misanthrope; he's only content when basking in the defeat of others, and with his final, chilling words he announces that he's made good on his intentions, as well as the ghastly promise of the film's title. —Greg Burland, Houston, Texas

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This picture deserves to stand alongside Citizen Kane as a portrait of a man whose ego and ambition are his making and his unmaking. Weirdly, though, it was not Kane I thought of during TWWB but rather Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. I think the wordless opening sequence reminded me of the "Dawn of Man" section of the Kubrick film, and in a broader sense, TWWB helps fill in the blank between the ape throwing the bone in the air and the space station orbiting the Earth. What happened in between those two events? Well, guys like Daniel Plainview came along: ruthless, driven, and totally willing to make Mother Nature their bitch. That's the story of human evolution and human civilization right there. —Joe Blevins, Arlington Heights, Illinois

This film more or less proves that Paul Thomas Anderson is capable of damn near anything as a filmmaker. Seriously, what's next? Bollywood? In a year of dark films, none was more unsparing than this one, which also gave us Daniel Day Lewis' best performance to date. His Daniel Plainview is a Horatio Alger archetype gone terribly wrong, a man defined solely by his ambition and his tendency to "only see the worst in people." Plainview is one of the darkest and most riveting protagonists ever to grace the silver screen, a force of nature who consumes the world of the film and swallows all that is good and hopeful, leaving only an oil-black heart. "DRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAINAGE!," indeed. —Paul Clark, Columbus, Ohio

Is Daniel Day Lewis systematically retelling the entirety of U.S. history? His work in The Crucible, Last of the Mohicans, Gangs Of New York, and The Age Of Innocence paints a fascinating, incomplete portrait of a land throughout history. As Daniel Plainview, he inches into the 20th century in Paul Thomas Anderson' There Will Be Blood, a mesmerizing one-man epic about oil or, if you will, obsession, fathers, sons, capitalism, religious fundraising, the American dream, and the usefulness of milkshakes in illustrating economic metaphors. You get the feeling Anderson exercises so much stylistic control—he still loves the long takes, but they don't come on as fast or as showy as they did in Boogie Nights or Magnolia—in order to make the film's growing, menacing, glorious strangeness all the more stark and unavoidable. As for Day Lewis: I can't wait to see his intense Method take on the roaring '20s. —Jesse Hassenger, Brooklyn, New York

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Zodiac

Unlike so many other procedurals that rely on quick crime-solving and tidy confessions to give an audience a sense of resolution, Zodiac focuses instead on the relentless and deadening efforts of those tasked with solving the series of brutal murders that occurred in the San Francisco area during the late 1960s and early 1970s. It isn't a film driven by suspense, but by obsession: obsession with details, obsession with geographical places, obsession with chronology and time. It is also merciless in showing how even the most experienced police officers and reporters can become so overwhelmed with details—murder scenes, aisles of evidence boxes piled on top of each other, eyewitness accounts, innumerable phone tips, handwriting samples, the killer's own coded messages—that even with thousands of individual points of data, assembling those pieces into a coherent whole becomes nearly impossible. David Fincher's best film reminds the viewer that tidy closure is something oft found only in the movies. —Nate Rethorn, Findlay, Ohio

Critics invoked Manny Farber's term "termite art" when reviewing Zodiac (to quote Farber, the kind of film "goes always forward eating its own boundaries, and, like as not, leaves nothing in its path other than the signs of eager, industrious, unkempt activity"), a choice that seems apt given Fincher's take on the serial-killer genre here. It's a film that's obsessive in the best kind of way, unsettling all of your expectations as the probability of ever catching the real killer diminishes. —Alison Wielgus, Brooklyn, New York

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Ratatouille

Pixar at its peak and the most intelligent statement on the artistic process I've seen in years. Usually films about artists (and make no mistake, Remy is an artist) struggle to express the driving force behind their protagonist, so they have to stick with blowing up his or her passion. And while Remy's passion is of course evident, the joy he takes in his creative process is infectious. Finally, an artist who's not miserable (and not starving). I wonder who Brad Bird sees himself as: Remy the passionate, oppressed creator with animalistic drive, or Linguini, the scared kid trying to make good. Maybe both. Who knows, in 20 years we could be saying Ratatouille is Brad Bird's 8 1/2. —Robert Anton, Cleveland, Ohio

This is more than the best movie of the year, and more than another fine addition to the pristine Pixar canon, although it is certainly both of those things. Ratatouille is, simply put, the best Disney movie ever made. (And this is coming from someone whose love of The Sword In The Stone and Fantasia is bone-deep.) Where to begin on what makes this movie so transcendent? The script, which would need only the tiniest of tweaks to become a live-action, indie comedy about a young, up-and-coming chef trying to overcome the stereotypes and castes in the Parisian restaurant scene? The animation, which makes the skyline of Paris come to life more vividly and romantically than 99 percent of live-action movies that have been filmed there? Brad Bird's immaculate direction, which, along with The Incredibles and The Iron Giant shows him to be the finest animation director since Chuck Jones? A deep, soulful love of food and cuisine as an art form the likes of which hasn't been seen since Big Night? The impeccable performances, with special credit going to Peter O'Toole, whose climactic monologue about the value of criticism in the art world is the finest work he's done since Lawrence Of Arabia? All those things, plus great chase sequences, father-son conflicts that seem to stem from real-life experiences and not trite Disney clichés, and the addition of characters who seem to understand, for once, just how fucking insane the plot they're involved in has become, make this the best thing going this year when it comes to movies. —Greg Popil (a.k.a SouthOfHeaven), Scranton, Pennsylvania

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Hot Fuzz

I forced my fiancé to see Springsteen in concert late last year. Despite not being a terribly huge fan of his, she really enjoyed it, remarking, "It was just great to see that there seemed to be nowhere else he'd rather be than performing for all those who came to see him." Though I couldn't verbalize it at the time, this is exactly how I felt watching Hot Fuzz: Those involved with making the film, just like with Shaun Of The Dead, seemed to be having the time oF their lives, and it shows through in their work. This was the most fun I had at the movies all year. —Nick Foster, Albany, New York

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Once

I hate musicals. I hate earnest singer-songwriters with guitars. I hate indie-movies where nothing much happens but people have profoundly understated experiences. I loved this movie. —John Shelton, Prague, Czech Republic

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This movie beautifully illustrates how an elegantly simple story involving real characters can always trump cinematic trickery or stylistic flourishes. I cared more for the two main characters in this film than those of any other last year. In our post-irony, postmodern, post-insert-bullshit-academic-phrase world, I think we sometimes fail to appreciate the visceral sensation of being genuinely moved by a film. Once was profoundly moving. It was also entertaining, believable, and an utter delight. —Justin Canada, Los Angeles, California

It may be that the movie musical's greatest enemies are opulent production values and megawatt star power. The film version of Phantom of the Opera was adequate at best, and even recent successes such as Chicago and this year's Sweeney Todd are liable to lose their luster after a few years. Once, on the other hand, is likely to retain its appeal for much longer, precisely because it eschews the business-as-usual pattern of exuberant musical setpieces accompanied by soaring orchestral arrangements. Even viewers who disdain musicals for their inherent artificiality can enjoy Once's lo-fi aesthetic: What other musical dares to stage one of its songs during a late-night walk down to the convenience store for Walkman batteries? Such unassuming direction gives the film an agreeable rhythm, which in turn lends the characters a spontaneity and depth not often found in the genre. When Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova start an impulsive jam session in a music store, we believe that they are discovering the music and their relationship for the very first time. —Kevin McLenithan, Wheaton, Illinois

The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford

Jesse James is the best movie of 2007 that I haven't recommended to a single person. Despite having near-perfect performances from a mega-star (Brad Pitt), a hipster darling (Sam Rockwell), and Ben Affleck's brother (Casey), the best soundtrack of the year, and the most innovative take on the genre since 1994's Dead Man, Jesse James is, for most people, "long and boring." Those who love Westerns, however, will find a film that owes more to Sergio Leone than Terrence Malick and provides one of the most character-driven experiences in the genre. —Patrick McGinn, South Philly

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I can't really deny anyone's claim that it's a long, slow movie. It is, without question. It's just that I think its deliberate pace is a strength rather than a weakness, leading to a thoughtful, poetic film that somehow both invokes and deconstructs the mythology of the western outlaw. Director Andrew Dominik puts the only shootout action piece in the first act, then sets out to tell a stately epic that's a quiet reflection on the mythology surrounding the death of the outlaw Jesse James at the hands of Robert Ford. Casey Affleck's Bob Ford breaks your heart with equal parts ambition and desperation, revealing that the movie isn't so much about the exploits of America's most famous outlaw, but rather an elegiac reckoning for the man who dared kill a known murderer, one who wasn't above shooting others in the back. —Andy Sayers, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Juno

Is it wrong to love a movie that literally everyone else loves? My sister, my boss, my grandmother, that asshole barista with the soul patch at Starbucks, they all love this damn film. Is my hipster-douchebag cred in jeopardy for admitting that I came out of the theater with a beaming smile? In a pop-culture world choking on snarky, cynical irony, Juno is a revelation. The titular character is just that—a snarky, cynical teenage girl living in the imaginary world of Quirktown, surrounded by an impossibly precious supporting cast. Juno's very first line of dialogue could have been ripped directly from Napoleon Dynamite's weird little mouth. But the film quickly proves that the walls of our fantasy worlds are no match for the wrecking ball that is reality. Even in Quirktown, getting knocked up at 16 isn't just a fun little plot device to be peppered with witticisms and one-liners. And Ellen Page. Wow. Watch Page sitting in that recliner on the lawn of perpetually terrified Michael Cera, informing him of their pregnancy, and see the birth (no pun intended) of the next great American actress. (Okay, so she's from Canada, but maybe we can trade Celine Dion back for her.) —Stephen Parkhurst

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To me, the backlashers against the film's "quirk-fest" aesthetic are missing the point. Stylized dialogue and soundtrack selections are movie artifices (like period costumes and special effects) that we should have learned to accept by now. Why should the idea that I am witnessing a conversation which could never occur between two real high-schoolers detract from my enjoyment of the movie? If we care about "realism," we can find it (and pathos, too) in the honesty of the characters and their behaviors: Juno's father, who is understandably dismayed but makes it clear throughout that he supports his daughter no matter what; her stepmother, who can't disguise her prejudices but still stands up for Juno when she needs it; and her boyfriend Paulie, who feels confused and excluded but shows himself to be loyal and unashamed of his attachment. —David Rankin, Chicago, IL

Atonement

I loved practically everything about this movie: the way it makes disorienting hairpin turns from comedy of manners to personal tragedy to global carnage; the way it evokes the horrors of war without a single "we've got to take this hill/beach" scene; and the way it filters it all through the eyes of a character who feels deeply responsible for inflicting those horrors on people she loves. The ending is a bit clumsy, but in a year where a lot of great movies rejected traditional resolutions (No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, Zodiac, Margot At The Wedding, etc.), it was great to see a passionate defense of the purpose of old-fashioned narrative. —Matt, Cleveland, Ohio

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Gone Baby Gone

In a year dominated by filmmaking veterans, there were also a handful of notable films by relative newcomers. But who could have guessed that the best of them would be helmed by Hollywood's favorite affable lunkhead, Ben Affleck? Sure enough, Gone Baby Gone was a riveting drama, beginning as a crackerjack kidnapping thriller before becoming something altogether different. Based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, Gone Baby Gone delves into moral territory that's even thornier than that explored by Clint Eastwood's 2003 Lehane adaptation Mystic River. Much of the credit for the film's effectiveness has been given to Lehane and to the film's cast—especially Casey Affleck and awards-magnet Amy Ryan—but Affleck's contribution as a filmmaker should not be underestimated. A native Bostonian, Affleck isn't afraid to paint its working-class residents warts and all, because he knows (and fears) that deep down, he's one of them. —Paul Clark, Columbus, Ohio

ON THE ALSO-RANS

Richard Kelly's Pynchon-esque feat of hyper-recursive, shamelessly dense, aggressively surreal filmmaking is destined for a cult somewhere between Mulholland Dr. and The Big Lebowski. While I can agree, on one level, with the almost unanimous sentiment that Southland Tales was a mess, calling it that sells the film short by presuming it all to be indulgent and unmotivated. Yes, it takes a viewing just to figure out who everyone is; if that scares you off, then you have no shortage of other films lining up to spoon-feed you. This isn't a film for people who accept the depth of their own consumer conditioning as an irreducible fact of the filmgoing experience. If anything, it's for people who want to dismantle as many of their expectations as possible. It's a lot to demand of yourself, but the reward is unlike anything else I've ever felt from a film before. —Sam (a.k.a. "SuperUn1son")

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I've never heard a boisterous and responsive festival audience have the wind sucked out of it as quickly as during the first abortion scene in Lake Of Fire. The incredible thing about Tony Kaye's documentary is not its power to shock, but its ability to use shocking footage in a constructive, even transcendent way. Out of all the films I saw this year, nothing was more visceral and enlightening; nothing made me feel so much like cinema had inspired me to a greater understanding of an essential question of human experience. For all the graphic footage of abortion, the shocks are never intended to drive home an ideology. Rather, they establish the urgency of the debate and the legitimacy of the questions surrounding abortion, however flawed the attendant rhetoric might be. This isn't a message movie. Lake Of Fire is more interested in the physical and spiritual cost of the conflict than the conflict itself; it's less about abortion than about society's tortured reaction to life's most painful and irreversible choices. It's the Hearts And Minds of the culture war. And it's by far the best film I saw all year. —Jordan Miller, Greensboro, North Carolina

I am baffled by reviewers who say that Sean Penn's Into The Wild "romanticizes" Chris McCandless's irresponsible wandering. Throughout the film, Penn underscores the degree to which McCandless was not acting entirely out of grand principle, but rather childhood trauma. He turns away from human companionship as soon as the spectre of attachment rears its head because the traumatic relationship with his parents left him unable to trust others. The tragedy of the film is his realization, in the majestic emptiness of Alaska, that his hard-won freedom was hollow in the absence of human connection. And the pain Chris inflicts on those around him is carefully emphasized, from the heartrending look on Hal Holbrook's face when he turns away from him to the scenes of his grief-stricken parents that bookend the film. —Matthew

Joshua takes the universal experiences of having a baby—the sleepless nights, the emotional ups and downs, the constant gnawing knowledge that you've been charged with protecting the defenseless—and flips it into a horror movie. That would normally be enough, but director George Ratliff takes it further, and suggests that these same babies may grow up to hate you for no good reason. We don't know what fuels Joshua's step-by-step dismantling of his nuclear family—many clues are offered, but they all feel like red herrings—but I think the key is his father, played by Sam Rockwell. Rockwell lets his natural, swinging-dick persona inflect his portrayal of an upstanding family man, letting us sense the self-involved lout underneath the caring husband. Coupled with his finance-industry job, it becomes clear that Joshua's goal isn't the destruction of his baby sister, but her salvation—from their gauche parents, the kind of people who would create someone like Joshua. —Kent Beeson (a.k.a. "kza")

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Sweeney Todd: Tim Burton, whose movies are often classified as "dark" but usually traffic in a very safe, cute, quirky kind of darkness, has made a genuinely, soul-shatteringly dark picture. And it's a musical! Stephen Sondheim's brilliant songs are given cinematic life, Johnny Depp washes that icky Pirates taste out of our mouths, and buckets of stylized blood ooze out of 19th-century gentlemen's necks. With Depp providing a tangible emotional center, the juxtaposition of tender, gorgeous music and brutal violence reaches extremely powerful heights. The movie-musical, a pretty barren genre for the past 50 years or so (the South Park movie notwithstanding), is taken to new heights as well. When Depp wields his barber knives, it's enough to make me forget the cutesiness of another Burton outsider (his name rhymes with Bedward Fissurehands) forever. —Brian Wolowitz, Chicago, Illinois

It's such a perfect marriage that I wonder why it was never conjured up before: the gore film and the musical, together at last! Both genres revel in their own artificiality, and they're both similarly hyperbolic in regards to big production setpieces. What I mean to say is that it was only a matter of time before we got a film like Sweeney Todd. I know nothing of Sondheim's original stage play, but I do know that Tim Burton's adaptation of said stage play is a rip-roaring exercise in bombastic Grand Guignol. The cast doesn't have the most adept singing voices (especially you, Alan Rickman… sorry), but they sell the emotions with ease. Johnny Depp in particular gives a strange and compelling performance that engenders bits of sympathy for the psychotic Todd even as I recognize there's not much sympathetic about him. Meanwhile, Burton's tendencies toward extravagance and atmosphere at the expense of narrative are used all for good this time around; he's got existing material to work with, and instead of tinkering with the source, he merely built a world around it. The threatening vertical compositions of the sets and the grimy color scheme, all grays and blacks occasionally ripped asunder by fonts of crimson, make the London of Todd feel less like a city and more like a stopover on the way to Hell. Most important, though, is that unlike some other stage-to-screen transpositions, Todd feels like a goddamned movie. A mad, bloody, dank, funny and ferociously entertaining movie, no less. The wait? So worth it. —Steve Carlson

Why in the hell did people dislike this movie so much? The major complaint about the film seems to be "It's another Wes Anderson film. They all look alike." So? Do people look at Monet's Woman With A Parasol and say "Sure, it's pretty and all, but what's with all the impressionism? I mean, can't he just do a normal portrait?" The Darjeeling Limited is Anderson at the top of his game, finally striking the right balance between the emotional resonance of The Royal Tenenbaums and the rich, expressionist imagery of The Life Aquatic (which gets better every time I watch it). Not to mention, it's a really funny movie, easily Anderson's funniest since Rushmore. The scene in the auto-body shop is at once hilarious, painful, and surprisingly sad. If Wes Anderson wants to make a gorgeous film about dysfunctional rich people every few years for the rest of his life, I say more power to him. —Stephen Parkhurst

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Visionary director Todd Haynes employs six actors in order to capture each fleeting version of Bob Dylan in this maddening, intoxicating musical/biopic. It's no wonder that, by the film's conclusion, we are no closer to knowing the man, since what Haynes is really shooting for is the myth. In fact, the only tensile thing about his film is the absolute unknowability of this country's most enduring and important pop icon. On paper, this ambitious work looks like high-minded drivel, an impossibly avant-garde approach to a genre worn tragically thin by glossy, overstated drama. But in execution, I'm Not There is a courageously inventive head trip, a musicial in all but the most conventional sense of the word. The truth of the film is that Haynes isn't showing the audience anything new about Dylan, he's just taking the strands (the images, the relationships, the rumors and stories) and tenuously linking them through the purity of the man's music. —Greg Burland

A lot of people dismissed this as "just a crime movie," but really it's "just a crime movie" in the same way that No Country For Old Men is "just a crime movie." What sets this film apart from most every other entry in the heist-film genre is that it understands and explores the essential nature of crime, which, after all, is an expression of pathology. Those pathologies can be economic or personal or familial, and in Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, all three of these brands of dysfunction are put under Sidney Lumet's microscope. The film uses fractured timelines, not to break down how the heist in question gets pulled off, but to show why. The cascade of family resentments, upper-class ennui, and wishful thinking build upon themselves to reveal the sickness of many American relationships, and the hollowness of many of our dreams. —Matthew

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For a movie freak who devours Something Weird special-edition DVDs, Grindhouse was three hours of nirvana, a movie that just made me happy to be alive. People complained that Death Proof was too talky and not a real grindhouse picture at all. To them, I'd say that: 1) real low-budget horror movies feature plenty of talk, since dialogue is cheap to film and pads the running time, and 2) the talk here is prime. I loved spending time with the women in this film. It was like finally getting to hang out with the cool girls in high school. But more than that, Death Proof is about the utter destruction of the American male macho archetype, as represented by Stuntman Mike with his big hair and his Icy Hot jacket. It's like demolishing Mount Rushmore and then spitting on the rubble. Considering the macho posturing that continues to dominate world politics, this is 2007's most radical movie by far. —Joe Blevins

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Separately, maybe, Planet Terror and Death Proof aren't spectacular , and at times, they edge on forgettable (though Tarantino's deconstruction of the slasher movie, complete with wicked awesome car chase, was underrated on this side of the Atlantic), but the Grindhouse package was a marvel. The fake trailers, the aesthetic, the adrenaline-fueled mayhem of the thing transformed going to the movies into a fuel-blown cinema experience. With the right audience, this was the most fun you could have in a theatre in 2007, and made the price of admission, for the first time in a long time, seem like a bargain. —Greg Carere, Toronto, Ontario

We witness a kind of apocalypse in Superbad, but it's a quiet, invisible one. Seth and Evan's world is a self-contained bubble, where life is an ongoing conversation, moving from phone to car to high school with the fluidity and weightlessness of a dream, and not even soccer balls are allowed to impinge on it. While there have been accusations of misogyny, they don't belong to the film—Seth and Evan's world ends, not because of some tantalizing siren tearing them apart, but because their dreamworld dissipates on contact with the real thing. All that's left is to step onto the escalator and go down, down, down into the deep dark waters of commitment. Welcome to adulthood, guys. Go buy something. —Kent Beeson (a.k.a. "kza")

Am I the only person under the age of 50 who thought [Away From Her] was the best movie of the year? Maybe it's because it's the first movie I cried in since Harry And the Hendersons when I was 7, when the dad punches Harry in the face and tells him he doesn't love him. Maybe because now at the ripe old age of 26, I feel like I am finally more impressed with amazing acting and a well-crafted story than novelty and general oddness. Maybe because after watching my grandparents fade away in a nursing home a few years ago, I was blown away by how realistic and accurate it seemed. Either everyone will watch this 30 years from now and realize what a gem it was, or I'll watch it 30 years from now and wonder what the hell I was thinking. —Andy O., Chicago, Illinois

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Few filmmakers are as eager to muddy the moral waters as Paul Verhoeven, the impish provocateur behind the twisted political allegory Starship Troopers and such monuments to chauvinism as Hollow Man and Basic Instinct. But with Black Book, Verhoven has finally struck the perfect balance between the puerile and the profound. Carice van Houten spends much of the film topless (it could have just as easily been called Shadows And Fog… And Tits), and inevitably suffers a series of lurid onscreen defilements. Yet as her seduction of the head Nazi officer deepens into a genuine emotional attachment, the film cannily raises the stakes of Starship Troopers' unsettling embrace of totalitarianism by making him a sympathetic—even heroic—figure. Verhoeven has produced a remarkably satisfying, visceral thriller that also raises troubling questions about who and what audiences really cheer for. —Jason Persse, Brooklyn, New York

Is it fair to love a movie, even call it one of the best things you saw all year, when you don't quite understand it? There's no small amount of mastery in the way Syndromes And A Century makes a satisfying and hauntingly beautiful film about characters we see only glimpses of, in narratives that meander aimlessly before they disappear completely. Telling the same story, with much of the same dialogue, twice in two different settings sounds forced and film-schoolish. Yet the resulting storylines feel so natural in each environment that the structure becomes just another story element floating in and out of the audience's consciousness. It's not hard to make a confusing, opaque narrative (right, Richard Kelly?), but it takes a truly special film to command a viewer's attention for days even as it continues to perplex him. —Jordan Miller

At first, I didn't like this even as much as A History of Violence, and I liked that movie somewhat less than everybody else seemed to. But it stayed with me for days, and eventually I decided that I didn't see a better movie last year. The deceptively direct narrative is dripping with ambiguity, erotic tension, shifting morality and an almost supernatural danger. It's also as technically impressive as the much more hyped No Country for Old Men or There Will Be Blood, though subtler and more elegant in its craft. It reminds me most of the great B-thrillers of the post-war period, which were frequently bold and perverse underneath their simple genre surfaces. In my head I can even imagine a version of Eastern Promises from back then, directed by Fritz Lang and with Richard Widmark as Nikolai, and I mean that as the highest compliment. —Marc Jozefowicz, Los Angeles, California

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More than any other writer or director working today, Judd Apatow knows how men talk to each other. He has also surrounded himself with a stable of incredible actors who can execute his ideas perfectly. Because of this dedication to realism in his characters, his movies make an impression on me that goes beyond the subject matter. Knocked Up came at a time that made it very relevant to me. Not so much the actual pregnancy part, but the themes of life after college, male friendship, dating, marriage, having kids, growing up, and responsibility that the movie explores are all things that are on the minds of guys my age. Apatow handles these subjects with a reverence and humor that I haven't seen since, well, The 40-Year-Old Virgin. —Austin, Searcy, Arkansas

The best part of The Bourne Ultimatum is that it provides a recent example that proves the lie that action blockbusters need to be mindless popcorn fun to be entertaining. I run across this all the time, with people cutting some brainless flicks full of explosions some slack because they think quality and excitement are mutually exclusive propositions. Well, I defy you to find another movie out there as exciting as this one, or one as expertly made. I only worry now that it has ruined all other action movies for me, but hope that it has succeeded in raising the bar for all to come. —Andy Sayers

Persepolis can't help but be viewed through the lens of our current political reality, but it's not burdened by it. As charming and funny as it is moving and thought-provoking, this animated film shows one little girl's personal experience of a changing world that we as adults have yet to fully understand. Marjane is one of the strongest characters of the year, made stronger by the fact that she has personal flaws and is often unsure of herself. The film doesn't provide solutions or great revelations, only the struggles of individuals facing difficult situations and their own personal discovery and acceptance. —Chris Fredda, Brooklyn, New York

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Much has been written about the film's melding of the personal and the political, but what really astounds is just how accessible Persepolis is. Never playing to arthouse pretense, the immense power of Marjane Satrapi's film is in its artlessness and vulnerability. The pain that Satrapi has for the loss of her country is so direct, so palpable, that it demands a type of empathy for Iran and Iranians that only a monster or a Bushie would deny. —Jeremy Cohen, Los Angeles, California

Okay, say what you will about its naive plot, its unfair ethnic depictions, its lowest of lowbrow violence and honestly abhorrent moral message. It's still very pretty. 300 joins the ranks of Robert Rodriguez's Sin City and the Japanese "live-action anime" film Casshern in a growing category of "digital backlot" movies that not only blur the line between live-action and animation to the point that they are indiscernible, but demonstrate a filmmaker's immense potential to control every aspect of the frame. Ignore the words coming out of their mouths on this one and just concentrate on the pure style. —Kris Ligman, Los Angeles, California

Forget Spider-Man versus Venom or John McClane versus a friggin' helicopter—the biggest show-down this year came from an endearingly nerdy documentary. The essence of geekdom is an inordinate passion for something that most people are indifferent to, and [King Of Kong] takes what appears from the outside to be a low-stakes competition and reveals that, when viewed from within its own subculture, it becomes an epic struggle between good and evil, or at least the status quo and the new guard. Bonus points for being a documentary where the personalities are in front of the camera instead of behind it. —John Shelton

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One could argue that Charles Ferguson's gripping account of what went wrong in Iraq following the fall of Saddam Hussein doesn't offer any facts that haven't already been reported in the newspapers or on television. But I would counter that we've never seen all these pieces of information assembled in such a complete and clear-eyed fashion. Director Charles Ferguson walks us through every decision that was made from the day U.S. troops assumed control of Baghdad, and how those choices wound up costing us the peace we swore we were going to bring to the region. I would love to have one of those talking heads that still blindly support the war watch No End In Sight and attempt to offer a point-by-point refutation of the film's arguments. They won't, of course, because it's easier to just dismiss the film as another Bush-bashing documentary and therefore not worthy of serious discussion. It's possible that No End In Sight won't stand the test of time, but right now it's arguably 2007's most vital movie. —Ethan Alter, Brooklyn, New York

MISCELLANEOUS KISSES AND DISSES

I never realized I liked Westerns before this year. Sure, I liked The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, but saying that you like Westerns because of that movie is akin to saying you like gases because of oxygen. This year, two Westerns managed to make it onto my personal top five, albeit for very different reasons. The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford is long, slow, and has every indication of being in existence solely to fulfill Brad Pitt's childhood dream of being Jesse James. But it was my favorite movie of the year due almost entirely to Casey Affleck's Robert Ford. He goes from sniveling fanboy to disillusioned killer to resigned old man, and makes it all work. 3:10 To Yuma, my number five, was enjoyable for almost the opposite reason: sure, it has pretensions to being a study on how a man needs to prove himself, but really, it's about Christian Bale becoming a badass with Russell Crowe's help. A lot of people I know claimed not to understand the ending, but it was the best possible conclusion; Crowe may have had a fleeting aspiration to decency, but in the end, he's still a ruthless asshole. —Bill, Phoenix, Arizona

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Michael Bay is an avant-gardist in our midst. Transformers gives us giant robots fighting, yes, but whose nervous systems was this film intended for? Frame after frame of whip-cut close-ups of abstract CG; don't let the vaguely racist undertones of the pig-trough characters and dialogue fool you, this film was made by a man as enthralled by his hang-ups as David Lynch. And oh yeah, black robot dies first. Sorry, yo. —Jack Monahan

If 300 is meant purely as mindless visual, I can only assume we're meant to ogle the near-naked beefcake bodies. But then they go accusing the villains, whose leader is depicted as effeminately as possible, of being "boy-lovers," and filming a sex scene that seems to go out of its way to avoid showing anything related to the usually-abundant beefcake male body. It's the only movie I have ever seen that is simultaneously homoerotic and homophobic, making for a very sexually confusing viewing experience. —Jon Marquis, Rochester, New York

There's a lot to admire about Todd Haynes' I'm Not There, but the level of enthusiasm for it is a mystery to me. Why take such a radical approach to a figure that's been dissected for decades? Why not someone you could say something new about? It would be one thing if I'm Not There exploded or transcended all the layers of critical sediment Bob Dylan has gathered through the years, but it seems content to coexist with them within one of the safest movie concepts of our time: the Revolutionary '60s. Does anyone else see the irony in Dylan calling out "Mr. Jones" for having "been through all of F. Scott Fitzgerald's books," an artist then 40 years past his prime—in a movie about an artist now 40 years past his prime? Did anyone think that one of the most lauded movies of 2007 would score footage of Vietnam with "All Along The Watchtower," even ironically? Did anyone else balk at the cinematic cannibalism of "Don't Look Back," a film that ably explored Dylan's shifting personas without the benefit of 40 years of hindsight? And why did the over-literal interpretations and thudding puns of Across The Universe raise critics' hackles, while Cate Blanchett's Dylan smirks "Just like a woman," with no objections? Trying to reinterpret a figure as old as Dylan risks detouring into cliché or empty conceptualism, each of which I'm Not There suffers from a little more than critics would like to have acknowledged. —Jordan Miller

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2007 is a great example of how it's a great time to be a cinema lover. Some movie buffs refuse to see anything made before their birth, and often we overreact and shout, "Everything worth seeing was made in the '60s. Today's movies are crap!" But we do a disservice to contemporary cinema. Every major studio now has an indie label. The niche for the art film and the independent film is only getting bigger. Foreign films from places like Mexico, Romania, and Korea are breaking new ground and breaking through to bigger audiences. I'd say we're in a Renaissance for documentaries, but that would have to mean that there was some past time when they were this good. It's a great time to love the movies, and I have only higher and higher hopes for cinema. —Robert Anton