1. “No Country for Old Men” (Joel and Ethan Coen)

Have you ever seen a flawless film? “No Country for Old Men,” the Coen brothers’ new masterwork, is nothing less. The film mixes an ingenious cocktail of the finest elements of moviemaking – majestic photography, dramatic tension, peerless performance, symbolism and a just plain unforgettable story – into a single, momentous work that stands tall and strong over everything that came out last year. Of all the great movies this year, and there were many, it’s the Coen brothers’ opus, blistering and merciless, that has stayed in our hearts, minds and stomachs. This was without a doubt 2007’s best.


2. “Superbad” (Greg Mottola)

Three high school friends try to get beer for a party. That’s it. But that’s all that’s required for the film to exceed even the best of the high school hijinks genre, “Fast Times” and “Dazed and Confused” included. Facilitating its achievement is Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s brilliant script, which alternates between disgusting, hilarious and actually, kind of sweet. And let’s not forget the passing of the catchphrase torch from Borat’s “Very nice!” to Fogel’s “I am McLovin’!” In the year of Apatow, there is no film more representative of his creative infiltration of Hollywood than this instant classic.


3. “Atonement” (Joe Wright)

Perhaps the most traditional prestige movie on this list is also one of the most complex. It plays like a snapshot of elite filmmaking – a morality play and a lecture on war, a performance showcase and an aesthetic triumph – but with its postmodern take on perspective, it complicates and reinvents the conventions of those narratives. Drenched in loss and an aching desire to rewrite the past, Joe Wright’s adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel spans decades to tell the story of a 13-year-old girl (Saoirse Ronan), the fatal mistake she makes and the lifetime it takes to make it right.


4. “Eastern Promises” (David Cronenberg)

David Cronenberg has proven himself to be an incredibly versatile and nonconformist filmmaker over the years, and “Eastern Promises” may well be his crowning achievement. A flawlessly acted and constructed thriller, it’s both his most accessible film and his most artistic. At its center is Viggo Mortensen (with whom he also worked on the masterful “A History of Violence”), turning in what is arguably the best performance of the year. He’ll be brushed aside at ceremonies thanks to a certain other, towering leading man, but Viggo – though less showy – is the far more nuanced and fascinating of the two.


5. “There Will Be Blood” (Paul Thomas Anderson)

More than a film cementing Daniel Day-Lewis’s iconic status, though it does that with astonishing force, “There Will Be Blood” shows a keen maturity that has developed in the work of Paul Thomas Anderson. After his feature debut, “Sydney,” Anderson wrote and directed “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia” and “Punch-Drunk Love,” emotion-driven films ranging from disparate-but-somehow-connected tales to a quirky character study starring a maudlin, blue-suited Adam Sandler. In “There Will Be Blood,” Anderson takes his most assured steps as an auteur, crafting a haunting, sadistic masterpiece of an oil man (Lewis) and the legacy he burns for himself. NOAH DEAN STAHL

6. “Once” (John Carney)

Not too many movies on this list can really be considered “heartwarming.” An oil tycoon, a hitman, a doomed romance – not exactly a good pick-me-up. “Once” is unique in that regard, and it’s the most uplifting film of the year, if not the last few years. The story of an Irish street guitarist and his female musical counterpart, their whirlwind week spent playing, recording and almost, almost falling in love.


7. “Michael Clayton” (Tony Gilroy)

Quiet, disturbing and yet perhaps the most riveting film of the year, “Michael Clayton” isn’t always easy to follow. Symbols, gestures and seemingly nonsensical asides form the engine driving an energetic, forceful plot to a natural (if predictable) climax. Unlikely dark performances by George Clooney, Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson power a film at once more and less than it first appears to be.


8. “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” (Sidney Lumet)

Some people call this a Sidney Lumet masterpiece, some call it just horribly, fatalistically depressing. Can’t it be both? Lumet’s story of a jewelry-store robbery gone terribly wrong features raw performances from Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke in service of a vicious screenplay that spares no one. However you respond, you definitely won’t forget it.


9. “Zodiac” (David Fincher)

A film based on a story without a real ending is no easy feat. “Zodiac” makes its lack of a conclusion irrelevant by putting the viewer in the center of the mystery and arguing in favor of a single outcome. Each time the case is opened and closed, examined and re-examined, the film gets more intricate and more engrossing. Added bonus: a crime-solving Jake Gyllenhaal.


10. “The Wind that Shakes the Barley” (Ken Loach)

Ken Loach’s Palme D’Or winner was criminally under-seen following its U.S. debut. It’s unusual to call a film about guerilla revolutionaries somber and atmospheric, but Loach is more interested in the mood of the IRA resistance against the British than the horrific violence that pervaded it (though that’s here, too). Intelligent and leisurely paced, the film offers a truly singular perspective on an oft-revisited history.


11. “Hot Fuzz” (Edgar Wright)

Just as “Shaun of the Dead” skewered the zombie genre, “Hot Fuzz” takes on the American action blockbuster: blown-up cars and shoot-outs galore. In truth, with its hefty running time and bizarre eccentricities, the movie really shouldn’t work. It’s a British action movie. But the film has more wit and more energy than any of the films it sends up, and let’s face it: High-pitched squeals by grown men sound better with a British accent.


12. “Ratatouille” (Brad Bird)

It’s not that the computer-generated animation is astonishingly good – though it is. And it’s not that “Ratatouille” is perfectly sweet, perfectly funny and perfectly charming – though, yes, it’s that too. It’s because this film is smart and it challenges institutional wisdom. Remy is a gifted chef. He’s also a rat. If a movie can make the audience hungry for food cooked by vermin, then Disney-Pixar has clearly crafted another extraordinary experience.


13. “Juno” (Jason Reitman)

Once “Juno” went from quirky comedy to mega-success and Oscar nominee, it was only a matter of time before it was labeled as overrated. Look closer and you’ll find a film more than deserving of the praise it’s received. Anchored by an exceptional and mature performance from Ellen Page (“Hard Candy”), along with that fantastic screenplay by Diablo Cody, no other film in this year’s crop of Oscar contenders will leave you feeling quite so joyous.


14. “Charlie Wilson’s War” (Mike Nichols)

A film about war that isn’t dark or dreadful (at least not on the surface), “Charlie Wilson’s War” is sharp satire that strikes a smoother rhythm than we thought possible for a “war comedy.” An absurdist romp on one face, a dire premonition on another, the film asks questions and gives answers that we’ve heard before, but frames it all in an addictively enjoyable narrative.


15. “Margot at the Wedding” (Noah Baumbach)

Director Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”) pens an incendiary exploration of two sisters (Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh, the best we’ve seen them) reunited at their childhood home and the stunningly cruel interplay between them. Laced with Baumbach’s asphalt-black comedy and generational insight, it’s a surprising, often inexplicable masterpiece of the mind.


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