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Originally published December 30, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 2, 2008 at 10:42 AM

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Our film critic's Top 10 of the year

And here we are ... at Top 10 time once again. (Wasn't I just doing this a couple of months ago?) It's a strange ritual, but one that movie...

Seattle Times movie critic

And here we are ... at Top 10 time once again. (Wasn't I just doing this a couple of months ago?) It's a strange ritual, but one that movie critics and movie lovers know to be an unbreakable tradition: going over the year's many movies, choosing the 10 most memorable. As I peruse my list of movies seen in 2007, many titles inspire a smile; others, a puzzled frown. As with all works of art, some movies are instantly forgotten, while others stay with us and become a part of us.

The 10 listed below are my favorites of the year; the ones that remained with me long after I left the theater, and that created worlds I was eager to visit again, as soon as possible. They are listed alphabetically, because I couldn't possibly rank one above or below another: How do you compare, for example, a blood-drenched musical, a real-life drama set in the imagination of a paralyzed writer and a comedy about a shy man and his life-size doll? Regardless, all thrilled me, and I hope each of you saw 10 films this year that enchanted you as much as these 10 did me.

"Atonement." Don't be fooled — this isn't just a pretty period drama (though much of it is very pretty indeed), but a wrenching, multilayered ode to the power of language and storytelling. Ian McEwan's brilliant novel is done justice by director Joe Wright and screenwriter Christopher Hampton; newcomer Saoirse Ronan is a knockout in the role of the young writer who sets the story in motion.

"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." How do you depict the inner life of a 43-year-old man locked inside his body by a massive stroke — and how do you make the film an unexpectedly uplifting experience? Julian Schnabel answers these questions with astonishing imagination and artistry; Mathieu Amalric, in the film's central role, creates a complex character using only one eye and a voice-over. Unforgettable.

"Eastern Promises." David Cronenberg's tale of light and dark (smartly scripted by Steve Knight) never wavers for an instant; it's a unique character study focusing on a chilly driver for London's Russian mob (Viggo Mortensen) and an angelic-looking nurse (Naomi Watts) drawn into his world. A splendid ensemble cast moves the story inexorably forward; you'll watch it leaning-in and breathless.

"Lars and the Real Girl." Who knew that the year's sweetest love story would involve an awkward young man (Ryan Gosling) and a life-size mail-order doll? Craig Gillespie's film, written by Nancy Oliver, is a small-town story of love, kindness and good manners, and by its end it achieves something magical: We begin to believe that Bianca, the doll, is real. A gentle and unique film that didn't find the audience it deserved.

"The Lives of Others." Though technically a 2006 film (it won the foreign-language Oscar early this year), Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's drama wasn't seen in Seattle until February 2007, so I'm slipping it in here because it's just that good. Set in the East German police state of the '80s, it's an intricate tale of overlapping lives and voyeurism; of a man becoming obsessed (and drawn to) the people on whom he spies — and despite the chilly subject matter, its emotional impact is one you'll remember long after.

"Michael Clayton." A reminder that Hollywood can, occasionally, still hit one out of the park. George Clooney, that most effortless of movie stars, leads Tony Gilroy's whip-smart thriller; Tilda Swinton (who spends the entire movie wound so tightly, you never see her breathe) and Tom Wilkinson are brilliant in supporting roles.

"Once." This year's little-movie-that-could comes from Ireland, where it was made on a budget that wouldn't cover Clooney's "Michael Clayton" wardrobe. John Carney's modern musical is the simple tale of two young people in Dublin who touch each other's life with song. Almost ethereal in its softness, it's a gentle not-quite-love-story, with a final image sure to pierce your heart.

"Ratatouille." The Pixar gang, which seemingly has an unlimited number of terrific movies up its sleeves, has done it again with this animated tale of a Paris rat who yearns to be a chef. Technically impeccable (who knew an animated rat could convey such nuance in his facial expressions?) and filled with wit and warmth, it's an irresistible tale of the joy of good food — and of finding one's bliss.

"Sweeney Todd." Those who love the Stephen Sondheim musical about a bloodthirsty barber in 19th-century Fleet Street have been anticipating Tim Burton's movie for a while — and they won't be disappointed. This thrilling black-white-and-red melodrama is perfect blend of filmmaker and subject matter, and a chance for Johnny Depp to show us that there's nothing he can't do.

"The Wind That Shakes the Barley." Ken Loach's tragic, beautiful tale of 1920s Ireland as the country struggles for independence is about the way wind blows on rugged green hills, and the way people born to that land come to love it with a fierceness. Listen to the musical brogues rising and falling; watch the way the performances get under our skin.

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A splendid second 11, just because: "Enchanted," "For the Bible Tells Me So," "Golden Door," "Gone Baby Gone," "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," "Hairspray," "My Best Friend," "The Namesake," "No Country for Old Men," "The Savages," "Zodiac."

Ten perfectly dreadful movies I hope to never think about again: "Black Snake Moan," "Because I Said So," "The Invasion," "License to Wed," "The Nanny Diaries," "Next," "Norbit," "The Number 23," "The Reaping," "Rush Hour 3."

Roll the end credits. May 2008 be a year of joy and inspiration, at the movies and elsewhere.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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