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The year in film

There Will Be Blood, Ratatouille top our critics' charts

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Editor's note: Here are the year-end 10 best movies as chosen by film critics Felicia Feaster and Curt Holman.


1) There Will Be Blood Nearly every critics' group has singled out Daniel Day-Lewis for praise as the mercenary oil man in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of socialist novelist Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel Oil!. It's not just the sublime Day-Lewis whose charms make this film an astounding, cinematic opus. The film also features Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood's seductive, intellectually meaty score; a look and scope that bring to mind Citizen Kane and Night of the Hunter, among others; and an ambitiously mature project from a director more often aligned with a hepster, popish sensibility. The cherry on top: a scathing indictment of the perversity of American business and the oil industry with a depressing applicability to the here and now.

2) La Vie en Rose Director Olivier Dahan's subtext-laden, tight and emotionally devastating film about the legendary French chanteuse Edith Piaf was far from the sorrow-jonesing, pity-party biopic too many critics dismissed this film as. Because along with Marion Cotillard's uncanny impersonation of Piaf, La Vie en Rose was a film that did that rarest of things: celebrating with style, sadness and wit the life of an exceptional and exceptionally damaged woman who never succumbed to the worst life gave her.

3) Away from Her This lovely debut film from 28-year-old actress Sarah Polley showed incredible precociousness and depth on the filmmaker's part. When so many young directors seem drawn to glitz and gunplay and a cast close to their own age, Polley showed real integrity in treating the loss of self and control that old age brings. Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie are the unconventional elderly couple who make the excruciating decision to separate, and commit Fiona to a nursing home.

4) Into the Wild Terminal left-winger Sean Penn got a little soulful and real this go around. Penn transformed this Jon Krakauer novel about 24-year-old Emory student Chris McCandless (Emile Hirsch) entertaining fantasies of living on his own in Alaska into a very topical-feeling quest story about finding meaning in life with unforgettable performances from Hal Holbrook, Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn and nonprofessional Brian Dierker.

5) Lars and the Real Girl What initially looked like an exercise in indie-quirk – about a lonely, alienated guy (Ryan Gosling) and his sex doll – transformed into a Frank Capra-esque yarn about community, family, nurturing, loss and how we define adulthood. Director Craig Gillespie, ably backed by Nancy Oliver's exceptional script, performed a delicate balancing act, never allowing the film to topple over into ludicrous comedy or undeserved pathos. And Gosling proved utterly believable as a young man so defined by loss, he has to be slowly taught how to hope again.

6) Lady Chatterley When so many films handle sex so badly, French female director Pascale Ferran's graphic adaptation of an early draft of D.H. Lawrence's novel felt like a revelation. Characters that initially seem conventional – the wealthy, unsatisfied wife (Marina Hands) and the brutish, inexpressive gamekeeper (Jean-Louis Coullo'ch) – ripen and become something far more. Ferran's connection of sex to the natural world and to the deepest, best, most wounded part of her characters breathed new life into Lawrence's subversive literary work, demonstrating how progressive the art of the past could be.

7) Year of the Dog Another film that dared to imagine a female character charting her own, oddball path, Mike White's weird and wonderful character study centered on a woman (Molly Shannon) whose life changes when she loses her beloved beagle Pencil. Like its Facebook pal, Lars and the Real Girl, Year of the Dog maintained a subtle balance as it told the story of a selfless, invisible woman who decides to live on her own terms and not others. What seemed like a wafer-thin comedy transformed into a politically progressive, even feminist story of self-empowerment and caring for the least among us.

8) Knocked Up Crude, rude and dangerously funny, shock-humanist Judd Apatow's tale of a goofball (Seth Rogen) who has to grow some cajones and abandon childish things managed to be kind to both its male characters and its female ones. While so much of American life seems regressive, Apatow's secretly sweet dick-flick comedies show a definite progress from the dark days of Porky's and (more recently) American Pie in showing complex characters navigating all the pitfalls of contemporary life.

9) Rescue Dawn The idea seemed daft at first; Werner Herzog creating a narrative film from the wonderful 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly he made about German-born, American-bred Vietnam POW Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale). But in a time when war, corporate greed and a politically fractured society can throw into question just what America means, Herzog delivered an endearing, bittersweet valentine to the best values and impulses of the country embodied in one heroic individual. Christian Bale was mesmerizing as an unconventionally golly-gee hero and Steve Zahn equally compelling as his more fragile compatriot.

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