Call it, friendo. Call it a downright miracle.
Most years, when it comes time to ponder this annual exercise, I gnash my teeth and lament the all-but-impossible task of finding a few grains of wheat among the cinematic chaff.
This year, however, it proved eerily easy to compile a list of movies overflowing with smarts, heart and artistry -- the elements that separate the truly memorable from the merely diverting.
Let's hope this year's unusual abundance doesn't signify an impending apocalypse. (Although, considering the current writers strike, we're likely to pay dearly next year.)
For now, however, let's break out the bubbly -- or, if you prefer, the popcorn -- and toast 2007's movies with the most:
1. "NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN" -- Filmmaking brothers Joel and Ethan Coen's instant-classic adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel finds deadpan humor on the blood-soaked trail of a crime spree gone wrong in 1980 Texas. It is powered by performances for the ages from Javier Bardem as a spectral psycho killer ("Call it, friendo") and Tommy Lee Jones as an old-school sheriff who wonders whatever happened to the code of the West.
2. "SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET" -- A bloody triumph, as director Tim Burton reimagines composer Stephen Sondheim's Broadway classic about a horribly wronged barber (Burton favorite Johnny Depp) whose quest for vengeance leads to murder and madness in Victorian London. It thrillingly demonstrates the power of musicals to move you as no other movies can.
3. "THE NAMESAKE" -- A Calcutta couple start a new life in New York, only to have their all-American son reject his cultural roots, in director Mira Nair's beguiling adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Despite its exotic spices, the basic ingredients are universal, resulting in a rich, complex, utterly delicious cinematic dish.
4. "AWAY FROM HER" -- An Alzheimer's patient (exquisitely subtle Julie Christie) goes into a nursing home and transfers her affections to another patient, prompting an emotional crisis for her forgotten husband (Gordon Pinsent), in a heart-piercing adaptation of an Alice Munro short story that's far from depressing, thanks to its quietly precise emotional insights.
5. "ONCE" -- Another memorable musical, this small but glowing gem follows an Irish guitarist and a Czech emigre pianist who meet on a Dublin street corner and literally make beautiful music together, as melody and harmony heal their inner wounds -- and ours.
6. "INTO THE WILD" -- The unsettling odyssey of a young loner (Emile Hirsch) toward fateful solitude in Alaska inspires writer-director Sean Penn's exhilarating yet harrowing adaptation of Jon Krakauer's nonfiction best-seller.
7. "TALK TO ME" -- In a rare movie that's both raucously entertaining and seriously thought-provoking, outspoken ex-con Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene (Don Cheadle) talks his way onto the radio, spinning soul music and raising social consciousness in 1960s Washington, D.C.
8. "THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD" -- A witty revamp of a venerable outlaw saga, as a once-devoted gang member (a knockout Casey Affleck) betrays end-of-the-trail Jesse James (Brad Pitt), presaging a 20th century full of celebrity-obsessed assassins.
9. "RATATOUILLE" -- "Incredibles" writer-director Brad Bird's tasty, inventive animated treat, about a gourmet rat who teams with a hapless kitchen helper to revive an on-the-skids Paris restaurant.
10. "NO END IN SIGHT" -- This must-see Iraq war documentary delivers a concise, ultimately devastating chronicle of what went wrong -- and why it didn't have to happen.
Contact movie critic Carol Cling at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 383-0272.