Rounding out the bottom part of the list -- Nos. 6-10 -- in alphabetical order, are Beowulf, the 3D eye-popper that again pushed director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump) to the top of groundbreaking gadgetry movies; Eastern Promises, David Cronenberg's extremely violent, nudity-filled, and just slightly romantic look at the world of Russian thugs; Gone Baby Gone, director Ben Affleck's tight, taut, passionate study of heroes and lowlifes; Hairspray, the most joyous musical in recent years, featuring the most padding John Travolta has ever worn; and Juno, the sweetest and most charming movie of the year, with another bravura performance (after Hard Candy) by Ellen Page.
And so on to the Top 5, not necessarily the year's "best" films, but my favorites, the ones that I wouldn't mind seeing over and over.
5. Sweeney Todd
Tim Burton and Johnny Depp strike again, bringing the nasty, violent and darkly funny tale of a Victorian-era barber's revenge on the citizenry of London to the screen, told mostly in song. So what if Depp doesn't have the best singing voice -- he sure is menacing in the part. And Helena Bonham Carter, as pale as paste, can sing quite well. Topping it off is some inspired cameo work by Sacha Baron Cohen as an "Italian" snake oil salesman, plus lots and lots of free-flowing blood.
4. The Bourne Ultimatum
The best of the Bourne trilogy, with grim-faced Matt Damon in the lead, was sort of a remake of the first two, but with everything, from chase scenes to fist fights, ratcheted up to number 11. Director Paul Greengrass, who made the previous installment as well as United 93, knows exactly how to put the cameras in up close, let the action fly, slightly confuse the viewers, then make them want even more.
3. There Will Be Blood
Paul Thomas Anderson put Daniel Day-Lewis front and center in a story of a self-made Texas oilman who struggles, strikes it rich, keeps working harder at it, then realizes (or does he?) that he's on the road to madness. Day-Lewis deserves an Oscar nomination, Paul Dano and Kevin J. O'Connor give solid supporting performances. Robert Elswit's cinematography is stunning.
2. I'm Not There
The name "Bob Dylan" never appears in this freeform "biographical" film, but writer-director Todd Haynes (who sort of covered David Bowie and Iggy Pop in Velvet Goldmine) has six different actors playing versions of Dylan at seven different stages of his life. Outstanding are young Marcus Carl Franklin (the only "Dylan" doing his own singing) and, donning shades and fright wig, the ever-remarkable Cate Blanchett, who gets to snipe at reporters and briefly cavort with the Beatles. Watch this, and you'll want to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free.
1. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
Sidney Lumet's tour de force traces the rocky relationship of two brothers (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke) who are so desperate for cash that they pull off a too-close-to-home robbery, after which their world goes to hell. It's brave and intense and remarkably inventive filmmaking from the 83-year-old Lumet (12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Network), who recently signed a three-picture deal.
Honorary Mentions: C'mon, you've always gotta have an honorable mention. My short list included No Country for Old Men, Into the Wild, and Ratatouille. But after much thought, and because it was the longest, grossest, most over-the-top film of the year, my HM finger points right between the eyes of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez for their maniacal Grindhouse.