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The year in film: ‘Killer of Sheep’ worth the 30-year wait

Killer of Sheep
Milestone Films
Henry Gayle Sanders in Charles Burnett’s “Killer of Sheep.”

From where I sat, 2007 was a breakthrough year for movies, no matter that the very best of them — Charles Burnett’s American independent classic “Killer of Sheep” — came out a full 30 years after it was made. Some things are worth waiting for including my No. 2 and No. 3, which will arrive here from the coasts in early 2008.

1. “Killer of Sheep”
Music rights issues kept this astonishing portrait of working-class life in Watts out of release for three decades despite its having been named a national treasure by the Library of Congress. There’s a lesson in that, but it somehow pales beside Burnett’s own master class on the minuscule distinctions between childhood and adulthood, hardship and joy, man and animal, poetry and realism — ours for eternity now.

2. “There Will Be Blood”
In 10 short years, writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson has grown from squeezing “joy juice” (“Boogie Nights”) to discovering his allegorical fluid in crude oil and baptismal water. Drilling in God’s country and dueling with a self-made man of the cloth (Paul Dano), Daniel Day-Lewis — in the year’s tour de force performance — positions himself at a mysterious remove from Anderson’s camera, revealing in the end that his true character is U.S. (Opens Jan. 4 at the Uptown Theatre.)

3. “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”
The anti-“Juno” (and so much more), this Romanian drama of unplanned pregnancy explores a woman’s choice in such bloody detail that its tensions appear elemental. Weighing matters of life and death, the movie hardly neglects human comedy — starting with the fact that its ruthless black-market abortionist goes by the adorable name of “Mr. Bebe.” (Opens at the Uptown in February or March.)

4. “Bamako”
Fantasizing that globalization’s masters could be made to stand trial, Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako calls the court of public opinion to order in the real world.

5. “Zodiac”
All-consuming American obsession shared equally by journalist (Jake Gyllenhaal), cop (Mark Ruffalo), killer (????), filmmaker (David Fincher) and audience.

6. “Southland Tales”
Richard Kelly’s wildly ambitious, widely loathed sci-fi satire is so similar to network “news” it’s not even funny — which is the joke, lost on plenty.

7. “Paprika”
Japanese anime genius Satoshi Kon doesn’t call his company Madhouse Studio for nothing.

8. “Exterminating Angels”
French schoolteacher-turned-auteur Jean-Claude Brisseau audaciously fictionalizes his own pathology in the wildest critique of straight-male sexual phobia since “Basic Instinct.”

9. “Beowulf” (IMAX 3D version)
Robert Zemeckis, director of “Back to the Future,” journeys forward in motion-capture technology to tell a war story so ancient it’s practically au courant.

10. “Away From Her”
Never mind Alzheimer’s: Actor-turned-director Sarah Polley elicits indelible performances from Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent and Michael Murphy in a romance that dares to equate true love with forgetting.

Honorable Mentions (in order of preference):
“The Devil Came on Horseback”
“Czech Dream”
“Manda Bala (Send a Bullet)”
“Syndromes and a Century”
“After the Wedding”
“Black Book”
“The Great World of Sound”
“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”

Best Minnesota Movie
“Bill’s Big Pumpkins”

Five best lead performances (in order of preference):
Daniel Day-Lewis, “There Will Be Blood.”
Anamarina Marinca, “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.”
Mads Mikkelsen, “After the Wedding.”
Ashley Judd, “Bug.”
Pat Healy, “Great World of Sound.”

Five best supporting performances (in order of preference):
Paul Dano, “There Will Be Blood.”
Laura Vasiliu, “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.”
Dwayne Johnson, “Southland Tales.”
Casey Affleck, “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.”
Amy Ryan, “Gone Baby Gone.”

As yet unreleased (in order of preference):
“Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind”
“Go Go Tales”
“The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom”
“The Unforeseen”
“Constantine’s Sword”
“Operation Filmmaker”
“The Last Mistress”
“George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead”
“State Legislature”
“Secret Sunshine”

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