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Chuck Zlotnick, Paramount Vantage
Emile Hirsch in "Into the Wild."

There's a popular misconception that critics enjoy trashing things. Actually, it's a pain to watch bad movies. And even the catharsis of criticizing them in print doesn't make that pain go away.

So as the year ends, I'd rather concentrate on films I adored, as opposed to those I despised.

And no other film got to me as much as "Into the Wild," screenwriter-director Sean Penn's faithful adaptation of the Jon Krakauer best-seller. It's a beautifully photographed and acted heady meditation on how we as a society have grown apart from nature, from ourselves and from our families.

Others in my list range from comedies to documentaries to cartoons.

Here are my favorite 10-plus films of 2007:

1. "Into the Wild." Despite knowing in advance how this story would turn out, I was still moved by the conclusion — and the whole movie.

2. "Juno." A smart, sweet, teen-pregnancy comedy that announced the arrival of the two strongest female voices in film this year: screenwriter Diablo Cody and up-and-coming actress Ellen Page.

3. "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Dollars." If you would have told me in advance that a story about a video-game competition could be this enthralling, I would have called you a liar.

4. "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." A true-life drama that's well-worth the effort because the 15-minute opening sequence and subtitles do make it a challenge.

5. "No Country for Old Men." The Coen brothers returned to darker "Blood Simple" territory with their most assured, complete movie in years.

6. "Ratatouille." Rats! Disney-Pixar made a movie about another rodent besides Mickey Mouse that was captivating.

7. "Gone Baby Gone." Say what you will about Ben Affleck as an actor, his directorial debut was raw, real and memorable.

8. "Lars and the Real Girl." Another sweet surprise. An appealingly bizarre "romance" tale that wasn't nearly as off-putting as its premise suggested.

9. "Knocked Up." Yes, it was smutty. And yes, it deserved its R rating. But it was another accidental pregnancy comedy with equal parts heart and humor.

10. "Waitress." The most bittersweet movie experience of 2007, thanks to the tragic death of its screenwriter-director (and co-star), Adrienne Shelly.

THE REST OF THE BEST (in alphabetical order): "3:10 to Yuma," "Away From Her," "Dan in Real Life," "The Host," "Hot Fuzz," "Live Free or Die Hard," "My Kid Could Paint That," "Once," "Persepolis," "Zodiac."

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com