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Critics cook up 07 favorites

Rats, morbid meat pies, 'Paprika' added some spice to cinema's kitchen
by: COURTESY OF DREAMWORKS SKG, Tim Burton’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” is one of 2007’s best on which Tribune critics Pat Holmes and Dawn Taylor can agree.

What soared and what stunk at the cinema this past year?

The answers, in no particular order, are: a Korean sea monster, a French rat, a British barber and Lindsay Lohan.

The Tribune's sharp-eyed (and often razor-tongued) reviewers, Pat Holmes and Dawn Taylor, have smiled and suffered through 12 months of war dramas, neo-Westerns, torrid romances and terrible comedies that were 'superbad' in the really, really bad sense of the term.

Here's their rundown of the best and worst of '07, and the flicks they look forward to seeing - or skewering - in '08.

• • •

PAT HOLMES

BEST OF 2007

'Before the Devil Knows You're Dead' (R)

Hell in a handbasket, on the family plan - 83-year-old Sidney Lumet fires into high gear after almost 20 years in neutral.

'The Host' (R)

Mutant tadpole samples Seoul-food. Koreans dish up the tastiest monster since Quetzalcoatl laid an egg atop the Chrysler Building in 1982's 'Q: The Winged Serpent.'

'No Country for Old Men' (R)

The Coen brothers on stun. The apocalypse with a bad haircut shadows the scorched no man's land between the Old West and the New Whatever. And a shiver runs through it.

'Paprika' (R)

Spice for the eyes, seasoning for the brain. Surprisingly lithe anime, as head-clearingly bright as sunshine after a rain shower. Dig that big parade of cultural upchuck.

'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street' (R)

London's tonsorial terror gives Tim Burton his closest shave with greatness since 'Ed Wood.' Hollywood's best musical in who-knows-how-long puts the gore back in gorgeous.

WORST OF 2007

That dog of a zombie movie, 'Fido'? Not quite dead last.

'Next'? Maybe next-to-last.

'P2'? Just PU.

'Because I Said So'? I say no.

'The Guatemalan Handshake'? Just give it the finger.

I'll go with the self-important, self-deluding 'Rendition.' A torture drama with Reese Witherspoon - isn't that a redundancy? Skip it, and wait for 'Waterboarding: The Musical!'

MOST ANTICIPATED FOR 2008

My calendar has Jan. 25 highlighted in neon, blue-light and assorted body oils to mark the coming of 'Rambo.' America's favorite killing machine is back for his fourth outing - and Sly, you had me at 'When you're pushed, killin's as easy as breathin'.' Or laughin'.

Just try to breathe when the killin' starts. As our hero's eviscerated victims might say, 'I can barely contain myself!'

DAWN TAYLOR

BEST OF 2007

'Eastern Promises' (R)

One really doesn't get enough opportunities to see a naked Viggo Mortensen kill a few guys with his bare hands. That it comes as part of an exceptionally good film, well, that's a bonus.

What Martin Scorsese did for Italian wiseguys, David Cronenberg does for Russian mobsters in an intimate, tense and extremely adult thriller that reveals more complexities with each viewing.

'Grindhouse' (R)

Two great movies in one package - Quentin Tarantino's 'Death Proof,' with Kurt Russell as an evil stuntman who picks the wrong group of women to terrorize, and Robert Rodriguez's 'Planet Terror,' a zombie film that features every Z-movie trope imaginable (plus Rose McGowan as a one-legged go-go dancer).

The faux trailers alone are worth the price of admission.

'Once' (R)

An absolutely wonderful film that subverts every cliché of the struggling-musicians-inspire-each-other-to-change-their-lives genre, instead offering a captivating, romantic film about friendship, creativity and hope.

'Ratatouille' (G)

Pixar knocks another one out of the park, this time with a painstakingly detailed look behind the scenes at a fancy French restaurant, through the eyes of a rat who yearns to become a chef.

As always, the animation is jaw-droppingly good, the writing superb, and the casting of such actors as Patton Oswalt, Ian Holm, Peter O'Toole and James Remar is simply inspired.

'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street' (R)

Tim Burton's gloriously gloomy adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's musical is a delicious mélange of obsession, murder and meat pies, starring a singin', dancin', throat-slashin' Johnny Depp.

The best Broadway-musical-to-Hollywood-musical you'll see this year, and one that's replete with arterial blood spray to boot.

WORST OF 2007

Yes, there were a lot of really abominable movies this year, like 'Norbit' and 'Georgia Rule.' But it's truly egregious when a sequel has sunk so far below the joyful delight of the original as in the great big mess of 'Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.'

Johnny Depp looks bored throughout, the plot doesn't make any sense, it utterly wastes the potential of Chow Yun-Fat and Keith Richards, and the once-dashing Elizabeth Swann ultimately is relegated to the role of landlubber brood mare - the entire thing, in fact, reeks of corporate greed, existing only to extort money from fans of the first two films.

MOST ANTICIPATED FOR 2008

We have to wait until May for 'Iron Man,' an adaptation of the comic, but oh lord, that trailer is something. Robert Downey Jr. will play Tony Stark, the billionaire inventor who creates his superhero persona and battles … um, evil and stuff. Does it matter?

It's directed by Jon Favreau, who did a so-so job on both 'Elf' and 'Zathura: A Space Adventure.' But he's a self-proclaimed comics geek, and, if the early footage is any indication, this is going to be one heck of a summer flick.