NEW YORK – "No Country for Old Men," the Coen brothers' searing take on crime and carnage along the Rio Grande, is the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures' pick for the best film of 2007.
Starring Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin, with an indelibly villainous turn by Javier Bardem, "No Country" is a harshly beautiful, faithful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel about the aftermath of a drug deal gone bad. It also earned honors for brothers Joel and Ethan Coen in the adapted-screenplay category and for best ensemble cast. Roger Deakins, the Coens' longtime cinematographer, will receive a career achievement award from the group.
"No Country for Old Men" was the top choice "because of the direction of the Coen brothers. I think it is one of the purest adaptations of a book, Cormac McCarthy's book," board President Annie Schulhof said Wednesday. "The ensemble performances were absolutely extraordinary and it really talks about what happens when evil overrides good."
The group spread the love around, giving Tim Burton the best-director award for his screen version of the bloody Stephen Sondheim musical "Sweeney Todd."
George Clooney was named best actor for "Michael Clayton," in which he plays a disillusioned "fixer" at an upscale New York law firm, with Julie Christie winning best actress for her portrayal of a woman succumbing to Alzheimer's disease in "Away From Her."
In the supporting-acting categories, Casey Affleck won for his role as the shifty shooter in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford." Meanwhile, Affleck's co-star in "Gone Baby Gone," Amy Ryan, won for playing a drug-addicted mother whose little girl is kidnapped.
"Gone Baby Gone" director Ben Affleck was honored for his filmmaking debut, and two young actors were singled out for giving breakthrough performances: Emile Hirsch as a doomed cross-country traveler in "Into the Wild" and Ellen Page as a quick-witted pregnant teen in "Juno."
Diablo Cody, the stripper-turned-screenwriter who wrote "Juno," tied in the original screenplay category with Nancy Oliver for "Lars and the Real Girl."
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" was the group's choice for best foreign-language film, with "Ratatouille" winning in the animation category. "Body of War" was named best documentary.
The board's other choices for the top films of the year, in alphabetical order: "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," "Atonement," "The Bourne Ultimatum," "The Bucket List," "Into the Wild," "Juno," "The Kite Runner" "Lars and the Real Girl," "Michael Clayton" and "Sweeney Todd."
The National Board of Review is the first group to announce its favorite movie each awards season, but lately it hasn't been a predictor of eventual Oscar success. Last year, they chose Clint Eastwood's "Letters From Iwo Jima" while the Academy Award for best picture went to Martin Scorsese's "The Departed." In 2005, they named "Good Night, and Good Luck" as their top film and "Crash" was the surprise winner at the Oscars. "Finding Neverland" was their choice in 2004 while the best-picture Oscar went to "Million Dollar Baby." The National Board and the Academy did align, however, for 1999's "American Beauty."
Formed 98 years ago, the board is composed of film historians, students and educators.