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An engaging but unnecessary bit of backstory for one of blockbuster cinema's most beloved characters.

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"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Here it is: Your first 2008 ten-best list

First but least, as always, it's time for the National Board of Review selections. Their top pick: Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire," which was also the fave in Toronto in September. No, I still haven't figured out who these people are, either, but they've been doing this sort of thing for 99 years and describe themselves on their web site as "the oldest organization devoted to motion pictures as art and entertainment." OK.

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The NBR top ten (in alphabetical order):

"Burn After Reading"

"Changeling"

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"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

"The Dark Knight"

"Defiance"

"Frost/Nixon"

"Gran Torino"

"Milk"

"Wall-E"

"The Wrestler"

Clint Eastwood gets best actor for "Gran Torino" and "Doubt" snags best ensemble cast, even though it didn't make the top ten. David Fincher wins best director for "Benjamin Button."

... and then...

In addition to naming five top docs (plus winner, "Man on Wire") and five top "foreign language films" (plus winner "Mongol"), the NBR also picks ten cherce "indies" -- so as to spread the love publicity around:

"Frozen River"

"In Bruges"

"In Search of a Midnight Kiss"

"Mr. Foe"

"Rachel Getting Married"

"Snow Angels"

"Son of Rambow"

"Wendy and Lucy"

"Vicky Cristina Barcelona"

"The Visitor"

All the 2008 NBR lists are here.

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