Runners-Up: Inside Man, Volver, United 93, Children of Men, Jesus Camp,
10. A Prairie Home Companion: Robert Altman's swansong, and a fitting one at that. Beautiful performances and a poignant view of love and loss. Garrison Keillor and Altman prove a winning combination. Bonus points for some great musical numbers.
9. Half Nelson: Ryan Gosling and young Shareeka Epps give remarkable performances as a drug-addicted teacher and the young student who befriends him. What I loved about this movie is how nuanced it's view of the characters are. Gosling may be a drug addict, but he is also a committed teacher.
8. The Queen: A movie about Queen Elizabeth may sound boring, but Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen (as Tony Blair) and director Stephen Frears make it funny, intelligent, and thoughtful. A fascinating look at an intersection of two types of power, and of modern politics with tradition.
7. Borat: If you can stomach the satire, it's absolutely hilarious. I can't remember another movie since this where I laughed (or squirmed) this much.
6. Babel: A multinational cast and crew brings a story of global connections. While not every story is equally great (I found the storyline in Japan interesting but somewhat tangential), the entire movie radiates passion and emotion in its storytelling. There may be times when it goes over the top, but it's affecting and powerful nonetheless.
5. Little Miss Sunshine: The key to a great comedy is great characters, and Little Miss Sunshine delivers. Pushes the quirkiness and zaniness to the max without verging into annoyance.
4. Pan's Labyrinth: Director Guillermo del Toro mixes childhood fantasy with violent political conflict and delivers something quite unique. Blurs the line between fantasy and reality until we're not really sure what to think.
3. Little Children: Probably the most overlooked movie of the year, Oscar nominations for Kate Winslet (Actress) and Jackie Earle Haley (Supporting Actor) aside. A much more humane, less condescending film of suburban alienation than American Beauty. Director Todd Field followed up his masterful In the Bedroom with another movie of quiet power.
2. The Departed: Scorsese's energetic, violent, funny, thoughtful, suspenseful double cat-and-mouse thriller. Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, and Vera Farmiga all turn in great performances. With all this great acting, a great script, and Scorsese back in top form, I can even forgive Jack Nicholson's hammy moments.
1. The Lives of Others: A deeply moving German drama about making moral choices in a totalitarian environment. Suspenseful and always engaging, a great film.
Sum-up:While it provided a wide variety of entertainments, 2006 was certainly not the best of recent years. I thoroughly recommend every movie on this list, but most of them lean more towards the "very good" rather than the "great."