Well, another year is in the can folks, and what do we movie lovers have to show for it? Actually, we have a lot. 2006 has seen it's highs (Martin Scorsese gives us his best flick since 'Goodfellas'; a "racist" Kazakh reporter draws the fury of thousands, bags Pamela Anderson -- literally -- and scores box office gold) -- and its lows (Sidney Lumet's 'Find Me Guilty' is guilty ... of sucking; all couples who go see 'Date Movie' together break up within two weeks). I was lucky enough to see a whole lot of good flicks and only a moderate level of what we experts like to call crap. Below, I present my picks for the Top 10 Movies of 2006.* My fellow Moviefone editors will be posting their own lists later this week, so remember to check back for those. Happy Holidays!
10. Children of Men
Director Alfonso Cuaron follows up his masterful 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban' adaptation with a film about a war-torn future world in which women no longer bear children. Not surprisingly, the flick is bleak and most certainly not for kids. But its hopeful message is more powerful than a hormonal teenaged wizard hopped up on gillyweed.
9. The Descent
This lean, mean thriller about six sexy female spelunkers battling bloodthirsty cave mutants avoids all the classic horror-film pitfalls: lame plot twists, gratuitous shower scenes (OK, I secretly approve of these) and a silly hook-wielding killer. Plus, it oozes with a certain quality lacking from so many horror pics these days: actual horror.
8. Stranger Than Fiction
Will Ferrell tones down his shtick and reaps the benefits in this funny and poignant tale about an IRS agent who awakes one day to find that his life is being narrated by an author bent on killing him. The cornerstone of the movie -- the budding romance between Ferrell and the baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal) he's auditing -- is so sweet you'll want to start dating a baker just so you can bring her "flours."
Say what you will about Mel Gibson, but the guy took a cast of mostly Yucatec-speaking non-actors and a topic (the downfall of the Mayan civilization) that isn't exactly hot-button and made a two-and-a-half-hour film that's gorgeous, captivating, unique, supremely violent and, frankly, awesome.
6. Casino Royale
Finally, a James Bond flick where 007 is a real guy who bleeds when the bad guys cut him, scars when the love of his life hurts him and wins the day with brut force and smarts rather than gadgets. It sounds like blasphemy, but Daniel Craig might be the best Bond ever. Yes, even better than George Lazenby.
5. Thank You for Smoking
Writer-director Jason Reitman has done something awe-inspiring with his adaptation of Christopher Buckley's satiric novel: He's made the smug, self-righteous chief lobbyist for Big Tobacco into a -- wait for it -- sympathetic character. For this, he owes no small debt to Aaron Eckhart, who imbues said lobbyist with equal parts piss, vinegar and vulnerability. Sounds gross, but it goes down smooth.
Despite offending just about every ethnic, religious, political and gender group known to man, woman or goat, Sacha Baron Cohen's improvisational road-trip comedy was a runaway hit and hands-down the funniest flick of the year. By the time the credits roll, you'll want to make sexytime with this moviefilm. Niiice.
3. Little Miss Sunshine
Dysfunctional family dramedies have become something of a cliché these days (damn you, 'Family Stone,' for being the nail in the coffin!), but the yellow-VW-van-driving Hoovers somehow managed to weasel their way into my heart nonetheless. Every performance -- from Steve Carell's gay, suicidal Proust scholar to Alan Arkin's drug-snorting, curse-spewing grandpa with a heart of gold to Paul Dano's mute, Nietzsche-loving pilot wannabe -- deserves an award. And, more importantly, despite their Grand-Canyon-deep flaws, each character is, at his core, good and intensely likeable. You'll laugh, you'll cry and you'll go wild for the film's finale, set to none other than Rick James' 'Superfreak' -- because they're the Hoovers, bitch!
2. Pan's Labyrinth
Fantasy and reality -- harsh reality, actually -- collide in director Guillermo del Toro's captivating yarn about a 10-year-old named Ophelia (the brilliant Ivana Baquero) who, at the behest of a faun named Pan, undertakes a harrowing quest to protect her family at the tail end of the Spanish Civil War. I'd say it's a fairy tale for adults, but not too many fairy tales feature a peasant being bludgeoned to death with a wine bottle. Still, it's beautiful, hopeful and more heartbreaking than anything I've seen in a long, long while. If you don't cry at the end, you have no heart in your hollow tin chest.
1. The Departed
Martin Scorsese's blood-soaked, cuss-filled urban morality tale about two undercover moles on opposite sides of the law (one a cop infiltrating the mob, the other a mobster posing as a cop) boasts a pitch-perfect script, some of the best actors in the biz (DiCaprio, Damon, Nicholson, Wahlberg, Baldwin) at the very top of their game and an ending so powerful it'll knock the wind out of you like a Louisville Slugger to the nards.
*Note: A few films that might have made this list were left off because I was not able to see them in time. These include, but are not limited to, 'Dreamgirls,' 'Notes on a Scandal' and 'Letters From Iwo Jima.'