Yes, 2006 is winding down, so that means pretty much everyone who writes about movies is making lists of their best and worst movies of the year. I like to make lists too but it's often difficult to because I simply don't have enough time to see every movie that comes out. So, I'm sure I miss some really great and some really terrible movies. Consequently, I don't always feel fully qualified to make these types of lists.

Even so, I can go on record with several movies I did like this year and will do so for your reading pleasure. Even though this year was pretty dismal for Hollywood movies there were still a few that made the cut. Fortunately, those outside the mainstream of Hollywood continued to do good work this year and were able to fill in some of the holes in my list left by the major studios.

Not that every film out of the Hollywood machine was total crap -- not at all. It just seems like more often than not, Hollywood doesn't give audiences anything new or particularly innovative but instead, gives audiences the same thing wrapped in shiny new packaging. More explosions, louder music, more CGI and sequel after sequel have become the norm rather than the exception. But as this article is not really about the sad state of affairs in current Hollywood, I will stop my rant before it goes too far.

Instead, getting back to the real purpose of this article, I present my picks of the top ten movies of the year -- with one caveat. This list is made up of movies I've actually seen so I'm sure one or two great films have slipped through the cracks and don't appear here. Still, try to enjoy the list anyway and happy new year. Oh, one more thing -- the list isn't in any particular order either. Ok, that's it. Enjoy. p>
1. The Departed -- Directed by Martin Scorsese -- The master is back with a vengeance and all is better in the world -- at least the world of film. Scorsese plus gangsters plus great performances by Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg make this one of my favorites of the year. Sure, its a little violent but its a movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat until the very end. The final twist surprised even me, the somewhat jaded, but very experienced, viewer, so if you haven't seen this movie, see it.

2. Little Miss Sunshine -- Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. Sure, its probably in a lot of people's top movie lists but that doesn't make it less of a film. When I went into this film I didn't know exactly what to expect -- and that was the best way to go into it. From beginning to end this movie entertained with its charm, wit and quirks. It could have gone too far and became a sappy mess but fortunately, in the capable hands of its first-time feature directors, it didn't. Instead, it's a fun treat of dysfunctional lunacy and a great way to spend your time. Plus, any movie with Steve Carell is alright by me. He's just so good.

3. Children of Men -- Directed by Alfonso Cuarón. This dystopian vision of a future where the population is infertile and procreation is the ultimate power is a terrific and powerful film. It's so refreshing to go to the movies and be completely enthralled. This film is exactly what a movie should be -- well-made, smart and something that makes you think. Excellent writing and direction combined with performances by the always-terrific Julianne Moore, the equally compelling Clive Owen and the soon-to-be-a-major-star Chiwetel Ejiofor make this, Cuarón's somewhat twisted sci-fi masterpiece, one to watch -- especially come Oscar time.

4. The Queen -- Directed by Stephen Frears. I'll go out on a limb and say that Frears is one of the best directors working today. This is another movie where I went in not knowing exactly what to expect and was subsequently thrilled and impressed. Sure, the subject matter may be off-putting or uninteresting to some but to me, that didn't matter as much as the rock-solid work done in the film by Helen Mirren. She's simply fantastic. Plus, brilliant writing by Peter Morgan, the light but sure hand of Frears and the work of Michael Sheen as Tony Blair, all make this film one of the best of the year.

5. Inside Man -- Directed by Spike Lee. I'm a fan of caper films and so was pretty interested in seeing this movie. Spike Lee delivers a terrific film with an all-star cast including Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster and Clive Owen that rightfully takes its place among the great caper films of all time and on my list of the top films of the year. With this film Spike Lee proves he has what it takes for "big" Hollywood movies. So, Hollywood, how about giving him another one?

6 Casino Royale -- Directed by Martin Campbell. I was ready to not like this movie so I went into it with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder -- mostly due to Daniel Craig being chosen as Bond. I thought there were better choices out there - including Children of Men star Clive Owen. Well, I'm glad to say that I was wrong about Craig and this movie kicks butt. It's a fitting reset for the franchise that serves up all the car chases, explosions, gunfights and babes you expect from a Bond film. Plus, its just a great movie too and a great time at the theater. This movie sold me on the franchise again and on Craig. James Bond is back and I can't wait for the next one.

7. The Good Shepherd -- Directed by Robert De Niro. This movie makes you think about some of the most disturbing and dark events from our country's past and, taken in the context of the modern world, shows us a glimpse into the mindset and culture of the modern CIA. Sure, I like spy movies and on the surface, that's just what this film is -- a great spy movie. However, it also asks some questions about the value and nature of intelligence gathering and the moral implications of information. Is it perfect? No. But except for a few minor missteps, it comes pretty close.

8. Brick -- Directed by Rian Johnson. Take one part Raymond Chandler mystery and one part high school teen-angst and the result is one of the freshest and most interesting films of the year. I love noir thrillers and this one is so great on so many levels. From the performances to the direction to the dialog, this film delivers. First-time feature writer/director Johnson makes the most out of his script, locations and actors -- especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nora Zehetner and the completely re-invented Lukas Haas as "The Pin." As someone who's made his share of mediocre low-budget movies my highest compliment to Brick is to say" damn, I wish I'd made that." Watch out for more from Johnson and thank goodness for independent filmmakers like him. It gives me some hope for the future of filmmaking.

9. United 93 -- Directed by Paul Greengrass. I honestly didn't know if I was ready to see a movie about 9/11 or not but I dragged myself to this film anyway, prepared to walk out if necessary. Fortunately, I was able to make it through the whole thing and am glad I did. The movie could have gone wrong at so many points but somehow, it managed to stay on course and be entertaining, compelling and a fitting tribute to the tragedy of that day. I don't want to see a lot of films about 9/11 (and thankfully, we haven't) but this one turned out to be a good experience well worth seeing.

10, An Inconvenient Truth -- Directed by Davis Guggenheim. Yes, I know its a documentary but it's as compelling as any fictional drama this year -- only it's all true. Say what you will about Al Gore the Vice President but Al Gore the environmental activist and star of this film kicks butt. The message of this film is simple and is delivered with skill, style, care and attention to a level of detail making this not only a good documentary but a damn good movie too. See it. Think about it. Learn from it.

So, those are my top ten. I wish I'd gotten to see more movies this year and discovered some other hidden gems. Sadly, that didn't happen this time around. I think I'll make that a New Years resolution for 2007 -- see more movies. That way, I'll have many more to choose from for next year's list.

What are your favorite movies of 2006?