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Top 10 Films of 2006

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Are there 10 movies that immediately come to mind when you look back on all the films released in 2006? I've seen hundreds and yet other than a dozen or so, the 2006 batch of theatrical films is almost completely forgettable. Still, there are always those gems that make my job extremely enjoyable. My personal favs won't agree with yours, but these are in my opinion the best of the lot. These movies actually made an impression on me or were just plain entertaining.

Honorable Mentions: A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Perfume, Borat, The Last King of Scotland and Blood Diamond

1. Thank You for Smoking

Aaron Eckhart in Thank You for Smoking
© Twentieth Century Fox
Similar to last year's awards show darling Crash, Thank You for Smoking was released in theaters early on in the year. The first few months are normally used by studios as the designated dumping ground for films they don't have much confidence in. And unless the studio launches a killer ad campaign, decent films released in January through March each year miss the boat when it comes to gathering awards which, in the case of Smoking, is a real shame.

How much do I love Thank You for Smoking? I put Thank You for Smoking on my Top 10 think list back in March and it never got bumped off.

2. The Queen

Helen Mirren in The Queen
© Miramax Films
If you haven't heard the buzz surrounding Helen Mirren's performance in The Queen, then you haven't been paying any attention. Mirren's a sure bet to pick up a Best Actress nod for her role as Queen Elizabeth, but she's not the only reason The Queen is one of the best films of '06. Stephen Frears directs with a light hand and Peter Morgan's intelligent screenplay takes the perfect approach to presenting the events immediately following the death of Princess Diana. Plus, if the Brits are ever in need of a stand-in for Tony Blair, The Queen proves you couldn't do better than hiring Michael Sheen for the job.

3. Letters from Iwo Jima

Letters from Iwo Jima
© Warner Bros Pictures

Flags of Our Fathers was a fine movie, but director Clint Eastwood's alternate take on the Battle of Iwo Jima is the better of the two films by far. While Flags concentrates on what happened to the American servicemen who raised the flag on Mt Suribachi, Letters from Iwo Jima flips the story around and focuses on the same battle from the Japanese point of view.

Eastwood's subtitled film posed a dilemma for many critics groups. Should it be considered in the Foreign Film or Best Picture category? It doesn't matter because subtitles or not, it's one of the most entertaining films of the year.

4. United 93

United 93
© Universal Pictures
When United 93 was approaching its release on April 28, 2006, the argument kicked into high gear over whether or not it was too early to release a feature film depicting the events of September 11, 2001. With the support of the family members of United 93 victims, Paul Greengrass proved he was right in launching the movie into theaters less than five years after those horrific acts of terrorism. I dare anyone to sit through this beautifully done tribute to the 9/11 victims without shedding a tear.

5. The Departed

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Departed
© Warner Bros Pictures
I've heard all the arguments against The Departed: "It's too violent." "It's not as good as Scorsese's other mob movies." "The Departed depicts women as either hookers or drug addicts - or both." Cry me a river. If Scorsese wins an Oscar for The Departed, I'll be cheering right there alongside the rest of his fans. It's bloody and brutal and nasty, and every single actor nails their performance.

6. Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine
© Fox Searchlight
Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Alan Arkin, Toni Collette, Paul Dano and scene-stealing young actress Abigail Breslin share screen time in one of the best examples of a strong ensemble cast this decade. Little Miss Sunshine makes a good case for an Academy Award for performances from a group rather than singling out any one actor. If Kinnear was off, Carell and Company might as well pack it in. Same goes for any member of the cast. Little Miss Sunshine is a group effort that succeeds because there aren't any weak links.

7. Half Nelson

Half Nelson
© THINKFilm
Strong, intense, riveting performances by Ryan Gosling and Shareeka Epps are two of the main reasons to go gaga over Half Nelson. Gosling lays it on the line as a junior high school teacher hooked on drugs. Epps co-stars as the student who discovers - and covers up - his secret.

8. Casino Royale

Casino Royale
© Sony Pictures
What Batman Begins did for that superhero franchise, Casino Royale does for the Bond film series. Not many films had to overcome as much negative press as Casino Royale had to do prior to its release. Internet bloggers and Bond fanatics were all but calling for Daniel Craig's head during the film shoot. But the Casino Royale team of Craig and director Martin Campbell were able to silence the majority of their critics by delivering a movie that's better than the other films of the series since Sean Connery threw in the towel. Casino Royale made a believer out of me, and I've never been a fan of Bond, James Bond.

9. The Dead Girl

The Dead Girl
© FirstLook
The subject matter's dark and disturbing and so The Dead Girl won't be everyone's cup of tea. But for those, like me, who enjoy their films with more bite than bark, The Dead Girl is the twisted tale we've been waiting for all year. Writer/director Karen Moncrieff shows she has a keen eye and ear for storytelling without posturing. And the performances of Brittany Murphy and Kerry Washington in particular are strikingly raw.

10. The Illusionist

Edward Norton and Jessica Biel in The Illusionist.
© Yari Film Group
It's deliciously fun to watch Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti square off in this big screen adaptation of Steven Millhauser's short story, Eisenheim the Illusionist. Norton holds back and lets the character slowly find his way to the audience, while Giamatti attacks the story with his usual gusto. Add Jessica Biel (in a surprisingly nuanced performance) and Rufus Sewell (always good as the dashing bad guy) to the mix and things just couldn't get any better.

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