1. Little Miss Sunshine. A dysfunctional family that will make you feel better about your own. From a porn-loving grandpa to a suicidal, gay uncle, the journey from New Mexico to California's "Little Miss Sunshine" pageant is as enjoyable as the ultimate destination. Let’s hope young Abigail Breslin begins to take a few roles away from the overexposed Dakota Fanning.
2. Borat. High five! The citizens of the US and A have never looked more ignorant or more bigoted. And, this reviewer has rarely laughed harder. Happy times.
3. Volver. It means “to return” in Spanish, and it’s what happens over and over again in this compelling movie. A once-dead mother is resurrected and reveals herself to one of her daughters … a dead man is returned to the earth in his favorite spot – in a most unusual burial … a daughter (Penelope Cruz) returns her mother’s affection after coming to terms with a devastating secret from years past.
4. The Last King of Scotland. Forest Whitaker will almost certainly win the Oscar. And, he should. But, the movie is much more than a showcase for his considerable talents. It’s a fascinating character study of Idi Amin (Whitaker) and the young Scottish doctor who is unwilling to see the truth about the dangerous dictator who’s hired him as his personal physician.
5. Inside Man. (Denzel! Clive! Jodie!) The most brilliant concept for a heist movie EVER. Leaves you thinking days after the movie, "So that’s why they did that ..." Spike Lee directed.
6. Water. An 8-year-old widow becomes an outcast in India. Epic, moving and tragic. And, an amazing performance by the little girl in the lead role.
7. Strangers with Candy. Gut-busting funny. Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris), fresh out of a women's prison where she's been for years, comes home to find her father in a stress-induced coma she caused. The family doctor recommends that she go back to high school to try to get it right this time if daddy is to have any hope of emerging from the coma. Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker, Stephen Colbert, Philip Seymour Hoffman (presh!!) and Allison Janney show up for the fun, but Amy Sedaris owns the film. She has, in Jerri’s words, the “skills to pay the bills.”
8. An Inconvenient Truth. I can’t shake the image of the polar bear that drowns when it can’t find an iceberg on which to perch. Scary stuff, and Al Gore is more animated than you might recall from his time in office and on the campaign trail. A message worth hearing, regardless of what you think of the messenger. (I happen to love the messenger.)
9. Pan’s Labyrinth. Magical, inventive, original, sad, cringe-inducing.
10. Monster House. Animated fun. Maggie Gyllenhaal, who voices the Eddie Haskell-like teenage babysitter, is just perfect. There’s a fun little mystery associated with the house across the street (is it haunted?) and, of course, a sweet lesson in the end. Don’t plop the kids in front of this one, though.
Movies not even up for Top 10 consideration because I didn’t see them …
Blood Diamond. I loves me some Leo, but his poor attempt at a South African accent irked me so much in the trailer and the ubiquitous TV commercials, that I knew I couldn’t take 2+ hours of it.
Babel. Too many bad reviews and a general leeriness about Mr. Jolie playing Serious kept me away. Why’s it up for Best Picture? Oh yeah, if Helen Hunt can win one for her role in “As Good as it Gets,” anything’s possible.
Casino Royale. Pierce Brosnan should not have been fired.
Movies I endured, thinking they would eventually get good …
The Holiday. Way too contrived and way too long. Kate Winslet, Jack Black and Jude Law deserve better material. (The material was about right for Cameron Diaz and her limited skills as an actress.)
The History Boys. If you are 1) a gay man and 2) love obscure literary allusions and 3) recall with actual fondness a corpulent, elderly high school teacher who enjoyed giving the lads a ride home (if you know what I mean …) OR wish you had known such a teacher, then you might be the niche audience for this one. Otherwise, you may find yourself wondering, as I did 1) why the play was a hit on Broadway that garnered a Tony for Richard Griffiths as the aforementioned teacher and 2) why the film got good reviews.
The Lake House. Just an embarrassment for all involved.
The Good Shepherd. And the Oscar for most miscast actor in a 2006 film goes to … the guy who plays the adult son of Angelina Jolie and Matt Damon. If you sat through this three-hour snorefest, I think you’ll know what I’m talking about. Twenty-some years elapse in the storyline, and I felt like I sat through it in real time.
Half Nelson. I cannot figure out why Ryan Gosling is nominated for an Oscar for his somnambulant performance as a doped-up teacher.
Little Children. The distracting narrator and the amateur performers (other than Kate Winslet and the guy who convincingly plays the creepy pedophile) ruin it. My theory is that Tom Perrotta, who wrote the book, was so in love with his own words that he couldn’t bear to cut them when he co-wrote the screenplay. Thus, the narrator … the actors should’ve been allowed to convey their characters’ thoughts and feelings through their, um … acting. Instead, you get to hear some detached voice tell you what they’re thinking.