#1 - The Queen. A royal treat. Go inside the British royale palace and find... real people! Sure, they are dignified and proper, but they also demonstrate some very human tendencies and concerns. This movie focuses on the week after Princess Diana's death with Queen Elizabeth II publicly silent as England and much of the world are grieving. The credits say that the queen is played by Helen Mirren -- but I'd swear it's the real queen! Could have fooled me. The rest of the cast is great, too -- especially Michael Sheen as Tony Blair. And it's really the great acting in this movie that overcomes the royal stereotypes and exposes the human characters underneath.
#2 - The King. A little-seen film -- but one well worth seeing! A troubled young man (Gael Garcia Bernal), recently discharged from the Navy, goes to Corpus Christi, Texas, to find the man he believes to be his father (the always top-notch William Hurt), a born-again evangelical minister. What's great about this movie is the story -- it's never clear where the story is heading, and when it does start heading in a certain direction, it's neither clear why nor how it can all possibly be worked out. Give this one a rent on DVD and enjoy some rich story-telling.
#3 - Match Point. Hitchcock is long gone, but who would have ever thought that Woody Allen could step into his shoes? Match Point is deliciously intricate and sinister with a story that builds more and more intrigue and suspense as it moves along. A charming, intelligent, down-on-his-luck young man (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is welcomed into a society family's perfect little world -- a world that doesn't stay perfect for long thanks for some dark turns and surprises.
#4 - Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. If laughter is good for the soul, then Borat is heaven-sent! The laughs are plentiful and long-lasting. The title alone is hilarious. It doesn't get more politically incorrect than this movie, folks. But settle in, leave all political correctness at the door, and enjoy. The very episodic adventures of Borat play out very well.
#5 - An Inconvenient Truth. Global warming on fire. The facts, the statistics, the explanations, the graphics, the editing, the story telling, the pacing... everything about this documentary is direct and purposeful. Al Gore is passionate in his pursuit of explaining global warming in a manner that can be understood and appreciated. This isn't the heavily-coached Al Gore we saw in the 2000 presidential elections -- this is a man with a clear message, and a quite important message at that. Must-see movie.
#6 - Thank You For Smoking. Satire played out oh-so-right. The main character (Aaron Eckhart) is the shady, lobbying voice of Big Tobacco -- he excels at spinning on behalf of cigarettes while trying to remain a role model for his 12-year-old son. He chews up the anti-smoking camp left-and-right, and his career seems to be running on all cylinders -- that is, until a welcomed "feel good" tone is interjected into the film. The supporting cast is great, too -- Robert Duvall, Sam Elliot and William H. Macy.
#7 - Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore? The title is the literal question asked in this low-budget, quite-entertaining documentary that chronicles a 2004 primary of Jeff Smith running for Dick Gephardt's congressional seat in Missouri. It's an up-hill battle, though, as Smith is running against the party-favored Russ Carnahan. This fast-moving, entertaining documentary projects a tremendous amount of heart and soul from Smith and his fellow campaign workers -- and suggests a politician who may really possess fundamental qualities that are ever-so-lacking in today's political landscape. Still playing in small venues across the country -- watch for this one on DVD hopefully later in 2007.
#8 - The Lake House. I'm a sucker for well-made time travel flicks. Keanu Reaves and Sandra Bullock reteam in this love story that tugs at the heart via a mailbox through which the two send letters back-and-forth to each other -- through time. One lives in the lake house in 2006, the other lives in the lake house in 2004. Will they ever meet up? How can they? Soon they realize what's going on, and when the characters realize that all that separates them are two years, the audience starts rooting for them to connect. It's a lot of fun and enjoyable.
#9 - A Prairie Home Companion. Take the subdued, relaxing nature of Garrison Keillor's weekend radio show and project it onto the big screen, and you have this movie. There's much to like, especially in the performances of Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep as the singing Johnson sisters -- and sing they do! They are great. And once you see this movie, you'll want to pick up the soundtrack -- it's quite enjoyable and even touching in parts. Tomlin and Streep's "My Minnesota Home" and "Goodbye to My Mama" can bring a tear to your eyes. And there are plenty of laughs to be had, too, with Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly as the slightly off-color singing cowboy duo, Dusty & Lefty.
#10 - World Trade Center. The tragedy of 9/11 played out with dignity and respect on the big screen. Oliver Stone is reserved and respectful in telling the story of two actual Port Authority police officers who become trapped in the rubble of the World Trade Center. They are among the last of the survivors to be rescued, and much of the film deals with their harrowing experiences to keep hope and faith. Nicholas Cage is outstanding. We don't actually see the planes hit the towers -- we only feel the sudden vibrations and sensations of the attacks, presumably like it was for most of those in New York at the time. The suspense is chilling.