Any assessment of art will contain a certain degree of subjectivity, and a Top 10 list of the year’s best movies is no exception.

What were we looking for in a movie? How does it stand up against the Christian worldview? Is sin treated as sin? Is righteousness rewarded? What is the film’s message? Does it confirm a Christian worldview or attack it? How well does the filmmaking convey that message?

And then, of course, from an aesthetic perspective, is the film entertaining? Would we recommend it to our friends?

With those questions in mind, we consulted our regular movie reviewers and staff editors to put together this list of our favorites from 2006.

Please note, you can click on the hyperlinks we include to read more detailed reviews of the movies on our list. Some of the films we have included are not appropriate for all age groups.



1.  THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

  • Theatrical Release Date:  December 15, 2006

  • Rating:  PG-13 (for some language)

  • Genre:  Drama

  • Run Time:  117 min.

  • Director:  Gabriele Muccino

  • Actors:  Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Thandie Newton, Brian Howe, James Karen, Dan Castellaneta, Kurt Fuller, Takayo Fischer

There are many reasons to love a good father/son movie; fathers so often get the shaft in pop culture and on the big screen.  But there are even more reasons to love “The Pursuit of Happyness” our pick for #1 movie of the year. Not only does this film gives us a strong portrayal of a loving father, but an uplifting lesson in staying happy even when life is rough. Will Smith gives the performance of a lifetime. The on-screen chemistry between Smith and his real life son will bring tears to you eyes. The story of this down-and-out dad trying to survive life’s trials and care for his son is simultaneously heart-wrenching, funny and uplifting..

Click here for a full review.


2.  THE NATIVITY STORY

  • Theatrical Release Date:  December 1, 2006

  • Rating:  PG (for some violent content)

  • Genre:  Drama/History

  • Run Time:  101 minutes

  • Director:  Katherine Hardwicke

  • Actors:  Keisha Castle-Hughes, Oscar Isaac, Ciaran Hinds, and Allessandro Guiggioli

Imagine if you will, parents pushing aside all the meaningless movies about Santa crises, irritating Christmas relatives, greedy Grinches and stingy Scrooges on the rental shelf, and pulling to the forefront a compelling, well-crafted movie that brings the real story of Christmas to life for the whole family. Well, it seems that such a movie has arrived! “The Nativity Story” is a movie with everything:  drama, action, romance, history, and miracles – a sure bet to edge out the shallow, same old “pretend-Christmas” offerings. We hope that this film’s disappointing box office take won’t prevent Hollywood from making more such films that respectfully explore the Christian faith.

Click here for a full review.


3.  TIE:  UNITED 93

  • DVD Release Date:  September 5, 2006

  • Theatrical Release Date:  April 28, 2006

  • Rating:  R (for language and some intense sequences of terror and violence)

  • Genre:  Drama

  • Run Time:  111 min.

  • Director:  Paul Greengrass

  • Actors:  Daniel Sauli, Lewis Alsamari, JJ Johnson, Gary Commock, Polly Adams (II)

We know we’re cheating a bit by including two films in our number “3” spot. But looking back on the year, we don’t see how we could choose one of these films over the other. Immediately following September 11, 2001, it was difficult to imagine how filmmakers might render the event in years to come. Would they bring their own agendas to the films? Would they politicize the day? Would the films be as traumatic? And if so, would we want to sit through them? Fortunately, this year directors Paul Greengrass and Oliver Stone delivered films that are exceptional on almost every level.  “United 93” and “World Trade Center” are too very different films, yet both in their own way capture the horror of that fateful day. Stark, and almost documentary-like, “United 93” focuses mainly on how air traffic controllers dealt with the events of the day, and most likely how the passengers of the final hijacked flight heroically fought back against the terrorists. “World Trade Center,” while taking a bit more dramatic license, tells the riveting story of two Port Authority policemen, trapped in the rubble of the twin towers.

Click here to read a full review.


TIE WORLD TRADE CENTER

  • DVD Release Date:  December 12, 2006

  • Theatrical Release Date:  August 9, 2006

  • Rating:  PG-13 (for intense and emotional content, some disturbing images and language)

  • Genre:  Drama

  • Run Time:  125 min.

  • Director:  Oliver Stone

  • Actors:  Nicolas Cage, Michael Peña, Maria Bello, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon

Click here for a full review.


4.  CARS

  • DVD Release Date:  November 7, 2006

  • Theatrical Release Date:  June 9, 2006

  • Rating:  G

  • Genre:  Animation, comedy, adventure

  • Run Time:  116 min.

  • Director:  John Lasseter

  • Voice Talents of:  Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt, Larry the Cable Guy, Cheech Marin, George Carlin, John Ratzenberger, and Michael Keaton

Directed by John Lasseter, the guy who brought us classics like “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo,” and “The Incredibles,” “Cars” has all the elements of an Oscar-winning movie:  a perfect script with humor and heart, an all-star cast, an adorable love story, and a gripping score by a number of talented musicians. Hot-shot racecar Lightning McQueen learns some valuable lessons about pride and humility. We are beginning to think the Pixar storytellers are incapable of making a bad film. Hat’s off to this creative team that continues to prove good movies start with a good story, not mind-blowing special effects. This is not to say the visuals in “Cars” aren’t stunning, because this CGI film do not disappoint.

Click here for a full review.


5.  THE PRESTIGE

  • Theatrical Release Date:  October 20, 2006

  • Rating:  PG-13 (for violence and disturbing images)

  • Genre:  Drama

  • Run Time:  128 min.

  • Director:  Christopher Nolan

  • Actors:  Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, David Bowie, Andy Serkis, Piper Perabo, Rebecca Hall, Samantha Mahurin

This mesmerizing tale of two rival Victorian-era magicians bent on revenge proves once again that Director Chris Nolan (with the help of his screenwriting brother Jonathan) is one of the world’s most innovative filmmakers. Viewers will puzzle over the films mysteries along with the stellar cast. Full of twists and turns, this morality play will keep you riveted and guessing until the end.

Click here for a full review.


6.  OVER THE HEDGE

  • DVD Release Date:  October 17, 2006

  • Theatrical Release Date:  May 19, 2005

  • Rating:  PG (for some rude humor and comic action)

  • Genre:  Cartoon, Family

  • Run Time:  90 min.

  • Directors:  Tim Johnson, Karey Kirtpatrick

  • Actors (Voices):  Bruce Willis, Gary Shandling, Steve Carrell, Thomas Hayden Church, Nick Nolte, William Shatner, Wanda Sykes, Avril Lavigne, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Allison Janney, Omid Dajlili

Usually in a given year you will see one stellar CGI film (usually from Pixar) and a handful of others that attempt to be as good. This year that computer animated field of play got especially dense, and the end result was a list of largely mediocre films. Rising above the fray, however, was Dreamworks entry, “Over the Hedge.”  Both clever and hilarious, “Hedge” pulled off the rare feat of being both great for kids, and interesting for adults. In this film, a merry band of forest critters wakes from winter hibernation to discover suburbia has arrived at their front door. This subtle dig at American materialism, through the eyes of these wonderful characters, never gets too heavy handed to distract from the high-jinks, when animal-kind have to deal with their new two-legged neighbors.

Click here for a full review.


7.  AKEELAH AND THE BEE

  • DVD Release Date:  August 29, 2006

  • Theatrical Release Date:  April 28, 2006

  • Rating:  PG (for some language)

  • Genre:  Drama

  • Run Time:  112 min.

  • Director:  Doug Atchison

  • Actors:  Keke Palmer, Angela Bassett, Laurence Fishburne, Curtis Armstrong

Overcoming obstacles. Feeling like an outsider looking in. Coping with the prejudices of others. These are all common cinematic themes, but when well executed, they can result in stirring entertainment. Such is the case with "Akeelah and the Bee," a rousing story of how one young girl discovers a special talent for spelling and seeks to fulfill her intellectual potential.

Click here for a full review.


8.  STRANGER THAN FICTION

  • Theatrical Release Date:  November 10, 2006

  • Rating:  PG-13 (for some disturbing images, sexuality, brief language and nudity)

  • Genre:  Drama/Black comedy

  • Run Time:  113 min.

  • Director:  Marc Forster

  • Actors:  Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Queen Latifah, Linda Hunt, Kristin Chenoweth, Tony Hale

Like Jim Carrey in “The Truman Show” funnyman Will Ferrell sets out to prove that he can be serious if the script calls for it in the whimsical tale “Stranger Than Fiction.”  And it’s a challenge that Ferrell pulls off with aplomb as Harold Crick, a lonely IRS agent whose life takes a dramatic turn when he begins to hear a voice in his head narrating his life. When that voice tells him his death is eminent, it creates a tricky worldview dilemma:  how do you live your life when you know you are not long for this world?

Click here for a full review.


9.  NACHO LIBRE

  • DVD Release Date:  October 24, 2006

  • Theatrical Release Date:  June 16, 2006

  • Rating:  PG (some rough action, mild crude humor)

  • Genre:  Comedy

  • Run Time:  91 min.

  • Director:  Jared Hess

  • Actors:  Jack Black, Ana de la Reguera, Hector Jiménez, Darius Rose, Moses Arias, Troy Gentile

Who knew that a friar, moonlighting as a wrestler in unflattering stretchy pants and a homemade cape, could help save a mostly unfunny summer at the movies? But Jack Black reigns in his usual over the top performance of past movies to give us the endearing Nacho. Sometimes subtle, sometimes filled with outrageous slapstick, "Nacho Libre" is an unusual little comedy that actually made us laugh. Director Jared Hess (of “Napoleon Dynamite” fame) further establishes his distinct and curious style.

Click here for a full review.


10.  BLOOD DIAMOND

  • Theatrical Release Date:  December 8, 2006 (wide)

  • Rating:  R (for strong violence and language)

  • Genre:  Drama/Romance/Thriller

  • Run Time:  138 min.

  • Director:  Edward Zwick

  • Actors:  Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou, Jennifer Connelly, James Purefoy, Arnold Vosloo

Like the recent film "Hotel Rwanda," "Blood Diamond" has a message for those unfamiliar with life in Africa. Yet this message is not so heavy handed that good storytelling is sacrificed. The film gives us Solomon (Djimon Hounsou), a fisherman living in Sierra Leone, whose village is destroyed, whose son is kidnapped and brainwashed by guerilla soldiers, and who’s forced to work as a slave laborer in the local diamond fields. Both brutal and poignant, this film deals with the horrific issues of slavery, kidnapping, child soldiers, and the smuggling of diamonds out of conflict zones.  This is a harsh movie, but an important one.


THE B LIST:

A few of this year's honorable mentions ... 

  • CHARLOTTE'S WEB
    The timeless classic story of Wilbur the “terrific” pig brought to life in the heartwarming “Charlotte’s Web.” Funny barnyard friends, important life lessons, impressive voice talents … this one does the book proud.

  • FACING THE GIANTS      
    The story behind how this film was made is interesting in and of itself. “Giants” gives us hope that more and more Christians will continue applying their worldview to the art of filmmaking.

  • LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
    This ensemble cast portrays a flawed family to perfection. An odd little film with great a message about not letting with our personal failures and character flaws keep us from supporting our family.

  • WORDPLAY
    A fascinating film documenting New York Times puzzle-meister Will Shortz and the annual crossword competition he founded. With object lessons in fair play and vocational calling, “Word Play” explores the captivating world of crossword puzzle constructors and enthusiasts.

  • CURIOUS GEORGE
    An odd choice for a “best of the year” list we realize, but this contemporary retelling of the classic H.A. Rey books is one of the year’s most endearing family films.