The “notes” of the title are Barbara’s journal entries about Sheba’s relationship. But the film dwells on the scandal, returning repeatedly to scenes of sexual intimacy between Sheba and the young boy. Between Barbara’s wicked plan and Sheba’s unapologetic rationale for betraying her husband, the film leaves us with no one to admire. An overbearing musical score attempts to ratchet up the suspense, but the battle of wits between Sheba and Barbara, once Barbara’s plan is discovered, needs little supplementation. Both actresses give strong performances in the service of a seedy, unsettling story.

PAN'S LABYRINTH
The strongest piece of storytelling among this year’s nominees, “Pan’s Labyrinth” is also arguably the best film of the lot. Too bad, then, that the movie’s several Oscar nominations don’t include Best Picture, Best Director or Best Actress. Had it been nominated in any of those categories, it would be a strong contender for each award.

The story of a troubled young girl’s flight from the harsh reality of Franco’s Spain, “Pan’s Labyrinth” is also a story of belief in things unseen, and it shows how the power of belief can lead to eternal rewards.

Although grimly realistic in showing wartime violence, “Pan’s Labyrinth” captures a childlike sense of wonder and a belief that the weak sometimes can defeat the strong – at great cost. It’s not an overtly Christian film, but the faith parallels are strong and the storytelling superb.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST
A gigantic hit that was despised by critics as much as it was embraced by the public, this sequel continues the saga of Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) as he bargains for his soul with Davy Jones.

Zany at times, in the vein of the Looney Tunes cartoons, the movie drags on too long and fails to provide closure for those who aren’t interested in seeing the already filmed third installment in the series. But as an impressive spectacle, the film was good enough to nail down four nominations in technical categories.

THE QUEEN
Immediately following the death of Diana, the “people’s princess,” the British people turned on the Royal Family. Why?

“The Queen” tells the story of Elizabeth, played by Helen Mirren, as she strives to keep the funeral of her son’s (Prince Charles) ex-wife a private family matter. Not realizing that her stoic response does not match the expectations of the people she represents, Elizabeth is slowly persuaded to open the grieving process to the rest of Great Britain and the world.

The voice of reason in “The Queen” comes through Tony Blair, very well played by Michael Sheen, who was overlooked by the Academy. As he gently prods the queen to reconsider her initial decision, he becomes the audience’s mouthpiece, criticizing the queen’s decision in private discussions with his advisors, but not allowing the derision to harden. Instead, Blair senses when compassion for and understanding of the queen are called for. What follows is an emotional crescendo that concludes the film.


These 10 films – representing the most nominated films among this year’s Oscar contenders – remind us of what a strong year 2006 was at the cinema. From the TV-style docudrama “The Queen,” to the multi-national “Babel,” and from the intimate look at the horrors of World War II in “Letter From Iwo Jima” to the joy and pain of “Dreamgirls” and “Little Miss Sunshine,” societies and individuals are grappling with breakdown and, sometimes, finding a way to come together. In a world where communication has never been easier, these films remind us of how far we still have to go.