Now that I have caught up on a bunch of films from the end of last year, I feel that I can make this list somewhat well-informed. There are still things I want to see (Letters from Iwo Jima, Children of Men, The Painted Veil, History Boys), so keep that in mind.
1) United 93. This is the only movie I saw from the past year that I wouldn't change at all if I were making it. It was respectful of the tragedy without being soft. I thought Paul Greengrass deserved an Oscar for directing and writing this film.
2) The Queen. Even aside from Helen Mirren's brilliant performance, there was a lot to love here. The script was creative with its material, the direction was appropriately restrained, and the acting was wonderful all around.
3) The Departed. Some things about this movie aren't quite right (re: the psychiatrist storyline). But it is such an amazing collection of performances, that it almost doesn't matter.
4) Little Miss Sunshine. I haven't had as good a laugh watching a movie in a long time.
5) Casino Royale. After the last few somewhat embarrassing Bond movies, this one brought the franchise back into full swing. And Daniel Craig is surprisingly hot, though in an "ugly-hot" sort of way.
6) Thank You for Smoking. Although it doesn't hold up as well after repeated watchings, this is an incredibly creative film. And it's crazy. CRAZY.
7) Wordplay. This isn't a hard hitting documentary, but the love it shows for the subject matter (crosswords) is inspiring.
8) The Good Shepherd. It was too long. The performances were excellent, though.
9) The Pursuit of Happyness. This one is all about Will Smith and his son. The rest of the movie is okay, but they are phenomenal.
10) A Prairie Home Companion. I don't like NPR (I'm slightly deaf in one ear, so I can't hear things that aren't music in the car, which is the only place I listen to the radio). But I have to admire both the performances and the direction in this film. Robert Altman will be missed.
11) Dreamgirls. This was beautifully produced and well-acted. Something is lacking in the pacing, though.
12) Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. This film is on probation until the third one comes out, as it's really only one half of a two-part movie. But the joy and creativity that shone through the action sequences was quite enjoyable.
1) X-3: X-Men United. I don't understand what happened. The second one was so good, whereas this one was so flat.