1. “United 93” Paul Greengrass’ spellbinding 9/11 docudrama immerses the audience in the raw desperation of the moment so completely — and masterfully — that it hardly matters that we know how it ends.
Staunchly sober and fair-minded, the film shows us regular people, our friends and neighbors, turning living hell into a state of grace. It’s bloody. It’s unspeakably unfair. But it’s grace all the same.
2. “The Proposition”
Part “Apocalypse Now,” part “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” this deliciously grim, Aussie-produced Western boasts all the gory gunplay and fly-infested human corruption that any neonoir junkie could ask for. Macabre folk musician Nick Cave pulls double duty as screenwriter and composer, a tidy collaboration if there ever was.
3. “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”
The year’s bona fide once-in-a-lifetime picture. As the apocryphal, Jew-fearing, Pam Anderson-lusting Central Asian journalist, Sacha Baron Cohen hilariously dupes Americans from coast to coast. I’ll never look at a wizard’s sleeve the same way again.
4. “Jesus Camp”
Some Christian readers protested that Becky Fischer’s ultra-charismatic, ultra-militant values were hardly representative of core Evangelicalism, and that’s the point: Every faith, from evangelicals to Jews to Muslims, should know what their fringes are up to. This could be one of those rare movies that actually makes a difference: Fischer closed the camp shortly after the film’s release, citing negative feedback.
5. “Little Miss Sunshine”
Critics were correct to highlight the movie’s eclipse-black humor — heroin-shooting grandpas and so forth — but in the end, was there a brighter, funnier, more family-affirming movie in all of 2006? Certainly, these are hard characters to warm to, from Steve Carell’s suicidal Proust scholar to Paul Dano’s hatefully mute teen, but in the end we love all of them.
6. “Children of Men”
One can hardly imagine a more depressing future than the one concocted by Alfonso Cuaron in this gut-check doomsday thriller: All of humanity, from Boston to Bangladesh, has been rendered infertile. While stylish and suspenseful, the movie also reveals a core of genuine redemption, making its cinematic cousin, “V for Vendetta,” feel like a trendy anarchic cartoon.
7. “The Queen”
Perhaps the most patently British film ever made, and not just because of Helen Mirren’s endlessly fascinating performance as an embattled Queen Elizabeth. The underlying issues here are of comportment, repression and regality, Britishy issues that director Stephen Frears seems to weave into the artistic fabric of the movie itself. God save the you-know-who.
8. “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story”
Michael Winterbottom, master of the fourth-wall-demolishing avant-garde comedy (“24 Hour Party People”), one-ups himself with the deliriously unhinged, behind-the-scenes “exposé” of his attempt to film Laurence Sterne’s novel long thought to be unfilmable. Steve Coogan gets a medal for portraying himself as a philandering, vain, oversexed tool.
9. “The Last King of Scotland”
You know Forest Whitaker is going to be legendary in this pitiless coming-of-age drama the moment he steps on-screen. The hulking actor with the sadly expressive eyes plays Ugandan tyrant Idi Amin with a riveting mixture of charm, menace and populist bluster, creating arguably the most indelible screen villain since Hannibal Lecter.
10. “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party”
I agonized over which movie to put in this space (“The Prestige” or “The Departed” or maybe director Michel Gondry’s whimsy-infused “The Science of Sleep”), but this beatific concert documentary takes it. At least before Chappelle completed his accelerated career trajectory (obscurity to superstar to eccentric has-been in just two short years) he had time to put on a show with the likes of Erykah Badu and Kanye West. There’s a seriously good vibe afoot, and Gondry, as director, plucks it out of the air.