There was a surfeit of superior films in 2006, with solid moral underpinnings, so much so that narrowing the field down to 10 was more difficult than ever.
From powerful anti-war films to inspirational true-life (though highly disparate) stories to a superior adaptation of a literary classic, they ran the proverbial gamut.
Some, but not all, of our top 10 are family-friendly, but beyond those, we've also chosen 10 other films worthy of inclusion in our separate family category, headed by "The Nativity Story," one of the best recent biblical films; classy remakes of "My Friend Flicka," "Charlotte's Web" and "The Courage of Lassie"; and stories involving fighting against the odds.
So, here they are, in alphabetical order, followed in parentheses by their USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification and Motion Picture Association of America rating:
2006's Top 10
- "Akeelah & the Bee": Irresistible story about a South Los Angeles 11-year-old loner who reluctantly agrees to compete in a national spelling bee -- under the tutelage of an emotionally fragile English professor. There are inspiring messages about conquering fears, winning by honest means, the strength of community, and, above all, the beauty and potency of words (A-I; PG).
- "Babel": Quietly powerful film charting three interconnected stories: an American couple stranded in Morocco; the deaf-mute teenage daughter of a widowed father in Tokyo who achingly longs for love; and a Mexican governess and her nephew who take her two young charges across the border with disastrous results. Conveys an admirable message about a shared global humanity and the senselessness of violence (L; R).
- "Flags of Our Fathers"/"Letters From Iwo Jima": It wouldn't be fair to separate these companion World War II dramas that tell the story of the pivotal Battle of Iwo Jima from the American and Japanese perspectives, respectively. "Flags" recounts the story of the iconic flag-raising photograph, while exploring themes of heroism and the power of images to exploit and inspire. "Iwo Jima" illustrates our shared humanity and shows ignorance as a root of international conflict, by focusing on Japanese soldiers entrenched on the island as they prepare for the U.S. invasion (both A-III; R).
- "Joyeux Noel": Extremely moving World War I tale of soldiers -- Scottish, French and German -- who spontaneously agree to a cease-fire on the Western front on Christmas Eve, intermingle and bond on a humanistic level, to the eventual disdain of their superiors. Delivers a powerful message about the senselessness of war (A-II; no rating).
- "Little Miss Sunshine": Immensely likable film about an Albuquerque, N.M., family who trek to Los Angeles in a creaky van so their daughter can compete in a beauty pageant. A refreshingly offbeat tale that, underneath the zaniness and some troubling elements, comes over as an extremely positive validation of family and genuine values (L; R).
- "Miss Potter": Charming, beautifully crafted story of "Peter Rabbit" author Beatrix Potter and her bittersweet romance with the awkward young publisher of her books, under the disapproving eyes of her class-conscious parents in turn-of-the-century England. The kind of quality film that's all too rare (A-I; PG).
- "The Painted Veil": Excellent film adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham novel set in the 1920s about an English doctor who vengefully takes his adulterous wife to a remote Chinese village during a dangerous cholera epidemic there, and how, over time, they establish a deep and abiding love. The intelligent love story, spiritual journey and ultimate redemption of its heroine, are movingly conveyed (A-III; PG-13).
- "The Pursuit of Happyness": Feel-good tale based on the true story of a selfless medical supply salesman who raises his 5-year-old son on his own while enduring financial struggles, homelessness and other vicissitudes in order to pursue a new career path as a stockbroker. The protagonist does all he can to nurture his son under trying circumstances and projects admirable decency throughout (A-II; PG-13).
- "Sophie Scholl": Gripping true-life drama chronicling the final six days in the life of a 21-year-old German college student executed by the Nazis in 1943 for distributing anti-war leaflets at her university, resulting in a quietly powerful testament to bravery while examining themes of freedom of conscience and peaceful resistance to tyranny and imparting a strong anti-war message (A-II; no rating).
- "United 93": Tense, well-acted documentary-style drama about the hijacking of an aircraft on Sept. 11, 2001, when passengers fought back, downing the plane in the ensuing melee and preventing destruction of a probable Washington target. A testament to heroism and a vivid cautionary tale, sensitively handled (A-III; R).