The Oscars are coming Sunday at 8 p.m. As your film critic, here are my predictions for the Academy's winners and my personal ballot for the year. Winners are marked with an asterisk.
Though I saw what I could, it amounted to a fraction of what paid critics see in an average year. Films like "Little Children" and performances such as Forest Whitaker's in "Last King of Scotland" could have factored in, had I seen them. Still, no film made this list without being deserving.
How do you choose a top-10 list? Filmmaking plays a part, from directing and acting to technical elements like art direction. A personal dimension also carries weight, when films stay with you over time. These choices can be difficult, but only you know how to make them.
Agree with me or don't, but do it after you've seen these films based on balance between personal taste and appreciation for filmmaking quality.
2006 Top-10 Films:
1.) "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts"?Nothing came close to Spike Lee's documentary chronicling Hurricane Katrina. "Levees" shows viewers the experiences of a wide swath of Americans and the difficulties that remain. This is filmmaking at its finest.
2.) "Babel"?The alienation of the modern world and stories that span continents create the backdrop for González Iñárritu's fable about the need for love and connection.
3.) "Children of Men"?In a dystopia close to the current day, Alfonso Cuarón shows a protagonist dealing with chilling realities with humor and determination.
4.) "Pan's Labyrinth"?Prepare to be intoxicated and moved by del Toro's children's story for grown-ups.
5.) "A Scanner Darkly"?Using the same creative methods of drawing over animation as in "Waking Life," director Richard Linklater adapts this Philip K. Dick story of drug addiction and a meddling government.
6.) "An Inconvenient Truth"?No longer a stiff politician, Al Gore's introduction played a large role in transforming the public's perception of the danger of climate change.
7.) "Volver"?Almodóvar returns to basics with a vivacious mother dealing with the effects of the past and the problems of the present.
8.) "The Departed"?Scorsese drops the Oscar begging and returns to his roots, making a badass Mafia film in the vein of "Good Fellas." Few films offer more fun this year.
9.) "This Film is Not Yet Rated"? The year's best exposé filmmaking. Tackling the behemoth of the ratings board, Kirby Dick's documentary unveils the contradictions of its biased decisions.
10.) "Half Nelson"?A young inner-city teacher struggles between hope for change and drug addiction. He befriends a student who discovers his secret. Their connection is one of the year's best examples of on-screen chemistry.
Runners Up: "Sierra Leone's Refugee All-Stars," "Little Miss Sunshine"
Personal Oscar Ballot
Actress: Penelope Cruz received the role of her career as a mother struggling with her past. She delivers a vibrant performance, erasing the memory of subpar English language performances.
Ivana Baquero, "Pan's Labyrinth"
Toni Collette, "Little Miss Sunshine"
*Penélope Cruz, "Volver"
Shareeka Epps, "Half Nelson"
Helen Mirren, "The Queen"
Actor: The unheralded anchor of "The Departed," DiCaprio transforms to a Boston mafia thug and showcases expanding range and screen presence. "Titanic" seems a distant memory.
*Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Departed"
Ryan Gosling, "Half Nelson"
Richard Griffiths, "The History Boys"
Clive Owen, "Children of Men"
Keanu Reeves, "A Scanner Darkly"
Supporting Actress: Rinko Kikuchi delivers the performance of the year as a mute Japanese teen desperate for affection. Her performance gets to the core of "Babel" and the desire for connection.
Adriana Barraza, "Babel"
Jennifer Hudson, "Dreamgirls"
*Rinko Kikuchi, "Babel"
Carmen Maura, "Volver"
Winona Ryder, "A Scanner Darkly"
Supporting Actor: Jesse Garcia portrays a young man struggling to balance his sexual identity and Mexican heritage with stoic determination.
Alan Arkin, "Little Miss Sunshine"
Boubker Ait El Caid, "Babel"
*Jesse Garcia, "Quinceañera"
Doug Jones, "Pan's Labyrinth"
Garrison Keillor, "A Prairie Home Companion"
Director: Spike Lee, "When the Levees Broke"
Original Screenplay: "Babel"
Adapted Screenplay: "Children of Men"
Foreign: "Pan's Labyrinth"
Documentary: "When the Levees Broke"
Animated: "A Scanner Darkly"
Best Picture: It's the closest race of the night, between "Babel," "Departed," and "Sunshine." I'm guessing the overdue recognition for Scorsese will spill into Best Picture.
Best Director: It will finally happen for Martin Scorcese, the question is whether he'll get a standing "O."
Best Actor: Forest Whitaker swept the critics, won the Globes and the SAGs. The only possible challenger is O'Toole, but it's doubtful sentimentality will be enough to win.
Best Actress: Even more than Whitaker, Helen Mirren has been unstoppable this year.
Best Supporting Actor: Sentiment, along with a Globen Globe and SAG win, will reward Eddie Murphy's first nomination with a statue.
Best Supporting Actress: With arguably the scene of the year, Jennifer Hudson roars into her first leading role, as well as to her first Oscar.
Original Screenplay: After taking the Writer's Guild award, "Little Miss Sunshine" will edge out fellow Best Picture nominees "Babel" and "The Queen."
Adapted Screenplay: "The Departed" faces little competition after winning the WGA.
Foreign: With six nominations, "Pan's Labyrinth" should easily win.
Documentary: Star power and social consciousness in "An Inconvenient Truth" will give it the win.
Animated: It may be close, but I'm guessing Pixar's clout gets "Cars" the victory over "Happy Feet."