2) THE DEPARTED (Warner Bros.) Starring Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon. Director Martin Scorsese returns to modern-day street grit with The Departed , an apt drama about cops and criminals in South Boston. In the film, an undercover police officer (DiCaprio) infiltrates the city's organized crime syndicate, while a young criminal (Damon) simultaneously goes undercover as a cop.
3) PAN'S LABYRINTH (Picturehouse) In this film, directed by Guillermo del Toro ( The Devil's Backbone , Hellboy ), a little girl's imagination vividly comes to life. When this girl, Ofelia, travels to Northern Spain, circa 1944, so that her mom can move in with her new husband, she creates a fantastic dream world in order to block out the horrific events going on around her in real life. The film, which features a bevy of unique creatures and effects, is a gem with Spanish subtitles.
4) HAPPY FEET (Warner Bros.) Starring the voices of Hugh Jackman, Elijah Wood, Robin Williams. In this lighthearted animated tale, a young penguin named Mumble (Wood), unlike every other penguin in his Antarctic community, is not bestowed with the gift of song. Instead, he is the worst singer in the world; which, in his case, means he may never find a mate. However, little does Mumble know that his gift – the gift of dance – will get him farther in life than he ever dreamed.
5) NOTES ON A SCANDAL (Fox Searchlight) Starring Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, Bill Nighy. In this juicy film, a curious woman (Dench) ends up having to keep the secret of Sheba Hart (Blanchett), a new art teacher at her school who delves headfirst into an illicit affair with one of her students.
6) CHILDREN OF MEN (Universal) Starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine. Extremely well-directed by Alfonso Cuaron ( Y Tu Mama Tambien , Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ), this harshly unsettling vision of the future, aside from a few flaws, leaves viewers pondering life nonetheless. In the film, it's 2027 in London and mankind hasn't been able to procreate for 18 years. Then, a man named Theo (Owen) is recruited by his estranged wife (Moore) and her mysterious organization in order to deliver to safety the first pregnant woman in over a decade.
7) THE QUEEN (Miramax) Starring Helen Mirren, James Cromwell, Michael Sheen. Directed by Stephen Frears, this film – which stars a fantastically understated Mirren in the title role of Queen Elizabeth II – takes a look at how the British Royals chose to deal with the fallout of Princess Diana's death in 1997. Frears takes a fair – albeit, sometimes uncomfortable – shot at the Royal Family, and uses some actual footage of Diana and her funeral to further authenticate the subject matter. And, aside from Mirren, Sheen – as newly sworn-in Prime Minister Tony Blair – also excels in his role.
8) BREAKING AND ENTERING (Weinstein) Starring Jude Law, Vera Farmiga, Juliette Binoche. Binoche and Law shine in Breaking and Entering , a drama-filled film about a lowly London architect (Law) who is forced to re-evaluate his life and relationships after a young Muslim thief breaks into his office in the seedy Kings Cross district.
9) CATCH AND RELEASE (Columbia) Starring Jennifer Garner, Timothy Olyphant, Kevin Smith. Although it ultimately becomes extremely predictable, Catch and Release – which stars Garner as an almost-married young woman who must preside over her fiancé's funeral instead of enjoying their wedding – starts off strong and features sweet performances by its stars (including Garner, Olyphant, Smith and Juliette Lewis).
10) THE BLOOD DIAMOND (Warner Bros.) Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly, Djimon Hounsou. Sure, Director Ed Zwick's ( The Last Samurai ) film – set during the civil war in Sierra Leone during the 1990s – is a little bit too “Hollywood” (we're talking sweeping action shots and some unnecessary dialogue). However, it does, at the same time, feature noteworthy performances by its leads (DiCaprio as a South African mercenary caught up in diamond smuggling and Hounsou as an African man in search of his kidnapped family) as well as a few informative nuggets about recent world history.