"Everybody's a coward about something."
I'll start with this. It's now thirty minutes since I finished watching The Hurt Locker, one of the two (with Avatar) favorites for the Best Picture Oscar. Five minutes after the movie ended, my wife asked me if we could watch tonight's House just to "come down" from how tense we were. It's now thirty minutes and House isn't working; I still have this feeling in my chest of being on edge. Movies don't get more intense than The Hurt Locker.
The film deals with one of the Army's EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) units in Iraq and follows one specific three-man team as a new commander comes on board. His unorthodox style doesn't mesh with the existing men and the movie follows the team, as they get accustomed to each other, through a series of vignettes regarding the defusion of bombs and other fun war stuff. From second one, you're tense. So tense that even scenes with no reason for tension still have you uneasy. Director Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break, Strange Days) achieves this by using unknown actors, except for a few quick notable cameos, and a documentary style that includes very little music. The quiet, with the exception of some feet shuffling in the dust here or there, builds and builds. In addition, there are some iconic shots, most notably one where the main character, portrayed by Best Actor nominee Jeremy Renner, pulls on a wire to find that he is surrounded by six or seven IEDs that are about to be activated.
In fact, the most notable thing about the movie is the direction. Bigelow, famously James Cameron's ex-wife, is seemingly up against Cameron for the Best Director nomination. Her direction in this film is spectacular. It's right there with the best-directed films I can think of in the past few years (the Coen Brothers in No Country for Old Men and A Serious Man, Darren Aronofsky in The Wrestler, Danny Boyle in Slumdog Millionaire). On the other hand, James Cameron made a significant achievement in cinema in Avatar. No doubt that The Hurt Locker is the better movie, but Avatar seems more important in the grand scheme. I think the Oscar will go to Bigelow (and, hence, Best Picture as well) because she's won the right predictor awards (she won the Directors Guild of America award, which has predicted the Oscar all but six times since 1948) and because she'll make history just as much as Cameron has.
But, whatever, awards politics and all. I've now seen nine of the ten Best Picture nominess, missing only Precious. I think that The Hurt Locker and Up In The Air are the two best movies I've seen this year -- Inglourious Basterds is still my actual favorite -- but they are so different that I can't pick which one is better. Just watch both. You can't go wrong.