There's nothing more cinematic than a ticking bomb and the life-or-death deadline to defuse it. The LED numbers are dwindling! Which wire do you cut—red or blue? In The Hurt Locker, Jeremy Renner plays the reckless but methodical leader of an elite Army bomb squad patrolling Baghdad early in the Iraq War, where every trash heap (or corpse) could contain an IED. There are no antiwar lectures, just intricate process and male ego gone amok. (Anthony Mackie plays Renner's disapproving, more by-the-book comrade.) When a blast occurs, director Kathryn Bigelow shows us the shudder of rust being shaken from old auto bodies, the slo-mo surge of the shock wave beneath the sand. What it does to human bodies, and minds, is even worse. Bigelow has generally been known for stylized action flicks (Near Dark, Blue Steel), often with gonzo male leads (see that timeless testosterone opera, Point Break). But The Hurt Locker is a career best for her: tense, compressed, and often wordless for page after page of action. A sudden, extended sniper attack, coming midway through the movie, is the best sequence I've seen on film this year. With the field opened up for 10 nominees this year, this movie has a lock on an Oscar nom.