Two clear winners thus far: Children of Men, The Queen

Among the numerous movies I've seen this holiday break, two have stood out thus far: The Queen and Children of Men. One of the immense pleasures at the heart of each is the performance of the leads. Helen Mirren is a shoo-in for a Best Actress nomination from the Academy, and Clive Owen is, as always, combines equal parts sensitivity and flintiness in a way that is wholly unique. He is, in that way, a sort of modern day Bogart. Both Mirren and Owen have an appealingly lean method of acting: precise, without a hint of fussiness. They never seem to seek the camera's attention, and because of that we can't take our eyes off of them.

Children of Men features two single-shot action sequences that will put cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki's name on the tongues of film students everywhere. One is a car chase. I have no idea what type of rig the camera was mounted on, but I sure hope the DVD contains a making-of video that shows it because the camera seemed to be able to move all around the inside of a vehicle filled with actors.

The second is a single, unbroken shot in which a handheld camera chases Clive Owen for what feels like ten to fifteen minutes through an urban warzone, diving and ducking behind walls and rubble, into a building under siege by government soldiers, up stairs, down halls, in and out of several rooms. The longer the shot went, the lower my jaw dropped. The audacity required to try to shoot that sequence in one take fills me with glee. Give that camera operator a gold star.

It's too bad that Children of Men is only in limited release, and even in LA and NYC it is only in two or three theaters. Though it depicts a grim, dystopian future, it is a nativity story for our times and a thought-provoking Christmas film for adults.

Another movie I can't wait to see opens this Friday in limited release: Pan's Labyrinth. The trailer makes me giddy, though the voice of the voiceover doesn't feel right.

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