As we breathlessly await the Christmas Day arrival of Guy Ritchie’s new Sherlock Holmes epic (I’m currently holding my breath until I turn blue or Warner Brothers realize their decision to turn Holmes into an action hero was a bad idea and cancel its release, whichever comes first), there’s not a great deal to report on the Berkeley film front.

The one exception this week is the return to the big screen of Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, originally released in early summer and now back for encore showings at the Elmwood, no doubt in hopes that Oscar season will shake loose a few additional pennies from the pockets of awards-conscious moviegoers.

Like most films set during the Iraq Wars, The Hurt Locker didn’t set exhibitors’ hearts fluttering — it’s grossed a mere $12 million since June — but is one of the best films of the year and a worthy candidate for a second run. Jeremy Renner stars as Sergeant William James, a fearless, if reckless, bomb demolition expert who takes extreme measures to defuse explosives and save lives on the mean streets of Baghdad.

Renner deserves an Academy Award Best Actor nomination (and when you have time, check out his equally fine work in Neo Ned and Twelve and Holding), but the big surprise is director Bigelow’s excellent effort behind the camera. She’s been maddeningly inconsistent over the years, with work ranging from engaging schlock like Point Break (1991) to incoherent, flashy junk such as Strange Days (1995), but has finally put it together in The Hurt Locker.

With the able assistance of Barry Ackroyd (Ken Loach’s regular cinematographer), and first-time screenwriter Mark Boal, Bigelow has crafted a visually stunning and intelligently written character study the equal of anything made in the heyday of Ashby, Coppola, or Scorsese. If you missed it over the summer, prepare yourself for the office Oscar pool by hurrying down to the Elmwood this week.

John Seal is a regular Berkeleyside contributor. He writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movie’s Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly.

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