Children of Men
Like Sean, I didn't know anything about the one-shot set pieces in Children of Men going into the movie. Unlike Sean, I did notice them during the movie - specifically, during the long sequence in the car - and they took my breath away. But, like Sean, I don't buy the argument that "the movie's technical proficiency is... evidence of its soullessness".
I did have problems with the movie: as speculative fiction, I think, compared to the source novel, it was incoherent. This makes sense in that P.D. James is a conservative Christian and Cuaron and his screenwriters are all leftists. The world that they extrapolate from the central idea (humans have lost the ability to have children) doesn't hold up to scrutiny all that well, but that's almost beside the point.
(Almost. I found the political/social commentary in the margins of Children of Men pretty annoying, but not nearly as annoying as the political/social commentary in the margins of Cuaron's Y Tu Mama Tambien, which really soured that movie for me. In Children of Men, they don't seem out of place, but in Y Tu Mama Tambien the overt political statements seem inappropriately tacked-on, as if, every ten minutes during Manhattan, Woody Allen had shown a shot of a homeless man, or another image of urban blight, and we heard a John Gielgud voice-over about how cold the city can be to many of its inhabitants.)
Still, though, Children of Men was such an overwhelming emotional and aesthetic experience, that I can ignore its more questionable political ideas. This is why I'll never be able to be a rigorous, brainy, conservative film critic like Alan Dale: I'm too willing to ignore a movie's dopey ideas if it sweeps me away.
And speaking of getting swept away (and dopey ideas), Children of Men felt like Spielberg at his best, which for me includes War of the Worlds and Munich, two movies that share a kinship with this one. Like War of the Worlds, Children of Men builds its visions of the apocalypse with ripped-from-the-headlines images. Like Munich, the political context ends up being a lot less important to the way I experienced the movie than the protagonist's moral journey.
I've enjoyed Cuaron's work in the past and I've almost always been impressed by it, even if it some of it rubbed me the wrong way, but this movie makes me think that he's one of the few filmmakers - like Spielberg - who can accomplish exactly what they set out to do.