The first battalion (not salvo) in the coming Oscar war has arrived in the form of The Constant Gardener. While early salvos from the beginning of the year like Crash, Cinderella Man, Sin City will likely garner one acting nomination (or a slew of special effect nominations in the latter case), The Constant Gardener has made a strong showing in all the major categories. I’m not saying it approaches my personal favorite movies of the year so far, the sure-to-be-overlooked gem Junebug, but it is nevertheless a serious movie, with a dramatic and engaging plot, smartly acted and directed. I eagerly await the opposing battalions that will, in theaters these coming months, be deploying against it.
Unless the gods smile upon the wonderful character actor Tom Wilkinson, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is unlikely to receive any Oscar nominations. (I amend that to add that the sound design is excellently atmospheric, but lately the horror genre, which relies so heavily on good sound design, is overlooked in this category.) A straight-forward telling of a religion vs. science story that could’ve used one more twist or two more scares, nevertheless it presents a wonderfully creepy and compelling tale, the moreso for supposedly being based on a real court case of a priest (played by Wilkinson) put on trial for a failed exorcism. The film is slanted toward the side of the religious interpretation of Emily’s behavior (rather than the mundane medical interpretation) and who can blame the filmmakers. Demonic possession, is, after all, a barrel of scares and moody lighting. The film would’ve been improved by spending less time with the agnostic defense attorney (Laura Linney, who I have never really liked except in Kinsey) and more with the serious emotional relationships between Emily Rose and her family and friends: the jeopardy of real human relationships pitted against the jeopardy of the immortal soul. The best episodes of the X-Files after all, were those in which Mulder and Scully’s interpretations were equally valid. In the end, the film does leave the question open, which seems like a cop-out, but is the only resolution that won’t alienate half the audience. It left me wanting more, which is, in any case, more than I can say for the other woman-in-peril thrillers now in theaters, the passable Skeleton Key, and the obscenely stupid Red Eye.