Once Again in Hollywood It's That Time Of the Year

The 74th Annual Academy Awards, hosted by Whoopi Goldberg, airs next Sunday night at 5 p.m. on ABC. For a complete database of Oscar history and statistics, visit www.littlegoldenguy.com.

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Every March, just before Oscar night, and just after reviewers announce their predictions, you suspect that critics really, really hate the Academy Awards. Sure, they're fascinated by formulating some algorithm which deciphers all the academy secrets, but that's really to feed their own egos, not understand the industry.

I love the Oscars. I love the glossy glam, the exclusive parties, the tired acceptance clichés, and the ridiculous costumes. Only Hollywood could create a tribute to itself that revels in its own superficiality, and expect millions of viewers to be enchanted by the dazzling shadows and fog. It's my favorite day of the year, and I haven't missed one since "Driving Miss Daisy" won Best Picture.

Critics love to hate the Oscars. They love to say awards mean nothing, or that the academy is composed of old white geezers with no taste. This may be true, but does anybody actually expect the Oscars to reflect the advancement of the cinema or the celebration of the serious film artist? Sure, the awards are terribly conservative and echo the studio-driven sentimentality of a long-lost era. In a way, we expect the Oscars to not reflect art, but to reinforce our ideas of what the big, exciting movie studio should be, that is, big and exciting.

There's something reassuring about seeing the tried-and-true traditions of Hollywood played out to this breathtaking excess. Just as we need the independent and international cinema as an alternative to the maligned Hollywood blockbuster, sometimes we need to just relax and smell the artifice. Naturally, it's frustrating to observe how predictable the Academy has grown (for the love of God, no more John Williams!).

Still, there's some comfort in it. I've been joking to my friends about how hilarious it'd be if Jean-Luc Godard's new film "In Praise of Love" had been nominated for best foreign film, but I think watching Godard on TV indicting Hollywood and Spielberg as the devils of mass media would be far too distressing, even if I completely agree.

If I had my way, Naomi Watts would have been nominated for Best Actress, "The Royal Tenenbaums" would get Best Costumes, and "Mulholland Drive" would get Best Musical Score. Oh and "Legally Blonde" would snag a Best Art Direction nomination and "Heartbreakers" would be running for Best Makeup (did you see what they did to poor Gene Hackman's face?). But who am I kidding? Whoopi Goldberg has a greater chance of being funny than the academy giving an award to a movie about a sorority-sister attorney.

Instead, Best Costumes and Best Art Direction will go to a big-budget celebration of Hollywood, just as "Amadeus" did in 1984 or "Ben-Hur" in 1959. They'll never understand that it's much harder to edit a delicately paced, excruciating picture like "In the Bedroom," rather than a calculated, kinetic film like "Black Hawk Down" or "The Lord of the Rings."

I could go on, but I won't, because I love the Oscars too much to think of the what-ifs, and just appreciate the fact that I'm invited to the party of the year, albeit on my 32" TV.

To the doubters, I'd actually say that the Oscars are getting better at acknowledging trends and art films. In three of the last six years, a non-English language film has been nominated for the top prize. If it seems like every year's awards are getting duller and duller, it's because the films are getting worse, not the Academy.

To paraphrase the immortal words of Norma Desmond, no stranger to Hollywood herself, the Oscars are still big, it's the pictures that got small.


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