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I have yet to meet someone who believes that members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have a good sense of which movie is Best Picture of the Year.

Everyone knows that the Oscars are more a popularity contest than a celebration of artistic excellence. Each year, awards are delegated by Hollywood insiders, mostly actors, who tend to give films as much credit for financial success, political trendiness, and sentimentality as they do for artistic excellence. You can usually bet against titles that were challenging or innovative. And meaning? If a movie says what an audience wants to hear (American Beauty, Shakespeare in Love), it's far more likely to win awards than a movie that profoundly portrays discomforting truths (The Ice Storm, Saving Private Ryan.)

This year is no exception. For instance, almost everyone expects Martin Scorsese will win the Oscar for Best Director this year because he has never won before—not for his actual work on Gangs of New York, a subpar Scorsese picture. The only nominee considered a challenger is Rob Marshall (Chicago), who is being credited as "bringing back the musical." (No one seems to remember Baz Luhrman's Moulin Rouge from last year, or Lars Von Trier's Dancer in the Dark the year before that.)

People are drawn to the Oscars year after year for the spectacle, expensive clothes and jewelry, glimpses of favorite stars in candid moments, emotional acceptance speeches, and the suspenseful game of who's going to win. I enjoy those all-too-rare occasions when someone who poured heart and soul into a project of excellence is actually recognized for the achievement.

You can join me as the awards are handed out on Oscar night, ...

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