Hollywood has once again declared the Best Picture of the Year, and guess what it chose? The cliché-heavy revenge story. When Gladiator came out, critics gave little indication that this was anything more than a solid popcorn movie based on an earlier film called The Fall of the Roman Empire. Borrowing context and importance from epics like Spartacus and Braveheart, Gladiator abbreviates its own storytelling to make room for elaborate scenes of violent carnage. Maybe its genre or its spectacular historical backdrop made Academy voters swoon, but it would have been more appropriate to honor a film that takes us somewhere we haven't been and that has more than crowd-pleasing on its mind. (In other words, any of the other nominated films … and several more besides.) Even more inexplicably, they gave Russell Crowe an Oscar for his gruff performance as the gladiator, rather than honor the astonishing range and humanity exhibited in career-best performances by Ed Harris (Pollock), Tom Hanks (Cast Away), or Michael Douglas (Wonder Boys), who wasn't even nominated.

Sigh. Oh well. My complaints are nothing new, and will probably make little difference. Criticizing the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has become a national pastime. We all know the ceremony is flawed, self-congratulatory, superficial, and mixed up with money and power. And the media that packages the Oscars is as interested in skimpy outfits as it is in appreciating excellence. I've heard many people asking, "Why pay attention at all? It's so meaningless … what's the point?"

Despite how the Oscars frustrate me, I cannot write off Oscar-watching as a waste of time. There is value in seeing a community show appreciation to a hard-working artist (when that actually ...

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