There ain’t no justice

Things would be a lot different if A&E ran the Oscars

If there’s one constant in the movie industry, it’s Hollywood’s desire to recognize itself.

For the last six months, the major film studios have strategized, promoted and campaigned. Ever since the coveted Academy Award nominations were announced last month, film fanatics have been abuzz about which works were nominated, which actors were recognized and, of course, who will be the best-dressed come Sunday on the red carpet.

The Oscars are a media event, custom-made for an era of gossip and celebrity journalism. Serious movie lovers only pay attention because it’s the one night the country wants to discuss serious cinema. Although, usually, it comes down to the most-popular, not most-intelligent, films of a given year. The Oscars are the awards of record and should not be dismissed.

So pop the popcorn, find a comfortable seat and make your predictions. By Monday, it will all finally be over.

BEST PICTURE

Who should win: “Million Dollar Baby” or “Sideways.” Clint Eastwood’s boxing film packs a deeper and more-complex emotional punch than any of the other films. But the unsung satire of “Sideways” is more subversive and maybe better.
Who will win: “Million Dollar Baby.” People love to think they’re choosing the dark horse, and this movie arrived subtly, without any of the traditional Oscar fanfare. Eastwood reportedly insisted the film be the anti-blockbuster, and that strategy will pay off.

BEST DIRECTOR

Who should win: Eastwood. None of the films dealt with more issues in such a raw form or with as much beauty as Eastwood did in “Million Dollar Baby.”
Who will win: Scorsese. All together now: lifetime-achievement award! The greatest, unrecognized American director living today will finally get his due.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Who should win: Foxx. What a night it would be if Foxx took home two little guys, but don’t count on it.
Who will win: Freeman. It’s a lifetime-achievement award of sorts, and he’s also the unsung foundation of “Million Dollar Baby.”

BEST ACTOR

Who should, and will, win: Foxx. This is the sure bet of the evening. Foxx deserves it for his stunning portrayal of Ray Charles. And for one moment, all will seem right with the Oscars.

BEST ACTRESS

Who should win: Moreno. Anyone who has seen “Maria Full of Grace” knows what Moreno accomplishes with her role as a drug mule. With no words, and no help, she creates a heroine who earns our sympathy and admiration.
Who will win: Swank. Everyone’s playing up the Swank versus Bening rematch of a few years back, but this one’s pretty easy. She’s the strong presence in the film with the biggest profile.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Who should win: Madsen. In a fairly serious role for a comedy, Madsen walked the tightrope perfectly among serious, strong and vulnerable. She stole every scene she was in.
Who will win: Blanchett. They love Blanchett, and they love Katharine Hepburn, whom she portrayed wonderfully.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Who should, and will, win: “The Sea Inside.” Unlike the last few years, in which multiple nominees were well-known by U.S. audiences, “The Sea Inside” is really the only popular and acclaimed film on the list.

BEST ANIMATED FILM

Who should, and will, win: “The Incredibles.” “Shrek 2” was fluff, and “Shark Tale” was an abomination. Where’s “Polar Express,” and why don’t they open this category up to foreign animated works?

SCREENPLAY: WORD!

The best-picture category is supposed to represent the “best” films of the year, but it rarely does. There is a specific criterion that Oscar voters look for in the five nominees, which often has more to do with popularity and Hollywood politics than real merit.

But, apparently, the academy is conscious of its own foolishness and has tried to make good with the two screenplay categories (original and adapted).

This is where the real battle for best picture takes place. The nominees in these two categories are often edgier, more-complex and better films.

The best-picture winners of the last decade look like fluff when stacked against the screenplay champs.

Best-picture winners such as “Chicago,” “Titanic,” “A Beautiful Mind” and “Gladiator” look like cotton candy compared with screenplay winners such as “Pulp Fiction,” “Traffic,” “The Pianist,” “Talk to Her” and “Lost in Translation.”

How could the sentimental gooiness of “Forrest Gump” trump the nail-biting dialogue and visceral intensity of Quintin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction”? And what about the dancing goofiness of “Chicago” beating out “The Pianist,” which is arguably the great Holocaust film ever made?

This year, the academy didn’t think great films such as “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Before Sunset,” “Hotel Rwanda” and “Vera Drake” belonged in the best-picture category. But that’s OK. Instead, they’ll be competing for the category that has come to mean more and more at the ceremony: best screenplay.

COMEDY VERSUS DRAMA

Comedies usually get no love at the Oscars. The academy is filled with seeeerious people. But there have been years when funny films just couldn’t be ignored.

In 1977, Woody Allen’s neurotic “Annie Hall” surged past George Lucas’ groundbreaking “Star Wars.” In 1999, it was “Shakespeare in Love” trumping Steven Spielberg’s highly acclaimed “Saving Private Ryan.”

This year, as the epic drama of “The Aviator” and the gruesome “Million Dollar Baby” duke it out for best picture, they might just split enough votes to let the comedic underdog, “Sideways,” steal the show.

It would be yet another surprising triumph for a comedy in a competition that rarely takes the art of laughter seriously.