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Scott Howard's Pop!
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  So, the Oscars. They’re right around the corner and I’ve never felt less excited.

It’s not that the nominees suck. In fact, there have only been a handful of really bad movies nominated for Best Picture in the past decade or so (Finding Neverland? Really, Academy?), and this year I liked every nominated film. My lack of enthusiasm is due to a number of factors, most notably the fact that the big three – the Emmys, the Grammys and the Oscars – are now the big two billion, with every two bit cable network and no-name organization getting into the game of crafting some abstract statue to give away to famous people.

Someone did a count a few years ago and found that there are around 200 annually-televised awards shows, which officially makes show business the most egotistical, self-congratulating industry in the history of the universe. So forgive me if the Oscars now feel like a limp to the finish line instead of a triumphant gallop.

It doesn’t help that there’s no real race this year. Helen Mirren, Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy have won every award they’ve been up for and will almost undoubtedly take the Oscar too. All are fine performers who definitely deserve the recognition, but I’m almost to the point that I hope one of them loses just so something unexpected would happen.

I love Eddie, but judging by his upcoming projects (Shrek 4 and Beverly Hills Cop IV, note the classy Roman numerals on that one) the awards season isn’t going to his head. Give it to Mark Wahlberg, not just because he was fantastic in The Departed but also because “Good Vibrations” is a lot better than “Party All The Time”.

Speaking of The Departed, I think it’s the obvious frontrunner for Best Picture but I’m apparently alone. It’s a stunning crime epic by the king o’ stunning crime epics, has raked in twice as much money as its closest competitor and, most importantly, is showered with praise by nearly everyone who sees it.

But that closest competitor is Little Miss Sunshine, an undeniably pleasant but ultimately slight film that seems to resonate with the – how should I put this? – more mature members of the Academy who probably aren’t comfortable giving the crown to a movie that has more heads exploded by bullets than anything I’ve seen since the glory days of Jean Claude Van Damme.

Little Miss Sunshine definitely has the arty-but-not-too-arty sheen to it that has been favored in recent years (American Beauty, Million Dollar Baby), and the serious cinéphile vote may be split between The Departed and the other very worthy films: Babel, Letters From Iwo Jima and The Queen.

If Little Miss Sunshine does win, it will continue the Academy’s long descent into obscurity. This process was greatly expedited by last year’s surprise victory of Crash, an almost universally reviled film that won because of homophobia and is truly as dumb as a pile of bricks.

The actual best picture hasn’t won Best Picture since 1993, when Unforgiven took most of the top awards (they didn’t have much choice, its stiffest competition was Scent Of A Woman).

And we’re even further removed from a year like 1972 when The French Connection, A Clockwork Orange and The Last Picture Show battled it out.

The movies that win Best Picture today are safe, august epics created for the sole purpose of winning it, like The English Patient or A Beautiful Mind. They win because the Academy is a democracy, and in all democracies the smart people are cancelled out by the stupid people and the mediocre middle rises to the top.

It’s like a presidential election, except it’s not very important. So The Departed, Barack Obama and John McCain should win, but we end up with Little Miss Sunshine, Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush.

That being said, of course I’ll still watch it. I’d watch if Big Momma’s House 2 was the frontrunner for every award (would Martin Lawrence be eligible for Best Actor, Actress or, gasp, both?!). There’s always something worth seeing, though I hope this year it’s Martin Scorsese’s long-delayed acceptance speech instead of Three Six Mafia’s performance of and win for “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp”.

I always look forward to seeing Jack Nicholson because he usually shows up drunk and Penelope Cruz because she’s Penelope Cruz.

I will be rooting for my personal favorites of 2006 to win the top prizes they’re nominated for, Children of Men for Best Cinematography and Pan’s Labyrinth for Best Foreign Language Film. I will cheer for legendary composer Ennio Morricone as he receives his first Oscar, commemorating a career that spans six decades and over 500 films.

And I will be thankful that this year Crash won’t win anything.