Why this is likely to be my favorite Oscars in years

The awards season has been pretty good to me, all things considered. After various precursor awards, this year’s Best Picture Oscar race has narrowed down to “12 Years a Slave” or “Gravity,” my favorite narrative films of the year; I think the documentaries “Stories We Tell” and “The Act of Killing” give them a run for their money, and the latter might very well win Best Documentary Feature, so this is poised to be one of my favorite Oscar ceremonies in years.

Of course, the Oscars aren’t all about what I want, but dammit, wouldn’t it be better if they were?

I’m (half) kidding. The fact is most of us awards-watchers are probably of two minds. There’s the part of us that knows the Oscars aren’t the true arbiters of quality; time is. The reflection of ensuing years elevates some Oscar choices (“The Silence of the Lambs,” “Schindler’s List”) while making mincemeat of others (“Dances with Wolves”), so it’s hard to predict which ones will be remembered fondly a generation from now.

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But there’s the other part of us that struggles not to take it to heart, especially when a film you’re invested in is nominated. “12 Years a Slave” was my favorite film of 2013; at first it seemed like exactly the kind of film Oscar voters would go for, but then it looked like voters might write it off as homework, and now it kinda probably could be the winner … maybe. It’s an important film to me for a number of reasons: for its emotional impact; for taking a cold, hard look at American history; and for confronting race at a time when the country – and the industry – badly needs an honest dialogue about the subject.

But if “12 Years” doesn’t win, they’ll likely give it to “Gravity,” and I’m okay with that too. More than okay. In any other year it might have been my favorite film. It gets a lot of credit, sometimes dismissively, as a technical achievement, but a lot of technical achievements are otherwise mediocre movies (“Avatar,” for instance), so director Alfonso Cuaron deserves credit as an artist as well as a technician.

It has been a while since I’ve had a dog in the hunt. In recent years I’ve considered Oscars from a more detached perspective since my favorites are usually down and out. In fact, my favorite film hasn’t won the top Oscar since “No Country for Old Men” in 2007. Before that were “Million Dollar Baby” in 2004, and “American Beauty” in 1999.

Then again, it’s impressive given the sheer number of films released in any given year that my favorite ever wins. You could argue that every four or five years the academy has unusually good taste – and yes, I will argue that. So assuming the results are consistent with recent events I’ll savor 2013, because I may not get another Oscars like this until 2019.

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