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And the Academy Award goes to ...

Damn writers. Why couldn't they have stayed on strike for a couple more weeks, sparing us that six-hour bourgeois red-carpet Hollywood back-slapping snorefest known as the Academy Awards.

I'm not against awards, per se. I work for an industry that gives out awards like candy on Halloween. If you can type, chances are you can win at least one journalism award a year for the rest of your life.

I like the idea of America taking out one night a year to acknowledge the work of those who have mastered that special alchemy known as filmmaking. But the Oscar gala has become as grotesquely bloated and sweaty as that fleshy tube of meat bulging from under Michael Moore's chin.

And the self-congratulatory speeches, even the ones by people I respect such as George Clooney, are torture. What gives someone the right to read off a five-minute list of the first names of people you don't know and will never, ever meet on national television?

Why not just stage a press conference and read the nominees and winners in a tight 45-minute segment just after the Super Bowl? I'd stay awake for that.

It's hard to take the Academy Awards seriously, considering past embarrassments. There are so many cinematic insults to list. I submit to you the 1980 awards in which the largely forgotten "Ordinary People" beat "Raging Bull" for Best Picture. Or how about 1996 when Cuba Gooding Jr. (remember him?) topped William H. Macy's work in "Fargo"?

Then there's the snub of all snubs in 1955 when the great Robert Mitchum was ignored for his part as the devilish preacher in "Night of the Hunter."

I could go on. And on.

Now that my hatred is spent, I must say this is the first year that I have seen all of the Best Picture nominees and think that this year, for the most part anyway, the Academy got it right.

Sure, I hated to see David Fincher's masterful "Zodiac" shut out, but it's good to see "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood" do well.

In fact, "Country" and "Blood" are two of the finest American films I've seen in quite some time. It'll be tough seeing one take its place on the pedestal Sunday while the other slips to second place. It's a coin flip for me. I loved both movies enough to see them three times apiece in theaters.

"Atonement" doesn't belong in that group. It's fine as stodgy British melodramas go. I've seen much better made-for-PBS productions in the past. I'd say replace it with the criminally under-appreciated "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," "Zodiac," "Sweeney Todd" or, hell, even "Ratatouille."

And then there's the "Juno" problem.

Watching first hour of "Juno" was one of the more grueling experiences of my young life. The oh-so-ironic banter, the quips, the snappy cultural references, all made my teeth hurt.

The abortion clinic freak-out scene belonged in an evangelical propaganda piece meant to frighten preteen girls into a life of blissful celibacy.

Let's not forget the hammy anti-folk soundtrack that will be included on the iPod that Satan will hand me as I walk through the gates of Hell.

To be fair, the movie somewhat redeemed itself during the home stretch, thanks in large part to Jason Bateman's brilliant performance as a successful though soul-crushed suburban automaton.

In all, it was a fine year for film, much better, it seems, than 2008 will be. A quick search of this year's upcoming theater fare left me cold inside. More sequels, more crappy superhero comic book adaptations (and I'm a comic fan from way back, but the limit has been long-since reached) and at least five films starring the forgettable Keira Knightley.

As for me, I'll watch this year's awards at a local pub, where the sound will be turned down and the only speeches I'll endure are the ones made by the opinionated boozer at the end of the bar.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471, or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.