This is the first year I'm glad I'm not a voting member of the Motion Picture Academy. Trying to pick the "best" artist or movie in any category has always seemed a little nuts, like trying to pick your favorite child, all of whom have such different personalities.
But this year I can't even decide which is my favorite among "The King's Speech," "The Fighter" and "True Grit."
Keep in mind that my unequivocal choice for the year's best film was "The Social Network," hands down right up to the point that it actually won that award at the Golden Globes.
Or that "Inception" was the daring, most ambitious and barrier-breaking masterpiece in the field ... just as "The Kids Are All Right" was an infectious labor of love for all concerned, especially the audience. Or that "Winter's Bone" was the kind of slice of life so gritty and authentic, you couldn't believe those were actors rather than "real people" onscreen. You still can't, even after they received their nominations.
Or that each of the remaining entries in the 10-movie best-picture field - "Toy Story 3," "Black Swan" and "127 Hours" - has its admirers. In other words, it's been a wonderful year at the movies.
Under the glam and the glitz - after all, movie stars are, by definition, the most beautiful people on the planet - the actual Oscar outcome often produces a certain amount of cognitive dissonance for those of us watching from afar.
Somebody remind me again, why was "The Hurt Locker" the best movie of last year? And why did Barbra Streisand just happen to be the presenter of the best director award to Katheryn Bigelow, the first woman to claim the prize?
Obviously, there are things about Hollywood the rest of us will never know.
Like why, at Oscar time, the nominations so often go to the dark side, as though the most cynical views of humanity - as in "The Hurt Locker," "No Country for Old Men" or "The Departed," recent best-picture winners - are also the most profound.
Perhaps it's some sort of guilt or penance on the part of the industry for numbing our minds with so many special effects explosions and car crashes, or lowering our intelligence with so many dumb comedies for the other 11 months of the year. Perhaps they think dark movies are the price we all have to pay for all that mindlessness.
No matter. This year we've got plenty of contenders to actually cheer for.
"The Social Network," the early and seemingly invincible leader through awards season, is unquestionably brilliant, thanks to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher's abilities to find human drama in a very inhuman -but quite frightening true tale -of the dangers of putting our faith in technology.
Its unauthorized portrait of brilliant young Facebook founder - or stealer -Mark Zuckerberg, turns out to be a cautionary tale, not so much about the ingenuity of creating a "social network," but about our misguided hopes that such a thing can save us from loneliness.
Sorkin should rightfully claim his statue Sunday night; Fincher is the leading contender for the director's prize and young star Jesse Eisenberg delivers a unique and memorable performance.
But I find my own choices heading in more hopeful directions.
"True Grit's" directing brothers Ethan and Joel Coen and their dude-star Jeff Bridges have all tasted Oscar gold in recent years. This time it should be their 14-year-old wonderchild Hailee Steinfeld who claims the prize for their revisionist Western that rewrites the genre with panoramic vistas, a love of language and a sense of irony all its own.
The abundance of acting nominations for "The Fighter" attests to the deep vein of humanity it taps into. Amidst the expected sweat and blood in the ring is unexpected humor and deep bonds of love in a ridiculously dysfunctional blue-collar Boston family. Kudos, too, for director David O. Russell, and especially star-producer Mark Wahlberg for giving everyone else room to shine.
Interestly, the "safest" film in the bunch -the one that breaks no new ground and tromps around in the dusty halls of history -proves to be the most satisfying.
"The King's Speech" is that rarity, an almost perfect movie, where everything-the performances, writing, story and craft -serve to entertain, thrill, amuse and inspire. It will probably be Sunday's big winner, and deservedly so.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org.