Best Sporting Oscar

I wish I'd been the plainspoken genius who labeled the Academy Awards broadcast "the gay Super Bowl." You can call it stereotyping if you want but, girlfriend, make a pit stop at a grocery store on Capitol Hill before this Sunday's telecast and then we'll talk. I went to the Harvard Market QFC on Oscar night last year and found the beer section ravaged; we won't even discuss the chips and salsa.

But the Oscars are about more than just gay pleasure, no matter how many satisfied baritone moans will be heard across America if we get even a glimpse of that French stud who nailed Diane Lane in Unfaithful. (Now that was a performancethe Academy needs to wake up and make room for categories like "Best Bang in an Otherwise Overrated Morality Tale.") What distinguishes the awards is how much of an oasis they are for anyone who feels parched by our nation's devotion to athletic events. The Oscars compensate for everything that a lot of us just don't get: the World Cup, the U.S. Open, or any other game that doesn't know enough to focus on what the players are wearing. The Oscars are for those of us, straight or gay, who can't understand why "How 'bout those M's?" is the assumed standard for small talk instead of "So what the hell was Kim Basinger on last night?"

Like any big sporting contest, the show is also preceded by frenzied odds-making in the preseason. The competition starts around Christmas, when the national critics associations announce their winnersthe only arena in which a gifted quarterback such as Julianne Moore ever scoresbut really kicks into full gear in February, when the Golden Globes are announced and second-stringers like René„ Zellweger step onto the playing field. If the Oscars are the Super Bowl, the Globes are the conference championshipsfilled with a decent amount of suspense but without the thrill of something really tacky happening, like Diana Ross ascending in a helicopter at halftime or Rob Lowe singing "Proud Mary" in front of a terrified worldwide audience. But a triumph at the more populist Globes adds a delicious level of tension to the Oscars: I know football is supposed to be enthralling, but for my money, nothing will say "touchdown" more than Nicole Kidman's icy dejection if Zellweger wins Best Actress and the ex-Mrs. Tom Cruise has to face the fact that she married a confirmed bachelor and wore that damn nose for nothing.

And, oh, the joys of the telecast! Who needs the gridiron when you have the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, soon to be home to more gloriously deluded self-importance than even sportscaster John Madden could muster? Just imagine if The Pianist wins anything and we get to hear a touching Holocaust tribute from someone who's about to eat goose liver at the Vanity Fair after-party. If you can't already comprehend it, I suppose it's impossible to explain the adrenaline rush of watching Meryl Streep and a very pregnant Catherine Zeta-Jones go head-to-head. There will be at least one stunning upset, plenty of shocking fouls, and even more fumbles. Thank you, Movieland, for letting us all feel like one of the boys.

Let the games begin.

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