If you consume enough breathless analysis of the Academy Awards race, you may find yourself getting drawn into a slightly surreal, life-is-entertainment zone - one in which the verdict on Oscar night seems to matter every bit as much as, say, the outcome of the US presidential campaign.
The real question should be: does it matter at all? The Vegas horse-race aspect of the Oscars is, of course, irresistible, but apart from that, what meaning, if any, does the contest really have? Does it tell us anything about the movies nominated, or about film culture in general?
In certain years, it tells us a great deal - and this is one of those years. Like most industry honours, the Oscars are to some degree a politically motivated popularity contest, but that doesn't mean they don't reflect real passion - on the part of the Academy voters, and also on the part of the movie-going public, whose tastes are inevitably channeled into the choices that get made.
This year, the two ballyhooed front-runners for best picture, The Revenant and Spotlight, are notably weaker films than in previous years. Yet the way the contest has shaped up between them speaks volumes about what contemporary movies have been and where they're going.
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