Oscar season is upon us, the time of year when Hollywood doles out statues depicting a gilded nude man holding a stick to entertainment professionals lucky enough to be involved in films that didn’t totally suck. 

Of course when the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced last June that they’d be widening the field of competition for Best Picture to ten nominees instead of the traditional five, it came as welcome news to makers of films that DO totally suck.   However while the nominating will be doubly less selective this year, there are still a great many non-sucktastic films in contention for Mr. Oscar which we’ll be talking about in the coming weeks.

But let us not beat around the bush.  At the head of the Best Picture pack is Avatar, James Cameron’s 3D masterpiece of kitchen-sink filmmaking.  Claimed to be the most expensive motion picture ever made, Cameron’s Avatar raises the bar for what should be expected of the cinematic experience.  It’s an orgy of sensory stimulation rivaled only by the time I accidentally ate an entire sheet of Blue Unicorn acid then wandered into Caesars Palace during a circus freak convention.  Only an invisible arm reaching between my legs and giving me a wank at the second ac break could’ve made Avatar more stimulating.

Was Avatar a GOOD film?  Heavens no.  The production design was not unlike dining at Rainforest Café while wearing a pair of blue-tinted sunglasses.  I’ve heard better sound effects in Sha Brothers chop socky films.  And it possesses one of the least original stories ever conceived: In crafting the Avatar screenplay Cameron took a shotgun approach to plagiarism, stealing pretty much every plot point from FernGully and Dances with Wolves while borrowing liberally from Poul Anderson’s 1957 sci-fi story “Call Me Joe.”  The dialog?  Like it was lifted directly from George Lucas’ script for the next Star Wars movie, Jar Jar Does Dagobah.  And Cameron’s computer-generated Native American surrogates, the Navi, look like what would happen if the casts of Cats and Blue Man Group had their molecules melded in the telepod from Cronenberg’s The Fly.  No, Avatar was not a good film.  But it was, in fact, a GREAT film.   

Because despite all its flaws, Avatar treats movie goers to something they have never experienced before.  Watching Avatar for the first time is kind of like realizing, to your horror, that you’re a furry.  Everything that seemed so wrong walking into the theater is now right, your shame and disgust transformed into an ecstatic peaceful joy the moment your deepest subconscious desires are finally sated.  And let’s be honest, this metaphor isn’t too far off, considering Cameron’s digital anthropomorphs look like something lifted from the fanime spank-bank of a full-on fursuit wearer.  I’m sure by now several metric tons of Thundercats bed sheets have been ruined thanks to sticky fanboy cream dreams of scantily-clad sex smurf Neytiri. Avatar may well be the century’s crowning achievement, not just of filmmaking, but of furry porn as well. 

And obviously the experience of giving in to one’s inner furfag is something that resonates with a great many people.  Avatar, after just 20 days, became the second highest grossing picture OF ALL TIME – second only to Cameron’s last film, the one about the boating accident.  Which puts James Cameron in a unique position: He can get away with anything now.  Strangles a hooker?  He gets off.  Shows up for a “date” to find Chris Hansen waiting with a camera crew?  Cameron is the predator who didn’t get caught.  Convinces a bunch of box-cutter-wielding Arabs to fly a 747 into the Sears Tower?  President Obama bakes him a cake.  He is now non-hyperbolically the king of the world -- providing your world is a 498-square-mile chunk of Southern California where the chief exports are smog, saline milk-squirters and box office blockbusters.  James Cameron’s next film could be a Bolivian snuff porn video and he’d get a wide theatrical release and prodigious Oscar buzz.  And the crazy part?  James Cameron’s next film is a Bolivian snuff porn video.  Look for Two Girls, One Severed Head on IMAX 3D in the fall of 2011.

For these reasons I believe Avatar will win the Best Picture shiny guy on March 7th.   And to further test this hypothesis, I have ranked Avatar using the four benchmarks that generally decide the winner of an Academy Award. 

RETARD STRENGTH (4/5):  True, Sam Worthington’s character Jake Sully is not a retard of the drool cup and poopy pants variety.  However he is a paraplegic, which makes him walk-tarded.  As far at the Academy Awards are concerned, the golden rule is this:  If you qualify for the Special Olympics, you’re retarded enough for an Oscar.   And yet, adhering to the “full retard” rule posited in Tropic Thunder, Worthington didn’t go all Stephen Hawking on us.  Jake Sully is a crip, true; but a strapping and handsome one whose disability is cast aside in favor of more interesting (and less depressing) plot devices once he’s plugged into his avatar.

With Avatar, Cameron tackles, pins down, then bloodies with a series of elbows the social issues that routinely make the average Prius-driving Whole Foods shopper’s brow furrow with concern:  Racism, environmentalism, the evils of capitalism and American-style militaristic imperialism.  Only a subplot about gay marriage or a ten-foot-tall aqua blue Al Gore could’ve made Avatar more politically correct.

EPICOSITY (5/5):  At 162 minutes, Avatar certainly boasts epic length (that’s what she said!  BAM!).  But while past Oscar winners have been content to be epic on a flat silver screen, James Cameron took epic literally to a new dimension:  the third dimension.  What has been in lesser hands a corny gimmick with which to market bad horror films Cameron uses to expand the scope and scale by which his film can epic.  I won’t be surprised if his next film pokes a hole in the space-time continuum.

UPLIFT (5/5):   With the glaring exception of the 2008 Academy Awards -- when both No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood took home multiple Oscars -- a feel-good, uplifting ending has traditionally been requisite for taking home a Best Picture trophy.  In this category Avatar delivers in spades:  Good conquers evil, the underdogs defeat a much more powerful foe, love conquers all, a cripple is able to walk again, everyone learns an important lesson about hygiene, and there’s a bombastic ballad with no less than fourteen key changes over the end credits.  Especially in these dire times, which I like to call “The Prelude to the Apocalypse,” people want to walk out of a movie feeling good, not overwhelmed by existential ennui.  Avatar serves to remind us that there is good in the universe, so long as you worship an ancient goddess who lives in a glow-in-the-dark tree.

TOTAL POWER RANKING: 4.75.  If only Jake Sully had suffered a head injury or stroke to boost the retard strength it would be a perfect lock, but with no other film in contention coming remotely close it’s still more than enough to send Avatar’s makers home with a Best Picture trophy.  I’m sure James Cameron is already working on his acceptance speech, which will plagiarize several past acceptance speeches, but will be unlike any acceptance speech we’ve ever heard before.  I look forward to experiencing it on March 7th.