If tonight’s Academy Awards were honestly about celebrating the past year’s achievements in cinema the evening would have a decidedly more Gallic flavor, as Michael Haneke’s tender and terrifying Amour ran circles around the competition. (My nod goes to Beasts of the Southern Wild, if it must be l’affaire Americaine.) But we’re being honest, right? With rare exception, Oscar celebrates compromise, commerce, and the elevation of some poor soul as the next “it girl.” (How else do you explain the explosive rise of the merely competent Jennifer Lawrence?) Argo is an immensely satisfying film – craftier and better told than Steven Spielberg’s laboriously prosaic Lincoln – but is it really “the best”? For a film that celebrates American exceptionalism Saturday matinee-style, enjoyability is just not good enough. If Hollywood felt the need to anoint one of their own, surely Quentin Tarantino’s messy masterpiece, Django Unchained, would better fit the bill. Disguised as a buddy picture, it does more to make visceral the evils and effects of slavery than anything seen on screen since Alex Haley’s Roots. That it delivers as entertainment, with style and not sermons, only sweetens the achievement. Still, I can’t help being haunted by the painterly composition and chiaroscuro of Amour – as if Vermeer took the frailty of life as his subject and not milkmaids and girls with pearl earrings. Stars Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant give two of the most nakedly honest performances ever committed to celluloid. (That Trintignant was overlooked in favor of the likes of Bradley Cooper is a joke on the level of Compliance‘s masterly Ann Dowd getting passed over for Jacki Weaver smiling in the background of Silver Linings Playbook.) Oh, I will still be watching tonight, don’t get me wrong. Me and a billion-plus other people around the globe; for the sniping, the spectacle of who’s wearing what, and the endearing self-consciousness of Anne Hathaway’s unmitigated narcissism. I’m just not going to pretend that it’s about anything more than that.