My father taught me to despise awards shows. "If I want to watch the movie, I'll watch the movie," he'd say. "Why would I want to watch these people congratulate one another?"
And he isn't some lunkhead. He's actually something of an actor himself, with a long list of credits at the local community theater. I respected his opinion, and later molded it to fit my own punk-kid resentment. In college, my best friend was always saying things like, "Can you believe Art Carney won a freaking' Oscar for 'Harry and Tonto'?" My response was always the same: "Who cares? The Oscars are bullshit. They never reward any of the good films."
Only years later did I fall under the Oscars' spell. I still found them silly, but I set aside both my childish loyalty to dad and my adolescent outrage that films like "Do the Right Thing" and "My Own Private Idaho" were routinely ignored, and I learned to appreciate the Oscars for what they are: a celebration of cinematic quality, and a healthy counterbalance to Hollywood's box-office obsession.
Sure, that idea of quality can be quirky, even eccentric. Because the Academy members are who they are -- old, white, male, obsessed with the Holocaust -- there are lots of great movies that aren't Oscar movies, and lots of Oscar movies that aren't great movies. (What do "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," "The Blind Side" and "The Reader" have in common? They're all Best Picture nominees from the past five years that aren't in your Netflix queue.)
But let's face it. If it weren't for awards, our multiplexes would be packed with brainless shoot-em-ups, discount horror flicks, gross-out comedies and paint-by-numbers rom-coms. It's the promise of career-defining hardware that spurs executives to give Steven Spielberg $65 million to resurrect the ghost of Abraham Lincoln, and Kathryn Bigelow $40 million to make an art movie about how we got Bin Laden.
By now, I've become a little bit obsessed with the Oscars. It probably started when I began covering Vanity Fair's legendary Oscar party for the magazine's website. Dancing alongside the kids from "Slumdog Millionaire" at 2 am, trying to make small talk with Mickey Rourke when he suddenly chucked his empty drink into the shrubbery -- these things stick with you, and help you remember that Hollywood is just a town, full of kooky, needy people just like any other. (OK, maybe a bit kookier than most, and a lot needier.)
This is all a long way of saying that this issue isn't your average cash-in-on-Oscar-fever special edition. It's a labor of love, and it reflects the HuffPost team's peculiar take on the Academy Awards: seductive yet infuriating, glamorous yet grubby, essential yet ultimately meaningless.
Our cover story, by Mallika Rao, tackles the eternal question "How do we fix the Oscars?" (My favorite suggestion comes from my old V.F. colleague Henry Alford, who would transform the Best Original Song category through an inventive use of ring tones.) Elsewhere, Mike Ryan interviews Quvenzhané Wallis, the youngest Best Actress nominee ever, and asks if it even makes sense for a girl her age to be doing the press rounds. In our Voices section, Alex Gibney makes the case against "Zero Dark Thirty," and Tom O'Neil and David Rothschild offer dueling approaches to predicting the winner.
In these and other features, we've tried to keep one eye on the real world and another on the great Oscar fantasy that even my dad can't fully resist. Over the summer, I took him to see "Beasts of the Southern Wild," and he loved it. A few weeks later, he asked me how the film was doing. "Well," I told him, "it'll need some Oscar nominations to reach a bigger audience."
The next time we spoke, he said, "So what do you think of 'Beasts of the Southern Wild''s Oscar chances?"
I was so stunned, I barely knew how to respond, but I sure as hell didn't say, "Who cares?"
This story appears in the special Oscar issue of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store, available Friday, Feb. 8.