The little idea of an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was born in January 1927, over dinner, at MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer’s Santa Monica beach house.  The Oscar statuette is now probably the most recognized trophy in the world.  The name Oscar is derived from the original Academy librarian who, upon seeing the trophy for the first time, remarked that it looked like her lovable uncle Oscar.  The name took root and became official in 1939.  And who doesn’t love Oscar?  Actually, a lot of people do not love Oscar.  Just ask the parade of nominees through the years who have received multiple nominations and no Oscar win.

Let’s face the fact that no one can agree on what makes a good movie.  If you think that a broad consensus is necessary for a film to receive an Oscar nomination, think again.  The nominating process has a complexity that rivals the judging at the Olympic ice skating competition.  The Academy affirmed its experiment to expand the Best Picture category.  Nine films have been nominated.  This makes for an interesting stew and the potential for a dark horse winner, especially in a very competitive year.  In addition to the intimate, small-scale films that have dominated the Best Picture race in recent years, there is a well-rounded representation including an extensive digital effects film, a biographical sports drama and a silent movie.  A more subtle comparison is how the top nominated films were initially regarded by professional critics upon their theatrical release.  By this informal measure, “The Artist” leads the pack, followed closely by “Hugo”, “Midnight in Paris” and “The Descendants”.

Here is a closer look at who will bring home the top prize and what criteria help determine the winner.  Praise from critics is important.  If a film is well received in New York and Los Angeles and wins some critic’s awards, then the film will be a factor.  Box office impact is a definable measuring tool.  Rarely does a disappointment at the box office win the top prize.  Strong acting performances are essential.  Superior acting is a film’s most identifiable mark of quality.  Tackling an important theme instills relevance.  This reinforces the popular opinion that Academy voters are drawn to films with social significance.  Cachet of a heavyweight director attracts votes.

The Oscar winner is not always the pinnacle of filmmaking achievement.  The truth is, more often than not, that Academy members, voting as individuals but thinking as a group, award films that will bring honor to the Academy.

So, now you have all the information necessary to correctly pick this year’s winner.  Good luck.