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Screen Trade: Oscar voters shake off ballot blahs

I wasn’t in the Blossom Room back in ’29 when they started handing out these things, but once television came along, I don’t think there’s been a year I wasn’t watching.

And for all kinds of reasons, this was the best Oscar show I’ve ever seen.

Reason No. 1, of course, involved the circumstances. We all know about them, are heartsick about them. I don’t know how Steve Martin brought us through the rapids, but hats off to him.

The second reason involved the caliber of the movie year itself. For me, the best in a very long time, maybe decades. Not so much in the number of masterpieces but in the blizzard of quality stuff that was waiting for us on screens all year long. I cannot remember 12 months with more terrific pics.

The final reason involved the voting.

We all know the Oscars have changed, will never be what they were. Whether that’s good or not, I have no idea. When I was up for “Butch Cassidy,” Johnny Friedkin, who was a top executive in advertising and publicity at Fox, brought George Roy Hill and me to his office, opened a bottle of champagne and said, “Fellas, we just drank the Oscar budget.” In those quaint days, and we are going back a third of a century, what studios did mostly was hold screenings.

Beside the money being spent nowadays, another huge change involved the sending of cassettes. I don’t know when that started, a decade or so back maybe, but I remember being told one of the reasons behind sending them was this: The great age of voting members in the Academy.

Academy members, the thinking was, did not dodder from their homes as much as they might, did not see a lot of stuff that was out there.

The cassettes changed all that overnight. And I think for the better.

One thing that never changed though — until this year — was the kind of stuff the Academy honored.

Medicinal movies. (Ugh.)

That is, movies dealing with (ugh) “weighty” subjects. Movies that were (loudest “ugh” of all, please) good for you.

An example I really detested? Funny you should ask, but in a year in which “Broadcast News,” “Fatal Attraction,” “Hope and Glory” and “Moonstruck” were up for best picture, guess who won. That’s right, the movie we all hold so dear and love so much and still think and talk about all the time: “The Last Emperor.”

In a year when “Broadcast News,” “Fatal Attraction,” “Full Metal Jacket” and “My Life as a Dog” were up for original screenplay, guess who got the gold. Yup. That same pretentious bore. Up for nine, won all nine.

It was the most medicinal, though, so it triumphed. And the reason the old farts voted that way was because once a year they wanted to think they weren’t Hollywood hookers but advocates of Art.

Something very strange was in the drinking water this year. Example: best song. I knew U2 was going to win for their song from “Gangs of New York.” Why was I so smart? Well, because they are U2, and because the Academy has taken to honoring that kind of performer of late, but most of all because the song was called “The Hands That Built America.” A medicinal title under any conditions, but this year, unstoppable.

I also gave Kander and Ebb an outside shot for “I Move On” because their sensational score was one of the reasons that “Chicago” had exploded.

But Marshall Mathers?

Inconceivable, as Vizzini would say.

But has there ever been a show with so many stunners? Not for me. A Spanish-language pic winning best original screenplay? Adrien Brody topped that with his amazing double — the biggest acting upset in history when you consider the caliber of who he was up against, followed by the best acceptance speech I’ve ever heard given by an actor.

And then Roman Polanski? There are no words.

Amazing voting. Clearly, there wasn’t a lot of affection for “Gangs of New York,” seeing that it whiffed 10 times out of 10.

But “The Hours” only went one for nine.

And yes, “The Pianist” came through wonderfully, but I would argue that as much as the members liked it, if they had loved it, it also would have won best picture. I mean, how many pics win screenplay, acting and directing but don’t make the final climb? Precious few.

And yes again, “Chicago” was clearly the big winner, with six awards. But remember, please, it was up for 13 — it lost as much as it won.

So a crazy time was had by all. Since they will never let us know the vote — for no reason, may I add — we will never know how close the totals were. But it seems to me that for one wondrous night, all the old folks threw away their walkers and abandoned the pompousness of so many previous voting years.

I think the Academy got young on Oscar night. Hats off to them all.