Screen Trade: A modest proposal for Oscar

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the best movie of this year so far — the documentary “Spellbound” — was up for an Oscar last year.

I mention this at the outset because I don’t have a whole lot of stuff to put in second place. “Capturing the Friedmans,” another brilliant documentary, is so sad it’s hard to recommend to anyone not already verging on depression.

My favorite flick so far — and I am contracted to Castle Rock Entertainment, so trust nothing I say — is “A Mighty Wind,” and I would love to see Eugene Levy get all the acting honors he can lift.

But it’s July, and that’s about it. So what follows is a very modest proposal that might improve things, at least a little.

Understand this — I go to the movies. I do not go to premieres; I do not go to screenings; I do not have friends who invite me over to their homes for dinner followed by “cinema.” I hit the flicks, buy my popcorn, and sit there — and I think most of us would agree that sitting here so far this year has not been joyous.

A decade and more back, I was a judge at the Cannes Film Festival. We saw about two dozen movies in a dozen days. Ettore Scola, the Italian writer-director, was our leader, and he felt that was too many movies to consider at once, so we would meet, he said, every three days to discuss the six we had just seen.

What we did not know, and I have zero idea if it’s still true, is that Cannes tried to build the festival back then so the early contenders were none considered likely prizewinners.

We met after the first six and bitched awhile — this was Cannes, where were the masterpieces? None of us liked any of the movies.

Which was when Scola took command — “Enough. I declare the festival over. We must pick all the winners from what we have seen.”

After our shock, it got interesting. Because we were forced to look at these movies in a different way, one we would never have done ordinarily, because now somebody had to win. And we realized the guy who played the alchemist doctor in the French movie about the religious upheavals in 16th century Flanders was pretty decent after all.

These days, we know the studios are holding the good stuff till November or later. That is their business. Mine is finding water in the January-June desert.

My proposal is this: Every Oscar category from now on must include one movie released in the first half of the year.

There are a lot of nifty flicks — often lower in budget — that come out during the year-end deluge in the hopes of having the Academy smile. The truth is this: Most of them do not get honored and most of them tank.

Example: “Narc.” A nice tough cop flick and Ray Liotta was terrific. Example: “Antwone Fisher.” Denzel’s first directing gig and Derek Luke was terrific. Example: “Secretary.” Sick, sure, but never dull and Maggie Gyllenhaal was terrific.

Well, what if these and probably a dozen others had not been held but had been shoved out by the studios, say, in February or April or June?

And what if one of them had to get a nomination?

I know the following to be true: They would have been met with great joy by the media, who are desperate by now for anything that doesn’t explode. They would therefore have gotten all kinds of additional hype. And I believe they would have done more business.

Finally and most important of all: This would bring me personal happiness.