Off the Carpet: The ultimate Rorschach season

I started writing this week’s column with the age-old tactic of trending in mind. And as I thought about a number of this year’s hopefuls, I thought maybe the season was very much about the power of memory over who we are.

In “Hugo,” a boy struggles to understand the key to remembering his father (as well as a classic filmmaker’s desire to forget who HE was).

In “The Muppets,” a fan of the forgotten characters fights for their posterity. In “Young Adult,” a delusional author lives in the memory of an old flame and the fantasy of rekindling it.

In “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” a young woman struggles to separate memory from the present following a poisonous run-in with a cult and in “The Tree of Life,” a man remembers his family life in strokes both vague and vivid, his parents boiled down to archetypal essence.

But that only got me so far. Soon I found myself stretching to fill the concept, reducing films like “The Descendants,” “The Artist” and “Midnight in Paris” to over simplification. What struck me in that moment was how truly wide-ranging the field of themes and narratives in the Best Picture category really is.

We have Spielberg and Scorsese working with their trusted crews to crank out epic stories with massive design elements. Both are sentimental in nature, in some quarters considered (dismissively) “children’s movies.” But each is playing in adult themes of war, loss, emotional repair and, well, cinema history.

Alexander Payne is working in his usual gray area between drama and comedy to find basic truths while Steve McQueen is digging even deeper for truth, deeper than many will likely want to go.

There are spy dramas, biopics, animated extravaganzas from commercial live action directors, uncompromising dark comedies, nihilistic character studies, saccharine history lessons and just about any and everything in between. It truly is a season with something for everyone. So it becomes about settling on what the season is for you.

The best films of the year are films outside the Oscar box. Of course, they typically are, but it’s true this year more than ever. While all eyes are on “The Descendants” or “The Artist” or “The Help,” I find myself more enlivened by Terrence Malick’s masterpiece “The Tree of Life,” the organic despair of Oren Moverman’s “Rampart,” Jeff Nichols’ penetrative study of paranoia in “Take Shelter” and Asghar Farhadi’s moving, universal portrait of moral and social complexities in “A Separation.”

I’m also cognizant of a certain current about art and artists flowing through films like “Midnight in Paris,” “Anonymous,” “Hugo” and even “Moneyball.” It’s the ultimate Rorschach season.

Anyway, short column this week. Recent screenings have been assessed in this space with more to come. Better to chew on everything for a bit, but I’ve run a comb through the Contenders section and updated the sidebar predictions.

Which brings me to an announcement. I’ve decided to relinquish the stranglehold I’ve had on the sidebar predictions and Contenders section for so long and bring Guy into that fold. As a result, the field of predictions will be a mixture of our takes on the race and the categories we handle separately will be indicated with a byline at each contender page. The next update will include that change.