Let’s talk about the Academy Awards. Yes, the awards show that I still believe is a useful public service announcement about classic films for mass consumption. The Academy has awarded “The Godfather,” “Life is Beautiful,” “The Apartment,” “All Quiet on the Western Front” and a bevy of other historic films that most people would never see had the Oscar not stepped in. Nah, popcorn art like “Fight Club” will never win Oscars, but did it stay with you the way “The Departed” has?

2009’s nominations came out last month, and despite the snubs and seriousness, I’m still looking forward to seeing how every year’s awards are a little bit worse than the last. I love the Oscars.

Somebody recently asked me, “Why care about something that recognized ‘The Reader’?” Fair enough. Yes, we’re also going to have to look at Brad Pitt’s pensive face for five hours. And yes, “Wall-E” didn’t get a best picture nod (I kinda hated it anyway). And even with the “Dark Knight” being looked down upon, Harvey Weinstein playing linebacker and “Let the Right One In” not getting tapped for best foreign film, I’m still stoked. Why? I love to complain, and I love the Academy.

Obscene celebrities, fashion, gossip, speeches and, above all, the awards themselves make it worthwhile. As screenwriting nominee Simon Beaufoy (“Slumdog Millionaire”) said, everyone secretly wants to win an Oscar. It’s worth a damn. It’s just that the broadcast has been getting lousier each year for a number of reasons. Length, self-gratifying stars, bad writing and award-hog films like “The Return of the King” all add to the problem.

That’s why the Academy is in dire need of a tune-up. If it doesn’t want to get edged out by the Independent Spirit Awards, People’s Choice or some other kiddy-sized gala, things have to change. Now. There’s nothing we can do about this year’s nominations; we’ll just have to respect that “Milk” and “The Dark Knight” pulled out eight each, which is pretty awesome. But I have demands.

First: a good host. In the last decade, we’ve seen everyone from Whoopi Goldberg to Conan O’Brien to Jon Stewart host the Awards, and the same thing was said of each MC: “Good, but not great.”

No real standout could be found among recent hosts. Billy Crystal? He’s too corny to be a great host. That’s why we need another Johnny Carson — a man or woman who could host the show enough times to be well recognized for it. With Hugh Jackman (“X-Men”) hosting, this could be the Oscar’s chance. With Jackman’s stage skills, leading presence and goofball Aussie humor, he might be the surprise the event is looking for.

If not, let’s re-animate Carson next year.

Next, more booze. Love ’em or hate ’em, the 66th Annual Golden Globes this year were prime blog real estate. Why? Everyone was loaded. And we all heard about it. Now, that’s not meant to condone hard swigging to produce stream-of-consciousness speeches (see: Colin Farrell). But it did make the proceedings a hell of a lot more interesting.

Between David Duchovny being morbid, Tracy Jordan getting ripped and Darren Aranofksy flipping the bird, it was a really great yet weird Globes this year. So bring all that Cristal to the Kodak Theater. Imagine Jack Nicholson making out with anyone or Mickey Rourke thanking his dogs for five minutes. Or better yet, think of what might happen to the angry director who doesn’t win! Gossip gold, I tell ya!

After everyone’s sufficiently sloshed, shorten the broadcast. I’m pretty sure last year’s broadcast was 17 hours. At that rate, they’ll be on PBS offering umbrellas next year.

And please, get some better writers. One more crappy bit of innuendo about not being nominated, how everyone’s “doing tonight” or how the presenters’ new movies are coming out, and we’ll have to tar and feather Bruce Vilanch’s typewriter just to get the point across. Hire the cast of “SNL.” Bring back Buck Henry. Or just get previous screenplay writers to actually bring the goods.

The biggest problem with this year’s awards is “The Dark Knight.” The whole elitist notion of Oscar-bait films needs to go. Who actually liked “Benjamin Button” or the “The Reader?” Their well-financed marketing departments sure did. The brilliant “Dark Knight” wasn’t so lucky.

Granted, indie crowd-pleasers like “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Milk” deserve their nominations, even if few people have seen them. But put one popular piece like “Dark Knight” up each year, and let people think it has a chance of winning. Same with films like “Superbad” or “Gran Torino.” This can help the Oscar find an audience again. It sure as hell worked for “Titanic.”

Granted, these are just a couple of ideas. Anyway, I look forward to Feb. 22. Maybe “Slumdog” will sweep. Maybe Mickey Rourke will fix his burnt bridges. Maybe the Oscars will suck like every year, but at least they could be interesting.

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