Posted twelve years ago, feels like five or six: It’s built into our genes to show obeisance before power. It’s obviously a prevailing tendency in Hollywood circles, but hardly an exclusive one. Every culture, every species does the bow-down.

“I was speaking the other night to this know-it-all guy who goes to a lot of Academy screenings and parties, and we were talking about possible Best Actor nominees. We’d both just seen Ray and knew for sure Jamie Foxx was a shoo-in, but who else?

Paul Giamatti,” I said. “Who?” he asked. “The lead in Sideways,” I reminded. “He’s amazing, heartbreaking…and the film is masterful.”

“Yeah, he was good,” he replied. Uh-huh…not impressed. He’d seen Sideways and liked it, he said, but he had a certain criticism of something Giamatti did in the film that I’m not going to repeat. It was about something obscure that nobody anywhere has mentioned.

What he really meant, I suspect, was that he didn’t empathize with Giamatti and/or his shclumpy Miles character because he’s balding and chubby and a bit of a loser, and the guy wasn’t feeling the tribal urge to celebrate the splendor of Giamatti’s craft. Because for him, superb performances in and of themselves lack a certain primal current.

Then he started in about Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator. He’d seen the upcoming Martin Scorsese film (opening 12.17) and didn’t want to tell me much, but he liked Dicaprio’s portrayal of Howard Hughes…mostly. But he had a couple of beefs. One was that Leo doesn’t look much like Hughes, and the other is that he looks too young.

“He’s 29 now,” I reminded.

“He looks like a kid.”

“But does he get Hughes?” I asked. “You know, does he channel him?”

He kept beating around the bush, but the basic answer seemed to be that he found DiCaprio worthy but not overwhelming.

“That’s what people said about him in Gangs of New York,” I replied. “Some said he was miscast, but I thought he was absolutely believable as an immigrant. He really had that scared-rat look in his eyes.”

The conversation went on a bit and then he suddenly said that based on his awareness of Academy types and their inclinations, DiCaprio would probably end up with a Best Actor nomination.

“But you just said he was pretty good but not great in the role, and looks like a kid and doesn’t really resemble Hughes,” I said.

Yeah, he said, but a Best Actor nom is still a likelihood, or so his instincts were telling him.

In other words, however good, pretty good or wonderful the Aviator might turn out to be, it’s a big expensive movie coming at the end of the year, and corporate-funded films that have spent well north of $100 million in their desire to win the admiration of the community are given the benefit of the doubt, sight unseen.

Big subject, big canvas, fascinating lead character grounded in old-Hollywood lore. Just what the Academy ordered. And so DiCaprio gets the come-hither and Giamatti has to struggle and prove himself and wait out on the sidewalk.

I realize, of course, that DiCaprio may be phenomenal in The Aviator. He’s a truly gifted actor. And I don’t trust that guy I spoke to at all — he’s not the most insightful, ahead-of-the-curve person I know.

But something smells in the town of Carmel when a performance as skilled and deeply expressive as Paul Giamatti’s in Sideways is reluctantly regarded as a “maybe.”