Although I loved Alan Parker’s Evita, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of big splashy operatic musicals. Hence, I had begun to relish the notion of being a counter-advocate of the view held in some quarters that Joel Schumacher’s The Phantom of the Opera (Warner Bros., 12.22) is a certain contender for — and perhaps even a likely winner of — the 2004 Best Picture Oscar. Not because it’s necessarily the “best” film, but because it satisfies the intensely middle-class emotional criteria that Academy members tend to look for and/or respond to in bestowing this award. Having now seen it, and without going into any kind of pro forma review, I must admit there is merit to this opinion. Is Phantom grandiose, orgiastic, at times a bit kischy? Yes…but this serves the emotional pitch of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical, essentially an old-fashoned backstage romantic triangle delivered in a late 1800s grand guignol vein. It’s not my ideal cup of tea — I tend to prefer angular, more writerly films like Sideways –but the material is the material, and I’m not sure that turning down the lavishness and the flamboyance would have been more effective. There’s a certain integrity in being a broadly performed, flamboyantly colored musical that delivers safe and venerated emotions. The Phantom of the Opera is what it is.