In Contention‘s Kris Tapley has seen War Horse, and he’s sayingit most certainly can” win the Best Picture Oscar. He also hedges by saying “we’ll have to see if the season is kind to it” and that “critics will be mixed on it, I imagine” — you may be right about that, Kris! — “so it won’t get the boost of their awards circuit, but it won’t need it.

“And really, after last year’s Social Network orgy, can we stop overstating the importance of critics’ awards, at least for films that have an eye toward Best Picture? What matters is how the Academy will gauge the film, and I think this will be right up their alley.”

If you’ve seen War Horse and understand that it’s a sugary, caramel-covered, Hallmark greeting card family movie in the tradition of My Friend Flicka, Black Beauty and The Red Pony (although not as good as any of these three films), those last nine words constitute one of the basest insults to the Academy membership I’ve ever read. Tapley is too intelligent and perceptive a writer not to realize the import. He’s basically saying “the Academy guys are such emotionally susceptible idiots that they have no taste whatsoever and are unable to recognize shameless schmaltz when they see it, so they might well tumble for this one.”

The Academy doesn’t necessarily disagree with critics’ picks regarding Best Picture contenders. They agreed with critical huzzahs on The Hurt Locker, No Country For Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire. They disagreed last year and again in ’05/’06 when the geezer homophobes tipped the scales in favor of Crash over Brokeback Mountain, and they got it wrong horribly when they gave the Best Picture Oscar to Chicago. But it’s rash to suggest that critics and the Academy live on opposite sides of the fence. We’re all cows eating the same grass, for the most part.

Last year most of the industry ignored the obvious quality of The Social Network in order to give the Best Picture Oscar to The King’s Speech, a fine, respectable, well-made film that wasn’t anywhere near the level of David Fincher‘s film but which had a warmer heart. War Horse is not The King’s Speech. It’s simpleton cotton candy delivered with directorial swagger and high technical expertise. A columnist friend who saw it this morning has just confided that he/she isn’t even sure if it’s good enough to be nominated for Best Picture, and that much of it is laughable or groan-worthy. The columnist I saw it with yesterday said the same thing: “Is this even good enough to be on the Best Picture list?”

Tapley ends his piece by saying “at the end of the day, it could be a showdown between three feel-good period crafts showcases: The Artist, Hugo and War Horse.” Wow.