I trust I’ve made myself clear over the past several years. I love writing this column 24/7 but “the season” — the six-month period between Telluride/Toronto/Venice and the Oscars — is where the real fun and thrills lie. And yet the idea of this same period consuming huge amounts of time and energy and incalculable brain-wave activity in order to predict which films and filmmakers that members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will choose to give Oscars…what is that? I need to put this carefully. Covering the Oscar race pays pretty well, and for that I’m grateful. And I respect the fact that it’s a very, very difficult thing for a film to find sufficient acclaim to even get into the award-season conversation, much less become a finalist. There is real value in this, and each year serious payoffs are at stake. I don’t belittle this effort or the Oscar economy for a second.

But I do belittle the taste of those Academy members (i.e., not all) who have proven year after year that they have very little belief in serious Movie Catholicism, and that they basically regard the Oscars as a kind of high-school popularity contest. Yes, it’s always been this way but I think it might be getting worse. The King’s Speech and especially The Artist winning Best Picture took something out of me, and then the likable, perfectly efficient Argo after that…c’mon! And now the idea of an indisputable masterpiece like 12 Years A Slave possibly losing the Best Picture Oscar to a technically astounding, eye-popping thrill ride like Gravity plus the idea of Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio having to do interview after interview to try and persuade the Hope Holiday contingent that The Wolf of Wall Street isn’t a celebration of vile behavior…I swear to God the doors of perception are narrowing.

Too many Academy members seem to favor films that provide an older person’s idea of emotional comfort (tearful sentiment, delivering some echo from their youth, resuscitating some facsimile of something well remembered) more than anything fresh or unusual or even semi-challenging. Not always but a lot of the time. This is partly if not largely due to the “deadwood” contingent — too many Academy members haven’t worked in the industry for too long, and their tastes are just too conservative and mildewed and doddering. Every year they bring everyone down.

Hope Holiday’s Facebook zinger says it all: “Are there really any good films any more? Maybe it’s just me.”

The Oscar telecast is a very big deal all around for a lot of vested interests (Hollywood Elsewhere among them), but the consensus choices that have been made over the last few years have been so questionable if not ridiculous (Christoph Waltz winning two Best Supporting Actor Oscars for playing the same kind of loquacious, perspicacious smart-ass in a pair of Quentin Tarantino movies released three years apart?) that it’s very hard to maintain any level of respect. The Oscar telecast is a grandiose, heavily-hyped, Fourth-of-July-fireworks way to bring the season to a close, but it’s just the finale. The season is the lifeblood, the all of it, the raison d’etre. For every year the season, thank God, washes away the depression that always settles in after four months of summer popcorn coated with amhydrous butterfat. The season is a time when those in the industry who would do what they do even if it didn’t pay all that well, when everyone who really cares is reminded why they got into this business in the first place. For without the season movies would be nothing but a torrent of CG comic-book/video game/superhero franchise garbage. The season is all. Spirits lift, energies pick up, the fall festivals begin, movies produced by Scott Rudin open commercially and so on.

That said and with two fingers firmly pinching my nostrils, here are my predictions for the 2013/14 Oscar nominations, which will be announced early Thursday morning. Except I can’t really “predict” in a dispassionate way. Every year I try to do that Tom O’Neil or Pete Hammond prediction thing but it’s not in me. So why am I posting predictions? I don’t know. Why not, right? Everyone else is. But I can only do the major categories. I really, really can’t pay attention to sound editing and Best Song and stuff like that. I’m still wondering why I’m posting this. Everyone else is predicting the same names and titles. There’s nothing in this, nothing underneath.

Best Picture: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street (i.e. no Banks!). Note: The likely failure to nominate Inside Llewyn Davis will constitute shameful negligence.

Best Director: Martin Scorsese, Wolf of Wall Street; David O. Russell, American Hustle; Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips, Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity; Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave.

Best Actor: Bruce Dern, Nebraska; Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street; Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave, Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips, Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club. (Sadly, no Redford!)

Best Actress: Amy Adams, American Hustle; Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine, Sandra Bullock, Gravity; Judi Dench, Philomena; Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks.

Best Supporting Actor: Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips; Daniel Brühl, Rush; Bradley Cooper, American Hustle; Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave; Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club. Possible Shameful Negligence: Jonah Hill.

Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle; Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave; Julia Roberts, August: Osage County; June Squibb, Nebraska; Oprah Winfrey, Lee Daniels’ The Butler.

I can’t do this…everybody knows this material backwards and forwards. Let’s just wait until Thursday morning. And if you can’t wait, check out Scott Feinberg’s predictions. He cares deeply about how the Academy might vote, or rather The Hollywood Reporter pays him to care deeply and he’s good at his job.