It’s Santa Barbara Film Festival and fragrant-weather time again. Early tomorrow I’m flying to Los Angeles. Tomorrow afternoon I’ll sit for three hours at LAX before catching a puddle-jumper to the so-inconsequential-it’s-almost-secretive Santa Barbara airport. Soon after I’ll be checked into the Hotel Santa Barbara and walking up State Street to the opening-night film — Derek Magyar‘s Flying Lessons. Under cloudy skies.

Held in the immediate wake of the Oscar nominations, the SBIFF is the premiere forum for Oscar Contemplation and Fortification, and a place for lively discussion panels and intriguing films (festival chief Roger Durling always programs at least five or six I’m glad to have seen) and excellent parties and ravishing women in their early to mid 40s.

I don’t know much about Flying Lessons except that it’s about a young female pilot (Maggie Grace) who, against the wishes of her corrupt banker dad as well as her own better judgment, decides to become a South America-to-Arizona drug smuggler in order to pay off a huge financial debt.

That’s not true actually — Flying Lessons is really one of those meditative, personal-growth, get-away-from-LA, learn-a-lesson-or-two dramas. It costars Christine Lahti, Jonathan Tucker, Cary Elwes, Joanna Cassidy and Hal Holbrook. And Grace, of course. I’m sure it’s a film of considerable merit or Durling wouldn’t have chosen it.

Legendary indie-realm publicist Linda Brown is repping Flying Lessons so you know it’ll be well-covered and well-flogged.

I’m heartened that SBIFF will be screening Oliver Stone’s South of the Border, which I saw and very much admired last September at Lincoln Center.

And I’ll finally get a chance to catch The Mormon Proposition, which I missed at Sundance. Plus the mysterious The Secret of Kells, which was nominated for a Best Feature Animated Oscar to everyone’s surprise. Plus I Am Love, the Visconti-ish Milan family drama with Tilda Swinton that I saw part of in Toronto and had to abandon due to a conflict. Plus Vincere, the young Mussolini drama that Susan Norget has occasionally screened for Manhattan journalists (but not frequently enough for me).

Due respect to Roger but I have a complaint regarding the treatment of poor Carey Mulligan , the gifted Best Actress nominee for An Education — my hands -down choice as the most deserving Oscar recipient in that category.

Mulligan’s Best Actress competitor Sandra Bullock will have her own tribute on Friday, 2.5 (receiving the Riviera Award), but Mulligan has been lumped together with Saoirse Ronan, Emily Blunt, Gabourey Sidibe and Michael Stuhlbarg for a 2.7 Sunday-evening tribute in which they’ll all receive the SBIFF Chopin Virtuoso Award. The Academy has officially stated that Mulligan occupies the exact same Oscar status as Bullock, and yet the festival chiefs offering Chopin ensemble status to Mulligan suggests that they see her as a highly respected also-ran rather than the knockout Audrey Hepburn queen that she actually is.

Other Oscar-calibre artists being honored include Crazy Heart Best Actor nominee Jeff Bridges, Avatar director James Cameron, (Modern Master Award), Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow (Director of the Year award), A Simple Man costar Julianne Moore (Montecito Award), Vera Farmiga (Cinema Vanguard Award) and Colin Firth (Outstanding Performance of the Year for A Single Man).