The three-way Best Picture race will shift this way and that over the next two months, but it’ll be the same thing in late February and early March that it is right now — a choice between the visionary and game-changing Avatar vs. the social resonance of Up In The Air vs. the visceral charge and universal critical acclaim of The Hurt Locker. My heart is with all three, but the most personally enjoyable scenario, I feel, would be if Kathryn Bigelow‘s film took the prize.

A Hurt Locker win would amount to the biggest eff-you to the Oscar awards box-office component ever expressed by the Academy, and I would find that not only delightful but stirring. Because the message would effectively be, “Most of the public didn’t see this film, but at the end of the day we, the Academy, aren’t finally moved by box-office acclaim — we vote for what we care about and believe in, aesthetically and historically. And if the ticket-buyers couldn’t move themselves to see The Hurt Locker during its brief theatrical life, or if it didn’t play in their area last summer, then they know how to find the DVD. And if they don’t like our decision, too bad.”

A Hurt Locker win would also constitute a major expression of belief and support for the independent film community at a time when that community is on the financial ropes.

It would also be a little reminder to the Rob Friedman-styled bottom-liners that a significant component in the distribution business is sometimes about faith and spirit…if you have the right kind of film. Don’t hedge and go “gee, I don’t know” when the cutting-edge critics are cheering your movie. Stand up and stick your neck out the way the Harvey Weinstein-led Miramax Films did in the ’90s.