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The drudgery of Oscar Night beckons, “Lost” wanders astray, and FX’s “The Riches” resuscitates Minnie Driver with — bonus! — a fake Southern accent.

By Heather Havrilesky

There’s a guy down the street from me who put a 7-foot-tall inflatable Santa Claus in his front yard the week before Halloween and left it there until a few days ago. His gigantic St. Nick wasn’t even blown up all of the time, either. During the day, Santa would lay in a pathetic, deflated heap on the front lawn, as if he were so exhausted by four long months of smiling and waving that he had to spend his leisure hours crumpled up in a miserable red-and-white pile on the grass.

Every time I read about Oscar season — which, like Christmas, seems to start earlier and earlier each year — I think of that poor, depressed Santa down the street. There’s so much speculation and pointless blathering dedicated to the Oscars each year and it starts so early and it’s so relentless and so exceptionally tedious, that it’s hard not to feel exhausted by it all well before the big night rolls around.

I guess it goes without saying that the Academy makes some shockingly bad choices every year, the worst of which always seems to be the award for best picture. It’s part of the Oscar-watching tradition, really, that after a long night of inhaling cheese and beer and listening to endless self-involved speeches, you discover that the Academy has about as discriminating taste as the guy who lives down the street from me with the heap o’ Santa decorating his front lawn in mid-February. Last year’s enduring insult was best picture winner “Crash,” a disastrously on-the-nose melodrama that somehow got pegged as Important. This year, Clint Eastwood wins the Important label for daring to suggest that Japanese soldiers are people, too — albeit in roughly the same style and tone we’ve seen a million times before. (For a far more original, vibrant look at the Pacific theater during World War II, rent Terrence Malick’s “The Thin Red Line.”) And then there’s “The Queen.” Let’s see, Diana died, and Queen Elizabeth didn’t care, because she hated Diana, plus she was far too busy tromping around her massive estate in big rubber boots. How is this a best picture nominee? And how in the world did a film as vivid and unforgettable and poetic as “Children of Men” get passed up?

Ah, but these are the bad thoughts that will only ruin your Oscar-watching experience. We must stay focused, chickens, and remember that this night is merely an elaborate excuse to point and jeer at wealthy humans in shiny dresses while eating an entire bag of potato chips in one sitting. Ultimately, the Oscars are a wide-scale group experiment, where we all pretend that the opinions of people who’ve proven themselves incompetent in the past somehow matter once again — you know, sort of like our presidential elections. In this way, the Academy Awards represent a distinctly American tradition, in which we suspend our disbelief and ignore the past and buy into the hype in order to endure three long hours of egoistic bloviating. Just keep smiling and waving at the inflatable Santas, and you’ll feel fine.

Speaking of a marathon exercise in disappointment, why is it that “Lost” (9 p.m. Wednesdays on ABC) either feels like a revelation or a massive waste of time depending on a) your mood and b) the episode in question? I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite as wishy-washy toward a show as I have toward “Lost.” One week I can’t wait to see what happens next; the next week all of the empty suspense feels like a maze that leads to a bunch of dead ends.

The third season in general has been a disappointment, so far, compared to the second. For weeks on end, all we got was Kate and Sawyer, lollygagging about in their respective cages. What was the point? Somehow their interest in each other bores me, too — they’re too similar. There’s not enough tension there. Meanwhile, Jack (Matthew Fox) has been so annoying this season, and yet so utterly pitiable. Let’s see: He stalked his ex-wife, he was paranoid enough to think she was seeing his father, he was a baby about Kate (Evangeline Lily) and Sawyer (Josh Holloway) hooking up, he’s done nothing but pout and whine lately, and then suddenly he manipulates the Others into letting Kate and Sawyer escape? It doesn’t quite add up. Plus, do we really buy the notion that he would make Kate promise that she wouldn’t come back for him? I know that’s the kind of valiant generosity that you see in movies and TV shows all the time, but one of the great things about “Lost” is that it doesn’t fall prey to such unrealistically selfless turns. Just look at Michael’s brutal maneuvers to get his son back. I understand that Michael (Harold Perrineau) and Jack are completely different, but so far, while Jack may be the titular leader of the survivors, prone to small bouts of heroism, flashbacks indicate that he’s a self-serving control freak.

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