Obviously, a lot of noise surrounded The Dark Knight Rises, starting with the hype and anticipation. Then came the extreme reactions to some early negative reviews. And then the midnight-screening mass shooting in Colorado appropriately redirected attention to important matters.

The deaths of 12 people and the injuries to dozens more in that Colorado movie theatre on July 20 highlighted that neither a movie nor Batman is anywhere near as important as human lives.

Yet the arts are still integral to our existence, and whatever you think of Christopher Nolan's trilogy as films, these movies will stand as key markers in the lives of many millions of people and in the movie business, and they will be viewed as reflections of their cultural and political time. Like the original trio of Star Wars movies, we can already see them as significant pop-art artifacts.

For those reasons alone, Nolan's Batman movies deserve close scrutiny. They also reward inspection and consideration, as the writer/director has conceived and executed them with a rigor and density unusual to blockbusters. (Expect spoilers, although I've tried to be circumspect about late developments in The Dark Knight Rises until the final section.)

Best Actress Meryl StreepThe first trophy handed out at the 2012 Academy Awards ceremony was for Best Cinematography, a prize that I predicted would go to The Tree of Life but that instead went to Hugo. (Seriously, after his undeserved losses for 2006's Children of Men and now the Terrence Malick film, exactly whom does Emmanuel Lubezki have to do to win an Oscar?) But that was actually my second incorrect assumption of the evening, because as soon as host Billy Crystal stepped on stage, I said to the others at my viewing party, "Here comes the standing ovation," and the audience - despite giving the man a warm reception - remained seated. Did the crowd have a collective premonition of just how spectacularly Crystal would bomb last night?

Uggie and Jean Dujardin in The Artist

[Author's note: Well, considering that these original Oscar predictions are in print, I guess I'm stuck with them, right? Au contraire! Over the 13 days since this article was originally published online, Hollywood's arts & crafts guilds announced their winners, the British Academy of Film & Television Awards (BAFTA) were handed out, and numerous prognosticators far more in-the-loop than I am have weighed in. And so I'm finally prepared to offer my absolute, final, turn-in-your-Oscar-pool-guesses-now choices, having changed my original guesses on a full seven of the 24 categories. My final picks, along with some commentary, follow the originally published predictions. And don't forget to follow my reactions to the ceremony at Twitter.com/MikeSchulzNow. Let's see how awful my spelling gets as the night rolls on and I get more and more dru- ... ! Um-m-m ... . More and more excited, I mean!]

After tying my personal best two years ago, when I guessed correctly in 18 of the 24 individual Academy Award races, I experienced a rather sizable setback in 2011, amassing only 13 right. How am I feeling about my predictions this year?

Well ... I've certainly felt worse.

HugoWell, I have to hand it to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences: For all of the widespread grousing about its changing the rules regarding the Oscars' Best Picture race for the second time in three years, they did manage to make this morning's announcement of the 2012 Best Picture contenders exciting. And surprising. Very surprising.

Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo in The ArtistAnother year; another set of Mike's sure-to-be-off-the-mark-with-at-least-a-couple-choices-in-just-about-every-category Oscar predictions!

If you will, please permit me a quick public apology before I expound on my 10 favorite movies of this past year:

Sorry, Muppets. If I hadn't caught that out-of-town flick a week ago, you totally would've made the list. (Instead, you top the list of the 150 other 2011 movies I saw.)

The MuppetsEvery January, I share my numerical rankings of the 10 most enjoyable movies I saw during the previous year. I do not, however, share my numerical rankings of all the other titles I caught during those 12 months, as such a list would, I think, be hopelessly arbitrary, terribly self-indulgent, and something that only a person with too much time on his hands would attempt.

Let's get cracking, shall we?

Before getting into what went wrong at last night's Academy Awards ceremony - and sadly, quite a bit went wrong - let's begin by addressing the one portion of the telecast that, for maybe the first time in Oscar history, went magically right.

Tammy and Kelly Rundle in North English, Iowa's Gritter Creek School"The biggest problem we have, I think, is always getting people in the door," says local filmmaker Kelly Rundle. "Because we find that most people - not everyone, of course - ... do enjoy our films. With this one, though ... . There's just something about one-room schools that doesn't sound very sexy, you know what I mean?"

He may have a point. The latest collaboration between director Kelly Rundle and his wife, co-writer and co-producer Tammy Rundle, is Country School: One Room - One Nation, the third documentary released by the couple's Moline-based production company Fourth Wall Films. And as the movie is an examination of, and tribute to, the one-room schools that flourished throughout the rural United States in the first half of the 20th Century, "sexy" isn't exactly the adjective that springs to mind.

Other descriptions, however - including "fascinating," "insightful," and "really, really entertaining" - are more than appropriate. Like the pair's 2004 true-crime doc Villisca: Living with a Mystery and 2007's Lost Nation: The Ioway, Country School takes an in-depth look at a mostly unknown, or largely forgotten, chapter of American - specifically Midwestern - history. Also like those films, the Rundles' most recent endeavor delivers a history lesson that is anything but a dry lecture.

Natalie Portman in Black SwanMovies are made of moments, and after some consideration, I can't think of a single Best Picture lineup that has provided more memorable moments than the one competing at this year's Academy Awards ceremony, airing on ABC affiliate WQAD on February 27.

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