There's something about awards ceremonies that makes people want to gripe. For the Academy Awards, the griping goes into overdrive, and for unfettered griping, nothing's better than the Web. You can find forums to vent, read critics' diatribes or vote in polls to push your own agenda.
But the top entertainment sites offer much more. A list of all nominees is standard fare, suitable for printing for office pools. Many sites have the latest news, insider handicapping and "Predict the Winners" contests. I decided the best way to rate these sites was to hand out awards of my own:
Best Pilfered Editorial Idea in a Comedic Role: E!Online's great "Oscar Index." It gives the skinny on actors' chances in Newsweek's "Conventional Wisdom" style, with a statuette pointed skyward for good deeds or downward for blunders. Look in the Oscar Watch section (start at http://www.eonline.com/Hot/Awards/Oscars98).
Best Use of Graphics in a Supporting Role: The official Oscar.com site (http://oscar.com), run by ABC and the academy. It's sleek, elegant and easy to navigate. Though the site is light on attitude and has no chat, it gets kudos for details on how the nomination process works.
Most Innovative Contest Rules and Best Prize: Mr. Showbiz's Oscar Contest (http://www.mrshowbiz.com/features/oscars). You predict the winners with a twist: You lose points if the recipient doesn't thank the academy. ("Uh, Jim Cameron? You mind thanking the academy so I'll win this contest. . . . ") The prize is a video of every past best picture winner that's in print.
Best Use of Technology in a Dramatic Role: Mr. Showbiz's remarkable Java crossword puzzle. It shows if you're on the right track with color-coded type.
Worst Use of Technology in an Overly Dramatic Role: Hollywood Online (http://www.hollywood.com; it's owned by Times Mirror, parent company of The Times), for making brief, grainy film clips the centerpiece of its Oscar coverage. The site has a nice red-carpet motif, but feels thin on inside info.
Worst Domain Name: Oscar.com instead of Oscars.com. How many people will type the plural name and hit an error message?
Best Place to Be Oscar Night: E!Online at Ted Casablanca's Oscar Party. The gossip columnist will be chattering during the show.
Hottest Online Chat Topic (So Far): Why Leo Didn't Get Nominated. Enough said.
Best Name for Spoof Awards: Hackademy Awards, handed out by the American Lung Assn. (http://www.lungusa.org/hollywood) for movies glorifying tobacco use.
Best Handicapping Site: Jeeem's CinePad (members.tripod.com/~jeeem/aa_picture.htm), with an in-depth array of charts.
Best Oscar Party Snack Ideas: Marilyn Estes' menu at ReedyB's Guide to Movie Awards (http://members.aol.com/reedyb/oscar/food.htm). She says to honor "Titanic" by serving iceberg lettuce salad and a pineapple upside-down cake. As one person told her, it doesn't matter what you cook, to honor the Titanic, as long as it's a complete disaster.
Mark Glaser is a freelance writer and critic. You can reach him at email@example.com.