There’s something simple and satisfying about end-of-season awards in professional sports, such as most valuable player and rookie of the year: There are reams of statistics to evaluate performances, and all of the candidates are more or less on an even playing field.

Movies are trickier − far more subjective, with views on the same performances and direction veering wildly from one critic to the next. For that reason, in the months leading up to the Oscars, there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes politicking, as studios and producers make the case for why their writers, directors, cinematographers, costume designers and actors should win the top prize in cinema.

When Holy Cross theater professor Scott Malia pitched me an article about how Method acting has become widely misunderstood, it served as a reminder that sometimes it isn’t the best performance that wins an Oscar – it’s the best story about a performance. Malia writes about Bradley Cooper’s and Cillian Murphy’s whirlwind media tours to promote their quests to embody their characters, Leonard Bernstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer, respectively.

Will their efforts ultimately influence voters? Or, as The New Yorker wondered of Cooper, “Can you really want an Oscar too much?”

Of course, the Academy Awards are about a lot more than who wins what. They’re a celebration of artists who have mastered their craft, an occasion to look back at iconic moments in film history, a fashion show − and, yes, a chance to witness a viral slap.

So grab your popcorn and dive into our coverage of Hollywood’s biggest night of the year, from non-English language cinema’s long road to acceptance at the academy to a retrospective of John Williams’ career as arguably the greatest film composer of all time.

Nick Lehr

Arts + Culture Editor

Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein and Carey Mulligan as Bernstein’s wife, Felicia Montealegre, in ‘Maestro.’ Jason McDonald/Netflix

Bradley Cooper, Cillian Murphy and the myths of Method acting

Scott Malia, College of the Holy Cross

Hopefully, Academy Award winners will be chosen because voters believed in the actors’ performances − not because of some meta narrative about their off-screen behavior.

Seeing the light − at the movies. igoriss/iStock via Getty Images

Reeling religion: From anime and sci-fi to rom-coms, films are full of faith in unexpected places

David W. Stowe, Michigan State University

Plenty of movies have explicitly religious themes, but some of the most interesting examples of faith or transcendence on screen are much more subtle.

The dress actress Lupita Nyong'o wore to the 86th Academy Awards in 2014 became a story in and of itself. Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage via Getty Images

How the Academy Awards became ‘the biggest international fashion show free-for-all’

Elizabeth Castaldo Lundén, University of Southern California

Through their media savvy, two consultants were able to make the Oscars as much about the attire as the gold statuettes.

Scorsese’s gods of the streets: From ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ to ‘Silence,’ faith is rarely far off in his films

Anthony Smith, University of Dayton

Though only a few of Scorsese’s films focus on religious stories, deeper questions about faith, doubt and living in a violent world tend to haunt his movies.

How non-English language cinema is reshaping the Oscars landscape

Kerry Hegarty, Miami University

Non-English language cinema – previously seen by niche audiences – is increasingly finding acceptance and recognition, reflecting the many demographic changes taking place within the academy.

‘Oppenheimer’ is a disappointment − and a lost opportunity

Naoko Wake, Michigan State University

For all its praise, the film furthers the dominant narrative of the bombs as a morally fraught but necessary project, with American anxieties playing a starring role.

Why American culture fixates on the tragic image of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the most famous man behind the atomic bomb

Charles Thorpe, University of California, San Diego

Complex as they are, Oppenheimer’s life and views of the bomb are far easier to wrestle with than the reality of nuclear power itself.