In a matter of hours, the last round kicks off in what has become a satisfying, David and Goliath-style cinematic battle between the critically lauded but low-grossing Iraq war drama The Hurt Locker and the 3-D blockbuster Avatar. As things stand, it's Kathryn Bigelow, the director of the former, with the greater number of gongs, making her favourite for Best Picture at tonight's Academy Awards ahead of ex-husband James Cameron, the man behind the latter.
The official garlands bestowed upon The Hurt Locker at Avatar's expense have been hailed by thinking cinephiles as a victory for "proper" film-making; a rare vote for substance over style. That may be true, but in the frenzy of Avatar-bashing, I'd like to offer a personal vote of thanks to Cameron. Artistically speaking, his film may be the proverbial crock, but at least it has reminded us – millions of us – that the cinema is a place as well as a medium.
I know very well this wasn't done out of altruism. In a landscape of downloads, pay-per-view and LoveFilm, movie execs know that getting bums on seats in cinemas, rather than sofas, takes something extraordinary. And while I don't cherish the thought of lining the pockets of bespoke Hollywood suits, I have my own reasons, some fairly ignoble, for hoping that something gets us back in bricks-and-mortar cinemas on a more regular basis.
From a social point of view, a night at the movies serves several useful functions. What better way, for instance, to spend an evening with a friend or partner with whom you no longer have anything in common, than sat in a darkened room where it's permissible, in fact obligatory, not to talk?
Equally, for anyone on a preliminary date, the public space of the cinema is perfect for fudging any questions of intimacy that might arise on a living-room sofa in front of a DVD. And although watching a film at home, where you can stop and start at will, may be convenient, there's something to be said for the discipline the cinema demands. If you've any sense, you'll get there on time and sit relatively still for a couple of hours. Nor will you, over the course of the movie, be able to consume the contents of your fridge – or its calorific equivalent, given the outrageous profit margin on popcorn.
And last but not least, when everybody else seems to be ignoring the conventions outlined above, the cinema is a good place for reminding us of the need for tolerance. It's impossible to avoid the rest of the world there. As Sir Nicholas Winterton noted of public transport, "there's lots of children, there's noise, there's activity". Unfortunately for poor Sir Nicholas, there's no first-class.