Tomorrow night, the Hollywood aristocracy will climb into Armani, Versace and Vera Wang and walk slowly up a red carpet with fixed grins on their faces. The world will be watching, ready to gossip about their hair, their clothes, their dramatics. But it is the party that very nearly didn't happen: the 80th Annual Academy Awards, otherwise known as the Oscars, rescued 11 days ago, at the 11th hour, by the cancellation of the Hollywood screenwriters' strike.
From caterers to chauffeurs, they have reason to be in good spirits as they unite to ensure that Hollywood's biggest party takes place with all the glamour available. Actors, directors, cinematographers, editors and composers have reason to be happy, too. Not just because this is a chance for their own contributions to be celebrated with a gushing speech, but because they are part of an industry which, nearly a century after its birth, is in very fine form indeed.
Who would have thought that in the era of text-messaging and YouTube, one of the strongest contenders is a film in which there is no speech at all for nearly 20 minutes? A film, in fact, which lasts nearly three hours? Or that this film (Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood) would be up against a searing indictment of corporate greed (Michael Clayton) in one category and a portrait of a man whose movement is restricted to the blinking of one eye (The Diving Bell and The Butterfly), directed by an acclaimed artist, in another?
Many of the best films emerging from southern California are human dramas that share an obvious heritage with previous golden ages. There is a sense that Hollywood is, once again, using the world's best actors and technicians to create richly layered, thoughtful and, yes, entertaining features on themes ranging from Alzheimer's (The Savages, Away from Her) to teenage pregnancy (Juno). They use modern technology to create immense visual richness, not just flashy special effects. This is bad news for the doom-mongers of dumbing down who claims that hi-tech equals low-art. It proves that art does not always have to prostitute itself in front of big bucks, and that a globalised industry can be a force for inspiration.
Each art form has its good and its bad years. But whoever collects those cherished golden statuettes, we do seem to be in the midst of a new golden age for movies. And that is cause for us all to celebrate.