Usually when I decide to go to the movies, I want some brain candy, not an intellectual excursion or heavy film that will send me into an existential questioning of the universe.

I just want to laugh, see some explosions and have a nice happy ending.

Most of Hollywood’s offerings fall nicely into this category, allowing me and my fellow casual movie buffs to enjoy our popcorn and soda without cluttering up the mind or pulling the heartstrings too much.

But then, Oscar season rolls around, with its typical selection of society-challenging dramas, period pieces, documentaries that expose things most of us never dream of, and heady flicks that make audiences search their souls.

When the annual showcase celebrating the movie industry’s triumphs rolls around, I’m watching for the winners in categories like Best Animated Film or Visual Effects. Being a child at heart, the cartoons and fancy visuals do more for me than sanguine soliloquies or romantic rendezvous any day.

However, after 90 years of Best Picture nominees like “Get Out,” “Moonlight” and “12 Years a Slave,” this year gives us one movie that breaks down barriers while also appealing to the kid in all of us.

“Black Panther” is the only film of the nominees I’ve seen this year and, if it manages to pull out the victory, it could very well change the landscape of which offerings critics and aficionados consider worthy of an Oscar.

In the mid-’60s, when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the Black Panther character, they showed that comic books hold an important, influential position in our pop culture, and the power that words and images have to break down evils like prejudice and hate.

Lee later said that the real-life heroes of the Civil Rights era inspired his work, and he made his views on what was happening at the time clear.

“Let’s lay it right on the line. Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today,” Lee wrote in an editorial in 1968. “Sooner or later, we must learn to judge each other on our own merits. Sooner or later, if a man is ever to be worthy of his destiny, we must fill our hearts with tolerance.”

Fifty years later, the film of the same name transcended genres and broke down walls, becoming the first movie based on a comic book to reach wider audiences beyond the typical nerds and college bros with its powerful messages and iconography.

Lee, who died in November, left behind a character who was taken to new heights thanks to the brilliance of director Ryan Coogler and actor Chadwick Boseman, who should have received nominations along with the film in my clearly biased opinion.

There are several other movies nominated for awards this year, including “BlacKkKlansman” and “Green Book,” that also deal with racial topics, but as someone who grew up with ink-stained hands from the cheap paper that comic books were printed on, “Black Panther” stands apart.

Enter the contest

We want to know what you think were the best movies and performances. And if you’re right, you get to indulge your movie habit on us.

On Page A13, you will find our annual Oscar contest. Simply guess who will take home the coveted golden statues; and if you get the most correct, you get free movie tickets. A lot of them.

Newspaper employees such as myself are not eligible, although with my limited knowledge, I wouldn’t be much threat anyway.

So if you want to put you box-office bonafides to the test, here’s your chance. Full details and entry available on gvnews.com/oscars as well.

Good luck, and Wakanda Forever!

—Andrew Paxton

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