The summer movie season is officially in full swing and you know what that means. Big blockbuster action movies. Sequels galore! Comic books and cartoons. Bruckheimer. On occasion however, you can find that rare high quality, Oscar-caliber film. Truth is, this used to be more common years and years ago. Remember Forrest Gump, or Apollo 13, or Saving Private Ryan and Gladiator? All were big, popular summer movies. In recent years, the summer flicks haven’t achieved as much impact on the Oscars, but you could still spot an occasional top line drama in the fray. Such as Road to Perdition in 2002, Seabiscuit in 2003, and Cinderella Man in 2005. Of course, there is one HUGE exception, and as much as I hate to acknowledge its distinction, we all know last year’s Best Picture winner Crash debuted in early May. Which brings us to our current situation – the question that is surely on all of your minds. What does summer 2006 have to offer in terms of the Oscars? Well surprisingly, not much. In fact, it’s stacking up to be one of the weakest summers in recent memory. Last year brought us Ridley Scott’s much underrated Kingdom of Heaven, Cinderella Man, and of course Crash. It’s highly unlikely any movie this summer will be nearly as good as any of those three. Let’s take a closer look at some would be contenders:

The Da Vinci Code – It’s the movie on everyone’s radar and with Ron Howard directing and Tom Hanks starring you would think it might scream Oscar. But think again. Remember, the book is a thriller at heart and from the previews, the film version looks to ratchet up the suspense even more. Expect a crowd-pleasing adaptation and a solid piece of entertainment, but not much more.

A Prairie Home Companion – Okay okay, we know that guy Robert Altman has a pretty good track record with the Academy, but what has he done lately? With a stellar ensemble featuring Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, and Woody Harrelson, some acting nominations are possible, but Best Picture feels like a longshot. Besides, something in my gut tells me this might get pushed to fall.

The Lakehouse – Well, the last Sandra Bullock summer movie won Best Picture, but that one didn’t reunite her with Keanu Reeves. Personally, it might have been better to see “Speed 3: High Octane” rather than this tearjerker. The concept seems interesting (two people living in the same house, yet in different years), but it has that manipulative Autumn in New York/Sweet November vibe to it. Something tells me this is a picture that opens with a bang and ends with a whimper.

Lady in the Water – Okay, just because Shymalan scored a Best Picture nod with the miraculous Sixth Sense requires us to examine each one of his subsequent films for Oscar potential. But it is a cursory examination at best. Dare I say the auteur has “lost his touch.” Signs was above average, but what the heck do you call Unbreakable and The Village?! Paul Giamatti wil probably be brilliant as usual, but patrons may still leave the theater scratching their heads and wishing they’d stayed home and watched Splash on DVD.

World Trade Center – Let’s not even go here. Okay, Flight 93 received glowing reviews, but that’s because it played like a memorial documentary to the victims. This Oliver Stone project promises to be different. Is the country really ready for a film about the actual towers collapsing? I know people have shorter memories nowadays, but not this short. I’d rather see Snakes on a Plane, and here’s betting so would most other moviegoers AND Academy voters.

Well, in this writer’s opinion at least, Oscar may not be buzzing a lot this summer. But hey, that’s not an entirely bad thing. We all need an escape from serious, thought-provoking fare once in a while. So bring on Superman, Captain Jack, and Pixar’s latest. Oh…and pass the popcorn!