to Rotten Tomatoes reveals a glorious thing: Martin Scorsese’s The Departed stands at 100% fresh. That’s with only 17 reviews in, but they include many of the big guns – the “Cream of the Crop” section is filling out nicely. And I know a number of critics who will be weighing in shortly will uphold that 100%.

But as my friend, Coming Soon’s Weekend Warrior, aka Ed Douglas, points out, the film hasn’t had its New York all-media screening yet. That’s tomorrow night, and what you’re going to get from that is a whole bunch of cranky local critics who are going to see the current wave of love and feel the need to be contrary just for the sake of getting their name noticed or just for the hell of it. I may actually be more afraid of the web critics, who often prove themselves to be grotesquely film illiterate.

The actual freshness quotient isn’t important in the end (although I am dying to know which shitty thinker will be the first to break the current streak*) – what’s important is that the critical consensus seems to have launched The Departed into the Oscar race. This is especially impressive considering that a lot of people wrote this one off months ago, when rumors circulated that the film was having major problems in the editing room. The dismissals seemed all the more founded when the movie didn’t play any film festivals, including Scorsese’s hometown New York Film Festival, which is on right now.

Looking back I think that may have been strategy on Warner Bros’ part – it’s possible that they didn’t want to tar The Departed as yet another “Marty Goes for the Oscar” movie in the public eye. A great gangster film may be easier to sell to the audience without the film festival garlands on the poster. And since the film is vastly entertaining it has a shot at being tremendously commercial, I fully expect a #1 opening this weekend.

Of course the fact that it’s so entertaining means that some Oscar pundits dismiss its chances at award time. That’s ignoring the fact that Oscar has in the past, and will again, be happy to reward very entertaining, very well made and very popular films. Just look at Gladiator. But it’s also ignoring the fact that this is Scorsese doing what he does best and doing it better than anyone else could. The Academy is very aware of this guy’s status as the eternal Oscar pariah – what better year to reward the guy when he makes a hands-down fantastic film in the genre that defines him?

* That was quick. It was J Hoberman at the Voice, who spends his whole review praising the movie.