Dear Mr. Smithee: The other night I was watching one of my favorite movies, "Requiem for a Dream," with the memorable Ellen Burstyn. To this day, I still can't fathom how Julia Roberts won the best actress Oscar for "Erin Brockovich" over Burstyn. In your expert opinion, what actor and actress in recent history was most robbed of the Oscar?

HEATHER BRANIFF, DACULA, GA.

Dear My New BFF: I have waited years for some smart and delightful reader to step forward with high praise for "Requiem for a Dream" (2000).

I loved that movie. No, as Woody Allen might say, I lurved that movie. I loved it more than "Traffic" and "Erin Brockovich." I loved it more than "Gladiator." I certainly loved it more than "Chocolat." And I dare say I might have loved it more than "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Ellen Burstyn in "Requiem" was fantastic.

But, unlike you, Heather, I can be a realist. "Erin Brockovich" contains the best Julia Roberts performance ever put to film. I am quite serious about that. Her Oscar win was no joke.

It is also not unreasonable to recognize that:

1) Miss Burstyn had already won an Oscar for "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore."

2) "Requiem" was not overly popular fare while "Brockovich" certainly was.

3) The Oscars don't really represent best, but are the favorite selections of a group of people in a special club to which neither you nor I belong, and, therefore, they can give an award to anybody they want -- and do, whether we plebians like it or not.

As far as the actor and actress in recent history who were most robbed, I'd say that in this decade they are:

• Ben Kingsley ("Sexy Beast"), who in 2001 lost the supporting actor trophy to Jim Broadbent ("Iris"). Kingsley's embodiment of evil while standing in front of a mirror in one scene was reason alone to vote him the award. But he already had an Oscar for "Gandhi" and Broadbent had been seriously overlooked in the previous year's best actor race for his stunning performance in "Topsy-Turvy."

• Patricia Clarkson ("Pieces of April"), who in 2003 lost the supporting actress Oscar to Renee Zellweger ("Cold Mountain"). Clarkson was amazing as the bitter and ill mother in "Pieces" while Zellweger won, I believe, only because she had lost best actress the previous year for "Chicago."

ALAN

P.S. You get a "Juno" hamburger phone and an "Ask Alan Smithee" T-shirt.

How about directors?

Dear Mr. Smithee: Most film buffs no doubt have a list of actors they feel have been unfairly snubbed for the Oscar, but I seldom see similar discussions regarding great directors who never got their due. Sidney Lumet, Robert Altman, Spike Lee and Hal Ashby are among those dear to my heart who were never rewarded with best director. Can you please illuminate your own personal favorites who were similarly overlooked? (No doubt a long list.)

LARRY FRIEDMAN, DECATUR, GA.

Dear Armchair Voter: Ever heard of Alfred Hitchcock? He's definitely one.

As you know, sometimes the Academy tries to make up for oversights with a lifetime achievement or honorary award. I don't even count the best foreign film award, because while it is most often accepted by the director, it really is an honor for the film itself.

Sometimes the Oscar voters toss a winless director a side-category bone. Stanley Kubrick's only Oscar involves him being on the visual effects team for "2001: A Space Odyssey." Kubrick's on my list, too. So are these filmmakers who have never won Oscar's best director: David Lynch, Terrence Malick, Paul Thomas Anderson, Joel and Ethan Coen, Howard Hawks and Quentin Tarantino.

I would most certainly add Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini, Lars von Trier, Francois Truffaut, Pedro Almodovar and Wong Kar Wai. Also Fritz Lang, Sergio Leone, Ernst Lubitsch, F.W. Murnau, Michael Powell, Jean Renoir, Ridley Scott, Preston Sturges, Peter Weir, Norman Jewison and Mike Leigh.

ALAN

P.S. You get a "Fool's Gold" hat and an "Ask Alan Smithee" T-shirt.

Is there really an Alan Smithee? That's one he won't answer. But he does allow that it's a name used for crediting purposes when directors want to disassociate themselves from a movie that, well, stinks. E-mail him at alansmithee@ajc.com. Include your name, city and daytime phone number.