Yes, the Academy Awards are giving us ten Best Picture nominees this year. But there are only five available. Let's be honest here and lock up Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious and Up In The Air for nominations. I suppose, if nothing else, we can thank the Academy for making the guessers sweat a little bit. The Best Picture race would be all but sewn up already while prognosticators wonder if Precious will be replaced on Feb. 2 with one of any number of surprises. Not this year. Oscar ballots were due yesterday, so every nomination and victory from here on out just feeds the numbers game. Let us take a closer look at the ten films still duking it out for the next five slots though. (Editor's Note: The AMPAS polls actually close on Jan. 23.)

Crazy Heart
One of four films on this list to not receive a Best Picture nomination from either the Broadcast "Film Critics" Association, the Golden Globes, the Chicago Film Critics Association or one from the SAG Ensemble category, this is a chink in the armor to Crazy Heart's chances. It makes the list for recently pulling in some notices for something other than Jeff Bridges' performance and the score by Stephen Bruton & T-Bone Burnett. Scott Cooper's screenplay has received nods from both the Writer's Guild and the USC Scripters (which honors adaptations.) In the last ten years there have been five films that have equated this singular feat - High Fidelity (2000), Wonder Boys (2000), Bridget Jones's Diary (2001), A History of Violence (2005) and Zodiac (2007) - and I think we can see what those films also have in common. No Best Picture nod. 2000's Chocolat did manage a Best Picture nod after getting WGA & Scripter noms (and failing with the Producers' & Directors' Guilds) but it also received nominations from the Globes and the SAG Ensemble - something Crazy Heart cannot boast.

Best Picture chances: 10%



Boy did everyone get excited when Neill Blomkamp's debut snagged one of the ten nominations from the Producers' Guild. It even spawned a few of us (like myself and Entertainment Weekly's Dave Karger) to predict Blomkamp would follow with a DGA nod. We were wrong. Then came news that the screenplay was disqualified (along with about 82 others) by the Writers' Guild. USC did show it some love as one of the five Scripter nominees, a group that has watched 28 of its last 50 scripts go on to a Best Picture nomination. More disconcerting is that it joins Crazy Heart on the list of films absent from the top lists by the BFCA, Globes, Chicago and SAG. There is hope though with the announcement of nominees from the American Cinema Editors. On their pair of lists (divided into Drama and Comedy/Musical) honoring the best in film editing, 41 of the last 50 Best Picture nominees have been on one of them and District 9 is one of their 10 this year. As goes the rollercoaster ride for the film however, there have been seven films since 1999 that received PGA nods without help from the DGA & WGA; seven films that could have used a little help.

The Hurricane (1999) was Globe-nominated while Road To Perdition (2002) and The Last Samurai (2003) were cited by BFCA along with their PGA-only shout-outs.

In the same vein, The Incredibles (2004) was also Globe-nominated while Shrek (2001) and Walk The Line (2005) were doubled up by the Globes and the BFCA those years. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) was grounded on the wings of its lone PGA nom while all four were part of the ten ACE nominees. None of these seven were nominated for Best Picture. Of course, its a whole other can of something if District 9 was in play for the WGA's.

Best Picture chances: 50%

An Education
Perhaps the most dubious of all the disqualifications from the WGA awards was Nick Hornby for apparently not paying his dues in every state, country and province that the Writers' Guild have a member in. The USC Scripters didn't overlook his screenplay, just as they didn't District 9. An Education has a few more things going for it though. Like its Blomkamp counterpart, it is also alone with a PGA nomination. But that nod is joined by ones from the BFCA & SAG which puts it in the company of five films over the last decade - The Cider House Rules (1999), The Green Mile (1999), In America (2002), Capote (2005) and Doubt (2008). Not bad company considering three of the five went on to Best Picture noms. Those three also were USC Scripter nominees.

Best Picture chances: 80%


The Hangover
Don't laugh. I didn't. And I'm not laughing now. But I come not to bury The Hangover, but to praise it. As a potential Best Picture nominee. (Makes the sign of the cross.) Seriously though, it's easy to dismiss a nomination from the Golden Globes in their Comedy/Musical category. Only nine have made it to an Oscar nod since 1999. From 2001-04, the Globe winner in that category went on to a nomination and losing certainly didn't hurt Chocolat (2000), Gosford Park (2001), Ray (2004), Little Miss Sunshine (2006) or Juno (2007). We will find out on Sunday if it takes home the Globe, but it has been the past week of Guild nominations that have raised a few eyebrows. First a Writers' Guild nod on Monday and then an ACE nod on Tuesday. Surely the screenplay benefitted from Inglourious Basterds and Up off the WGA table, but those editing numbers are still solid. Now comes the bad news. 15 films in 10 years have fit into the WGA/ACE-only category amongst the Guilds. See if you can spot the film that doesn't belong.

Election (1999), The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), Best In Show (2000), Gosford Park (2001), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), About a Boy (2002), About Schmidt (2002), Bend It Like Beckham (2003), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Kinsey (2004), The Constant Gardener (2005), The Devil Wears Prada (2006), Thank You For Smoking (2006), United 93 (2006), Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

That's just one out of fifteen titles with this film's vitals. Best In Show, About A Boy, The Devil Wears Prada, Thank You For Smoking and Vicky Cristina Barcelona all shared The Hangover's Comedy Globe nod while all but Election and Bend It Like Beckham received help from the BFCA or Chicago. The number could jump to 18 this year as both (500) Days of Summer and Julie & Julia are in the same boat as The Hangover, although this may be the only time you hear it mentioned in the same breath as Gosford Park.

Best Picture chances: 25%

Invictus
Thought of as a contender before anyone ever saw it, Clint Eastwood's latest didn't exactly wow critics. But it was still a very good candidate on a list of ten if not a complete lock. Some disappointing box office later and a less-than-stellar showing with critic's awards and the Guilds and, all of a sudden, we see other films moving up the ladder while Invictus remains stagnate at best. From the first half of awards season, only the Broadcast "Film Critics" put it amongst their ten Best Picture nominees, perhaps sensing it as a lock to boost their percentage totals. The Chicago critics shut the film out completely, not even nominating Morgan Freeman. There have been 21 films since 1999 on the BFCA Top Ten that failed to get a second motion from Chicago, the Globes or SAG. Only two of them have been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Both were produced by Steven Spielberg and one of them was directed by Clint Eastwood (Munich & Letters From Iwo Jima). Catch Me If You Can and Changeling were also amongst the 21. Invictus has something in its pocket that 19 of those films couldn't boast though - a Producers' Guild nomination. Of course, that didn't help Road To Perdition (2002) or The Last Samurai (2003)

Best Picture chances: 55%


Part 2 examines the chances for Nine, A Serious Man, Star Trek, Up and Where The Wild Things Are.