Anchored by what's rumored to be the Best Actress performance to beat, this elegant coming-of-age tale is packed with Oscar-y ingredients and already has plenty of critical support.
Despite the undeniably disappointing teaser, my guess is that James Cameron's long-awaited sci-fi epic will still pack enough punch to entrance voters. But, methinks Mr. "Titanic" is the one filmmaker in this list who should be mighty thankful that the field was expanded.
Looks to be the most picturesque epic romance since "Atonement," and that pretty baby made it all the way to 2007's top five. Plus, it seems to be a triumphant return for Jane Campion ("The Piano"), one of many female directors making a big impact this year...
The Hurt Locker
...like Kathryn Bigelow, whose masterful bomb squad thriller is unquestionably the best film yet about the war in Iraq. Though so well executed, it really doesn't need it, the relevance of this movie gives it a major boost.
"Gran Torino"'s Oscar shutout notwithstanding, you shoud never bet against Clint, who returns to more worldly subject matter with this pseudo-biography of Nelson Mandela. A presumably dynamite turn from Morgan Freeman can't hurt.
Rob Marshall, the man who drove "Chicago" to a Best Picture win in 2002, serves up another stylish musical; one that boasts a blindingly star-studded cast. This film's trailer alone is arguably the year's best; at least two of its performers will likely land acting nods; and it seems to have great potential in virtually every other category.
Backed by what can safely be called universal acclaim, this harrowing drama has had everyone talking for months. EW's Dave Karger has said outright that Mo'Nique will earn a Supporting Actress nomination, and given the buzz for the movie itself, at this point, I don't see how it could be shut out of the race.
The Tree of Life
Aside from the casting of Brad Pitt and the December release date, I don't know much at all about this film. What I do know is that Terrence Malick is a bona fide Oscar magnet, and the apparent grandiosity of his latest epic looks very promising. (And, no, the image above is not the film's actual poster. Sorry.)
Will Pixar's most recent triumph be the first animated film since "Beauty and the Beast" to be nominated for Best Picture? My gut says, "yes." And, quite frankly, if it isn't, I'll be irate and heartbroken. The Academy already snubbed "Wall-E" last year, a move that was met with much disdain. I doubt they'll make the same mistake twice.
Up in the Air
The ecstatic buzz out of Toronto appears to have all but cemented Jason Reitman's genre-defying Clooney vehicle in the Top 10. Like last year's winner, "Slumdog Millionaire," this relatively late-in-the-game crowd pleaser is quickly building a very passionate following. Once the Academy gets wind of it, it may just gather enough steam to take home the gold.
Runners-Up: "The Lovely Bones," "Creation," "A Serious Man," "Capitalism: A Love Story," "Amelia."