I know what you’re thinking. Doesn’t it seem just downright ridiculous to talk about 2008 Oscar contenders when the 2007 picture is anything but clear? Probably. But that won’t stop us anyway. Nowadays, people are always fascinated about “what’s next?” Often so much that they ignore the present. We’re going to make the same mistake here today. Besides, with news coming out everyday after future projects, wouldn’t it be fun to be the first ones to assess their Oscarworthiness? Here we go.

2007 was a year of big directors wielding big projects. You have Eastwood with “Flags of Our Fathers,” Scorsese with “The Departed,” Minghella with “Breaking and Entering,” and Stone with “World Trade Center.” As of now, 2008 figures to be a little more low key. Look for a lot more small films, novice directors, and some obscure stories. Also, be prepared for an onslaught of prestigious book adaptations. It’s been quite a while since a literary sensation (The English Patient) snagged top honors. 2008 could be the year.

Well, let’s start with the few big names first. No one can seriously discuss Oscar 08 without first considering Eastwood’s “Letters from Iwo Jima.” Clint’s “Flags of Our Fathers” follow-up, told from the Japanese perspective, is slated to debut in February. We think there’s a decent chance it gets pushed back to fall. Even if it doesn’t, remember that Eastwood’s 1993 Best Picture winning epic “Unforgiven” also premiered in the spring. “Flags” opened to very good reviews, but critics stopped short of calling it a masterpiece. If it ultimately loses to Dreamgirls or another contender, look for Clint to rebound quickly. Besides, the Japanese side of the story seems a bit more interesting, and original, anyway.

Two other films with big name pedigree and awesome star power are “Charlie Wilson’s War” and “American Gangster.” “War” stars Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, is directed by Mike Nichols, and tells the story about the United States’ influence in Afghanistan in the 1980s. It will be a highly anticipated film, but probably too political for Oscar. “Gangster” reunites Ridley Scott with Russell Crowe and adds Denzel Washington to the mix. The story deals with drug smuggling in Harlem. We have no doubt it will be an excellent film, but again, probably not the type of prestige picture that scores well with the Academy.

Shekhar Kapur’s “The Golden Age,” (a sequel to 1998’s “Elizabeth”) is exactly a prestige piece, which could profit from the momentum generated by this year’s surprise hit “The Queen.” It doesn’t hurt that the film brings back Cate Blanchett in the lead role and unites her with Clive Owen, who plays Sir Walter Raleigh. After getting edged out by Gwyneth Paltrow in 1998, Blanchett could finally nab her first Best Actress prize by playing the same character. Speaking of hot, nobody tops the ever suave and popular George Clooney. No, we’re not touting Ocean’s Thirteen for Best Picture! Clooney plays the lead role in a character drama entitled “Michael Clayton,” about a lawyer going through a personal crisis in the final days of his life. Sounds promising to us.

Which brings us to our endless list of literary adaptations. Let’s start with “The Kite Runner,” directed by Marc Forster. One of the most popular books in recent memory, it might suffer under the weight of heavy expectations. Still, we like Forster as a director and think he’s due for a breakout after “Monster’s Ball” and “Finding Neverland.” Peter Jackson returns to the movie-making world with the adaptation of Alice Sebold’s “The Lovely Bones.” He might suffer from the curse of the Best Picture follow-up, which unless you’re Clint Eastwood, is usually not that good. You just know Keira Knightley is an Oscar winner in training, and she continues to tackle challenging roles in the movie version of Ian McEwan’s acclaimed drama “Atonement,” from the director of Pride and Prejudice. Think that’s interesting? How about BOTH Natalie Portman AND Scarlett Johansson in “The Other Boleyn Girl,” about two sisters competing for the love of King Henry. Ron Howard tries to bounce back from “The Da Vinci Code,” with the adaptation of Oprah’s favorite “East of Eden.” Word is that it may not get finished on time, however. Finally, Sean Penn is back behind the camera, directing the true story adventure “Into the Wild,” based on Jon Krakauer’s bestseller.

Let’s close with one final contender – a movie that’s been in development for seemingly an eternity. That would be Frank Darabont’s “Fahrenheit 451.” At one time, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and even Keanu Reeves have been attached to this project. Given Darabont’s resume (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile), if “Fahrenheit” ever gets made, it could be something spectacular. But that’s a huge “if” right now. Keep your fingers crossed. It’s still scheduled for 2007.

Obviously, as we prefaced at the beginning, it is way too early to begin speculation. While many of these movies are in production now, some are still in development and could easily get pushed back a year or two. Still, it’s always fun to peer into the crystal ball. So we leave you with an early, early, EARLY prediction. Watch out for “Atonement.” If the movie’s anything as good as the book, Knightley might have a lot to smile about.

Sorry, we’ll have to wait until next time to talk about National Treasure 2.