It’s been a quiet fall, which is both intriguing and disconcerting. Usually by now, a few frontrunners have emerged for Best Picture. A few years ago, No Country For Old Men blew everyone away on the festival circuit, cementing its spot as a top prize contender. It would ride the momentum all the way to the Kodak theater. Last year Slumdog Millionaire captured the imagination of audiences everywhere. Its buzz drowned out more prestigious December releases The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Revolutionary Road. But this year, the race for Best Picture is truly, to co-opt one of our favorite titles, up in the air.

We’re not talking about nominees here. The Academy has taken much of the suspense out of the nominations by expanding the field to ten films, an insane idea. We’re talking about which film will ultimately be recognized as 2009’s best. The way we see it, there are only a handful of contenders.

Let’s start with the two most obvious choices, Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones and Clint Eastwood’s Invictus. Both films were heavily touted earlier in the year mostly due to their pedigree. But it’s looking less and less likely that they will be able to maintain their frontrunner status. The Lovely Bones looks great from its trailer, but it doesn’t look like something we have not seen before. It’s appears to be a cross between What Dreams May Come and Into The Bedroom. It will probably do well at the box office, but Academy voters increasingly want something edgy, something unique and refreshing. Furthermore, being a early favorite will hurt the film since it will struggle to meet expectations.

Invictus has had no buzz whatsoever, and it’s already October. It will most likely be another Flags of Our Fathers, a respectable, but not great film. Eastwood has just come off Changeling and Gran Torino, two excellent films. It may be a little too much to expect greatness out of him so soon, even if it is Clint Eastwood.

So now we turn to the indie scene. There is a long list of films that have generated good buzz: Bright Star, An Education, Precious, The Hurt Locker, A Serious Man, etc. All of these films will easily make the Best Picture top ten list. But who has the staying power to be the best? The Hurt Locker is probably out. It got great reviews, but hardly anyone saw it. Also, it has the disadvantage of being released in the summer and people have a short memory. Bright Star, An Education, and Precious will probably all be recognized for their performances. Carey Mulligan and Gabourney Sidibe are your early frontrunners for Best Actress and Mo’Nique is way ahead in the Supporting Actress category. It is possible all these films may be too small to make a splash in the Best Picture race. But then again, people thought the same thing of Slumdog Millionaire.

The Coen brothers return with A Serious Man and the early word is that it’s sensational. But it might also not find a wide enough audience to embrace it. It’s also a little difficult imagining the Coens winning another Best Picture prize just two years after No Country For Old Men.

Two wild cards are Rob Marshall’s Nine and the gem from the Toronto Film Festival, Up in the Air. Nine is very intriguing. Marshall won Best Picture for Chicago and Nine looks to be right up that alley. It’s also got a killer cast of Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, etc. What might hold it back is that it’s a musical. In these tough economic times, voters may not embrace a musical. They want something they can relate to.

Up in the Air looks very promising from its trailer, but it’s got that Jerry Maguire feel good vibe to it, and it seems just a little too light to be a Best Picture winner. Look at recent winners and you’ll find that sentimentality doesn’t win Best Picture anymore. These aren’t the 90s.

So where does that leave us? Well, of course every film has it weaknesses, but the question is which one can overcome them. We think it will be the film that ultimately becomes the critics’ darling. And we’re quite confident that that film will be….(drum roll please)…Lee Daniels’ Precious, Based on the Novel by Sapphire. The film is dark, edgy, realistic, raw, and very emotional. It has the support of Oprah Winfrey. It features amazing performances. It is something that we simply have not seen before. I mean really, how often have we seen a film about an obese, pregnant, black teenager abused by her mother who basically goes through life believing she is worthless? When all is said and down, we predict Precious will win a close race over Nine to be the Best Picture of 2009.

What do you think?