At the beginning of the month, OscarFrenzy set out to handicap the wide-open Best Picture race. We began by eliminating “The Queen,” a very good film, but seemingly one that did not possess enough passionate support to go the distance. In the time since, “The Queen” has captured the top prize at the BAFTA awards and Miramax, a studio adept at crafting winning campaigns, has launched a high profile ad campaign. So are we changing our minds now? The answer would be no.

In the long run, “The Queen” might finish higher in final balloting, but there won’t be enough votes to put it over the top. However Miramax attempts to market it, this is still a Helen Mirren vehicle. In addition, it’s a film that you like and respect when you walk out of the theater, but it doesn’t move you or stay with you. Those are the qualities that a Best Picture winner needs and “The Queen” just doesn’t cut it.

Which brings us to this week’s elimination. Let’s start with “The Departed.” The DVD release yesterday should help the film regain some of the momentum lost over the last few months. Ads continue to play strong and with that amazing cast, you’ve got think the film will play well with the actor’s branch (which constitute the largest proportion of Academy voters). Yup, “The Departed” is very much still a contender.

Same goes for “Babel.” Speaking of DVD releases, “Babel’s” is timed for just a few days before the ceremony. Of course, balloting will be closed by then, but promotions are starting now. It’s also difficult to ignore the fact that “Babel” does have the most nominations out of all the Best Picture nominees, including a nod in the all-important editing category. We definitely have to keep “Babel” in the race for now.

“Little Miss Sunshine” appears to have lost some of that frontrunner gleam, until it triumphed in the screenplay categories at both the BAFTAs and WGAs. The writers are the second largest contingent of Academy voters behind the actors, so the fact that “Sunshine” has won both the SAG and WGA awards is a huge plus. We’re still a little troubled by the “no Best Director nomination” factor, but that’s hardly a reason to knock it out at this juncture.

So that means the odd film out is none other than the Clint Eastwood/Steven Spielberg powerhouse collaboration – “Letters From Iwo Jima.” Many will be shocked by this elimination, given the film’s pedigree and critical appeal, but at this stage in the game, the writing is on the wall. “Letters” has failed to gain much traction in film circles around LA. Too many people seem to have yet seen the film. There has not been a heavy dose of publicity and part of the reason for that is because “Letters” is distributed by the same studio (Warner Bros.) which distributed “The Departed.” Clearly, Warner Bros. has surmised that “The Departed” stands a better chance.

Look at the total number of nominations. “Letters” only has four, and none in the acting categories. That, if you look at years past, is not a recipe for success. Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby” had at least six nominations. Finally, “Letters,” in reality, is no more than an above average film. It is a bit too long, a bit too redundant, and the third act succumbs to a dose of perplexing sentimentality you wouldn’t normally expect in an Eastwood film. There’s also a decidedly western/pro-American bent that at least in the eyes of some, will cheapen the film in light of its supposed grand purpose in showcasing the Japanese perspective of the battle. All in all, it’s certainly not the masterpiece many critics have labelled it as and given Eastwood’s recent track record, it would take a near-flawless film to garner him another golden boy.

“Letters” is out and we’re done to three. Who will have the energy and stamina to pull away in the home-stretch? Stay tuned folks.