Well, the first wave of awards have come and gone, and here are some preliminary thoughts on the state of the race.

Revolutionary Road is in trouble. Once a highly touted Oscar contender, it’s sinking faster than the Titanic. The film didn’t make the National Board of Review or Broadcast Top Ten. It did make the Golden Globe drama short list, but then again so did The Great Debaters. The best it can probably hope for now is a Best Actress nod for Kate Winslet.

Penelope Cruz is hot. She swept the early critics’ awards for Supporting Actress and she is definitely the frontrunner now. This year is interesting because the supporting categories seem locked (Ledger and Cruz), whereas the lead actor and actress categories are up for grabs. It’s a welcome contrast to recent years where it was obvious from the get-go who the major awards would go to (Whitaker and Mirren, Hoffman and Witherspoon, Foxx and Swank).

There is no consensus frontrunner for the win. Milk, Wall-E, and Slumdog Millionaire all split Best Picture awards. There appears to be no critics’ darling, a la Sideways, Brokeback, or No Country For Old Men. We probably will have no idea who the prohibitive favorite is until the Broadcast Film Critics announce their winner in mid-January. But if you look across the board, the three films that consistently garnered the most nominations have been Frost/Nixon, Slumdog Millionaire, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. One of those films will probably emerge as the frontrunner.

Eastwood is everywhere. Of course, should you expect any less? His first film Changeling, did better than expected, making two prestigious top ten lists. He won a Best Actor award from the National Board of Review, and he’s been nominated for best score twice as well. This could be his year, in more ways than one.

Finally, most experts are now predicting the following five films for Best Picture:

Frost/Nixon
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Slumdog Millionaire
Milk

We don’t disagree. That seems like a very strong final five and it could very well happen. However, if you’ve followed the Oscars for a long time, you know there’s always a surprise or two. If so, we think it could come in the form of Clint. Changeling and Gran Torino are both solid films, and it’s a little hard to imagine a year with two Eastwood offerings, not no Best Picture nomination. Of the two, probably Gran Torino has the better shot. It’s more sentimental and is just making its impression with voters. Early reviews have been good so far.

So who’s vulnerable, then? We think there are three virtual locks right now, and they may not be the films you think. Slumdog, Milk, and The Dark Knight are locked. One is a small indie hit and there’s always a spot for one. One is the #2 highest grossing film of all time. We don’t think the Academy will be able to avoid it. And Milk is such a moving, important film it will surely get in. Frost/Nixon is great, but it may not be beloved enough to get enough first place votes. Same with Benjamin Button. Remember, it’s always hard to be the early frontrunner, and if Button is even the slighest bit underwhelming, who knows, it could go the way of Dreamgirls. Stay tuned, folks.Water release

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