MCN’s Gurus of Gold (Scott Bowles, Pete Hammond, Eugene Hernandez, Peter Howell, David Karger, Glenn Kenny, Jack Matthews, Mark Olsen, David Poland, Sasha Stone, Sean Smith, Anne Thompson, Susie Woz, Glenn Whipp) have put up their first Best Picture rankings, and the top five are Joe Wright‘s Atonement, Joel and Ethan Coen‘s No Country For Old Men, Mike NicholsCharlie Wilson’s War, Ridley Scott‘s American Gangster and Sean Penn‘s Into the Wild.

This is is the very first time that a group has gotten together this year and said, “Okay…these five.” The game from here on will be to nip away at the weak wildebeests in the herd until one or two stumble and fall to the ground and are torn apart and consumed, which is what happened last year to Dreamgirls despite wildlife park ranger David Poland trying to keep away the lions and the cheetahs and the wild dogs with his .22 Derringer.

I’m totally agreed on Atonement and No Country. Charlie Wilson’s War is obviously a strong maybe but nobody knows anything at all. I saw American Gangster last night and totally agree — it’s a very likely Best Picture nominee. And due respect to Into The Wild, which I quite admire, but I don’t think it’s quite Olympian enough to be a top-fiver (although it’s Penn’s best ever).

The two vulnerables, I believe, are No Country for Old Men (the old-fashioned crowd is going to have problems with the ending) and Into The Wild (although Emile Hirsch is a very safe bet for Best Actor). Atonement is, I believe, a total Best Picture lock-down. American Gangster ought to be a nominee and probably will at the end, but I know some are cool on it so I’m not 100% sure. And we’ll see what happens with Charlie Wilson’s War.

The challenge from this end of the cage is to try and wake everyone up, or as many as possible, to the greatness of Sidney Lumet‘s Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead. The fact that only Howell, Whipp and Woz have listed it among their top ten indicates this won’t be easy.

Thank god no one’s trumpeting Tim Burton‘s Sweeney Todd as a top-fiver sight unseen (not that it has the slightest chance — Burton doesn’t “do” Academy films), although right now it has the #6 slot.

Jason Reitman‘s Juno is #7 as we speak, but it may fall away as things move into late November and December. It’s not as sharp and true as Little Miss Sunshine, and it sort of needs to be to play in this game.

Julian Schnabel‘s The Diving Bell and Butterfly is #8, but it hasn’t a prayer.

Although Paul Thomas Anderson‘s totally unseen There Will Be Blood is #9, it could obviously surge forward if the movie is great and Paramount Vantage plays its cards the right way.

Nobody I know has seen Marc Forster‘s The Kite Runner, which has the #10 spot but has recently had its release date pushed back to December.

Michael Clayton is #11, Hairspray is #12 (a show of politeness is requred), Eastern Promises is #13 (forget it), Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (just wait) is #14, and In The Valley Of Elah is #15.