L.A. Times/Envelope/Notes on a Season columnist Pete Hammond is flatly declaring that Avatar is now the front-runner for the Best Picture Oscar. Because it’s “big” and grand and dazzling and selling tickets big-time, and because there was a effusive response from the mostly older membership when Avatar screened at the Academy theatre last Sunday night.

50-plus and retirement-age types were thought to be a hindrance to Avatar‘s chances of nabbing the big prize with their reputed tendency to under-value CG-driven spectacles, but Hammond is apparently persuaded that the gray geezer contingent is ready and willing to support James Cameron‘s fantasy epic.

Also factoring, says Hammond, are last weekend’s $77 million opening (even with the northeastern blizzard slowing things down on Saturday), a $235-million-plus worldwide gross, an A rating from Cinemascore rating and an A+ from males younger than 25, not to mention major Golden Globe and Critics Choice Movie Award nominations, etc.