I’ve just pulled what feels like a major tea-leaf reading out of my ass, so here goes: Babel seems to have picked up a kind of default Best Picture headwind — it may be more of a stiff breeze than anything else, but you can hear it and feel it in 20 different ways — and a good number of people are obviously deciding, voting and sending in their ballots as we speak, so I think it’s pretty much settled.

Depending, that is, on how many sent in their ballots early, how many are sending them in right now, and how many are going to wait until the last minute. These three groups probably amount to “most,” “some” and “few,” in that order.

I’m sensing (am I wrong?) that Little Miss Sunshine peaked between the Producers Guild win and the SAG awards. Letters From Iwo Jima doesn’t have the votes. The Queen has never had any headwind at all. And The Departed (my personal favorite) has been oddly marginalized by the 100% consensus that Martin Scorsese will win Best Director. So that leaves you-know-what, baby.

Take this to the bank, deposit it and get a receipt — it’s Babel, Babel, Babel all the way. Nothing’s going to change, nothing’s going to surge…it’s over. Babel has the most blue-chip nominations that count the most — Picture, Directing, Screenplay, Editing, Supporting Actress. Plus it’s emotional and beautifully made, superbly cut, exquisitely acted and — this is key — it’s seen as being Crash-y as hell. By which I mean Academy-friendly because of its compassionate weight-of-the-world tapestry narrative. (It’s an outrageous misrepresentation to equate Inarritu’s film with Paul Haggis’s ’05 Oscar winner, but so many people have bought in this there’s almost no point in arguing. )

It’s curious that Samuel L. Jackson‘s put-down of Babel (sometime during or shortly after last May’s Cannes Film Festival he called it “Crash Benetton”) would serve, in a way, as a kind of analagous passport to the Big Win.