Let’s help Envelope columnists Tom O’Neil and Pete Hammond narrow down their possible Best Picture Oscar list, shall we? O’Neil has just posted a big long contender rundown but a lot of titles are instant scratch-outs, I feel, and a few are big maybes.

Brad Pitt in David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

My choices for the leading or most deserving Best Picture contenders right now, in order of likelihood: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (certainly not the front-runner, but the contender with the best script), Milk, Doubt, Gran Torino, Frost Nixon, W and The Visitor. I say this knowing that The Visitor has an uphill climb ahead of it. I’m hearing “yes” and “no” about Doubt. I know that W works on the page. If I was one to recommend that WALL*E be nominated for Best Picture instead of Best Animated Feature, it would definitely be on this list, but since I strongly believe in maintaining the Berlin Wall between reality and animation, it’s not listed.
In my eyes, Steven Soderbergh‘s Che (i.e., The Argentine and Guerilla) easily qualifies as a Best Picture contender — it’s a phenomenal history lesson, high art and a first-rate epic. Of course, there’s reason to wonder if it’ll even open this year, to hear it from the buyers. I know it damn well ought to open and at least try for some award-season propulsion, but guys like myself saying “it’s great” doesn’t cut much ice with the bottom-liners.
I’m sketchy on several titles right now, but I would think the following could be tossed without a second’s hesitation: Appaloosa (possibly worthy Ed Harris western but New Line leftover status dooms it); Burn After Reading (a dry Coen brothers goof, not an Oscar film); Body of Lies (I know nothing about this brilliant Middle Eastern spy thriller that would qualify it as Oscar bait); Changeling (Best Actress nom for Angelina Jolie but the film, while dramatically solid and well made, just isn’t stratospheric enough); The Dark Knight (are Tom and Pete having us off?), Defiance (an Ed Zwick World War II movie about Russian-Jewish resistance guerillas…hello?); Mamma Mia! (all right, that’s enough); Miracle at St. Anna (a Spike Lee movie in which a bank teller is shot by an old guy having a memory seizure?) and Vicki Cristina Barcelona (can’t and won’t happen).
I don’t know enough one way or the other about Australia (younger audiences groaning at the trailer?), Cheri, Happy-Go-Lucky, The Reader, Secret Life of Bees, Seven Pounds (Will Smith treacle factor?) and The Soloist.