People can’t get a fix on the ’07 Best Picture race because they can’t reconcile the two camps — i.e., those who want to nominate reassuring, light-quaalude- high, comfort-blanket movies and those pushing the high-end, full-throttle, not-as- comforting art films (which actually are comforters if you accept the notion that great or intensely stimulating art is the most profoundly serene drug of all).

The blistering tough-nut contenders are No Country for Old Men, Sweeney Todd, Zodiac, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, There Will Be Blood, I’m Not There, Control and (if you want to be generous and and/or respectful of a very touching and well-made fathers-and-sons drama) In The Valley of Elah.

The comfort-blanket contenders are Atonement, Juno, The Kite Runner, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Great Debaters and, in a certain way, Michael Clayton. (I’m starting to believe that Tony Gilroy‘s film may become a Best Picture nominee for its smoothly applied craft. As much as I admired and enjoyed it, Clayton is basically an upscale John Grisham film with a redemption theme and a little Howard Beale thrown in. It’s very well made and yet familiar — it’s a first-rate Sydney Pollack film from the early ’90s — and therefore a comforter.)

There are some out there who are actually talking about Enchanted being a possible Best Picture contender. No comment necessary.

By my standards, the only two films that straddle the two categories are American Gangster — a sprawling, satisfying ’70s crime film — and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a movie not just about solitary confinement but enslavement by a debilitating affliction, and yet so beautifully made that it has persuaded thousands not to mind being confined inside the body of a man who can do nothing but blink his left eye. (I knew I was seeing something exceptional, and at the same instant that I didn’t want to watch it for two hours because of the climate of terrible confinement.)

Knowing the Academy as I do, it’ll probably work out to three comforters vs. two tough-nut, high-art entries. Or it could break down to a four-to-one ratio favoring the softies. Like the Envelope Buzzmeter chart is predicting right now, for instance — Atonement, American Gangster, No Country for Old Men, Juno and The Kite Runner. It would be a perversion of Movie God justice for this to happen, but a hard-bitten realist needs to prepare for the inevitable downers-around-the-corner.

If Once had any Best Picture heat it would be called a soother also, but it’s the kind of comfort-blanket flick that has immense integrity and deserves everyone’s allegiance.

The only favored non-comforter right now is No Country for Old Men — I know it, HE readers know it, David Carr knows it. I am respectful of Atonement and wouldn’t flinch too badly if it won. The other three contenders besides this and Atonement should be Sweeney Todd, Zodiac and Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, but this won’t happen because of the softie mentality.

If I were Benito Mussolini I would round up the softies in minivans in the middle of the night and send them off to reeducation camps in the Mojave Desert, and it would honestly be for their own good. I would drill them in the morning with calisthenics, subject them to film and film-debate classes and serve them hot healthy meals. And after their release from Movie Reducation Stalag 17 they’d never again consider certain far-from-masterful films like Juno or Enchanted or Charlie Wilson’s War for Best Picture.