The latest Envelope Buzzmeter predictions (voted on but not yet posted) have three Oscar-race bigmouths — myself, Notes on a Season‘s Pete Hammond and Awards Daily‘s Sasha Stone — asserting that James Cameron‘s Avatar will most likely win the Best Picture Oscar. Consult the latest (12.18) Gurus of Gold chart and you’ve got Hammond and Stone saying this again along with MCN’s David Poland.

So that’s four friends-of-Avatar along with three others — Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson, USA Today‘s Anthony Breznican and Hitfix‘s Gregory Ellwood — putting it in their #2 slots. That means they suspect it may be the front-runner but they’re hedging.

So if you want to be liberal about it Avatar has either persuaded or nearly persuaded seven handicappers that it’s the one to beat. Everyone else has decided to play it safe and hang back for the moment, or is flat-out convinced it can’t win over the blue-hairs, as Gold Derby‘s Tom O’Neil apparently feels.

I find it interesting that Entertainment Weekly‘s Dave Karger, easily the most conservative-minded, rely-on-past-performance Oscar Guru on the scene, is the one who’s given Avatar its lowest Best Picture-likelihood rating — a 6.

The Hurt Locker was never going to win the Best Picture Oscar because it hasn’t made nearly enough money. (Which is primarily due to a weak marketing effort by Summit Entertainment.) THL is also threatened because women in the Nancy Meyers wing of the Academy haven’t seen it or are reluctant to see it, or because it isn’t their kind of film. The Hurt lock is Kathryn Bigelow winning the Best Director Oscar.

Three factors are behind Avatar‘s ascendancy. One is that it’s a huge knockout spectacle that’s been raved about by most critics and seems poised to earn possibly a billion dollars worldwide. Another is that it’s one of those big-foot super-movies that have, in years and decades past, taken the Best Picture Oscar with a combination of sheer brawn, money, moxie and chutzpah — a large-penis movie in the tradition of Ben-Hur or The Greatest Show on Earth.

The third factor is how Up In the Air, a much quieter and more intimate film that draws on the job-market anxieties of the Great Recession, has seemed to lose steam just as Avatar has picked up some. I’ve been convinced since the Toronto Film Festival that UITA would take the big prize but now I don’t know. Obviously I don’t “know” anything but I’ve been sensing a distinct shifting of tectonic plates since Avatar was shown to critics on 12.10 and then began to clean up big-time. Monday’s $16 million haul may have cinched it.

Cue Mr. Beaks, Devin Faraci, the Auburn Plainsman‘s Ben Bartley and other Avatar slammers to gear up and lead the fight, Na’vi-style with bows and arrows on horseback (“aaayiii-yi-yi-yi!”), against the powers-that-be. Show us what you’re made of!