I was a huge fan of the Movieline Oscar Index chart that Stu VanAirsdale created, maintained and constantly updated during the 2010 and 2011 Oscar season. (Stu left Movieline in July 2012.) I recently wrote Stu and asked if he’d mind if I launched a tribute/ripoff version of Oscar Index. His response: “I can’t really stop anyone from launching a variation on it, and I wish anyone who does the best of luck.”

I realize that the below image is a bit small so please click on the large version of the chart. And please be patient with my crude Photoshop skills at this early stage.

Thanks to Brooklyn-based web designer Sean Grip for doing the initial heavy lifting and to HE’s Jett Wells for helping me learn enough of Photoshop to size the heads and titles properly and make sure the graph lines are the right colors, etc. The intention, God help me, is to eventually post freshly considered Oscar Balloon charts three times weekly — Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor. It’s going to be hugely time-consuming on top of everything else, but I’ll give it a shot. First pair on Monday, the second on Wednesday, the third on Friday or Saturday…something like that. Maybe I’ll post an occasional Best Documentary and Best Foreign Language Feature chart…maybe.

The Top 11 Best Picture Contenders (as of Sunday, 10.26): 1. Birdman; 2. Boyhood; 3. The Imitation Game; 4. The Theory of Everything; 5. Gone Girl; 6. Unbroken; 7. Interstellar; 8. Whiplash; 9. Foxcatcher; 10. A Most Violent Year; 11. American Sniper.

If I was a less conventional in my thinking and particularly less concerned about distinctions between features and documentaries, I would put Laura Poitras‘s Citizenfour (which racked up $125,172 in five theatres this weekend, or $25,721 per situation) among the Best Picture contenders…because that’s where it belongs.

I’m aware, of course, that conservative malcontents have groused here and there about Birdman, but I won’t fall into the trap of defaulting to the lowest-common-denominator crowd. Make no mistake: this chart contains (and will continue to contain) a somewhat prejudiced view of the Oscar race as softie defaults will not be allowed during the early and middle stages of the race. I realize that once the final stage begins you have to stop rooting for your favorites and face reality, but until that time your Academy blue-hair defaults will receive no love or respect in this corner.

Then again I’ve got Birdman in the top slot for a fairly good reason. It happens to be the best film of the year so far — the 8 1/2 of our times, and one of the most visually adventurous, deliciously seasoned, thrillingly well-acted…you know the rest. The Birdman wars aren’t just about conflict for its own sake — they’re about our ability to recognize and celebrate the kind of film that people will be enjoying 25 years from now, and the kind that people will barely remember in a year or two. Therapy, honesty, self-examination and…oh, why not?…standing up to the cultural genocide of ComicCon films.

Boyhood, baby….no complaints and nothing but applause if it wins. It’s a safe and wholesome bet all around — a domestic epic — and a film everyone can be proud of. Naturally I’ve got The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything neck and neck, which is better odds than what some people are estimating in the Battle of the Brilliant British Eccentrics With a Serious Personal Problem. Some are saying it’s an either/or situation but I’m not buying that equation. I’m also not buying talk that Gone Girl is starting to slip a little bit. It’s a monster hit ($124,093,000 domestic, $242,093,000 worldwide) and has clearly generated more pro-and-con chatter than any other film this year. The big surge of the last couple of weeks is Damien Chazelle and Miles Teller‘s Whiplash — the strongest GenY flick and certainly something for graying, slouching Academy members to think about when considering the under-30 rooting/viewing factor.

Take away Birdman, Citizenfour, Gone Girl, Ida, Leviathan and Wild Tales and whaddaya got? Still a pretty weak year, man. Here’s hoping for Unbroken, A Most Violent Year, The Gambler, American Sniper, Into The Woods…anything to get the blood pumping.

Again, the large version of the chart.