To repeat, there’s a wisp of a suggestion floating around (like dandelion fuzz) that Les Miserables may turn out to be more of a striking, highly respectable, performance-driven costumer (with Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway benefitting in particular) than a breathtaking, across-the-board, Oscar-sweep phenomenon…a solid, admirable, workmanlike job that may not necessarily inject spiritual adrenaline into the soul…well-made, fine and commendable but, in the words of Richard Masur in Risky Business, “not quite Ivy League.”

If so, as I explained in the above riff, the Best Picture race becomes a brawl, a contest of nearlies and highly respectable not-quiters without any swaggering big dogs.

Argo is some kind of apparent front-runner right now, but you and I know that beyond the “engaging true-life political suspense story” with great period detail aspect it doesn’t have the subtext or enough emotionality to be any kind of big, swinging Grand Poobah hoo-hah. It’s a very satisfying film, a feather in Ben Affleck‘s hat and very well liked (and a likely commercial hit at the end of the day, particularly counting overseas revenues) but let’s not get carried away, Pete Hammond (who put Argo in the top position in last night’s Gold Derby recalculations, and in so doing bailed on Silver Linings Playbook).

Last week’s Lincoln screenings (particularly last Monday night’s at the New York Film Festival) made it clear, I think, that Steven Spielberg‘s A & E drama is going to be a Best Picture nominee without any hope of winning. C’mon, be honest. It’s an acting thing (Daniel Day Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, possibly Sally Field) and a Best Adapted Screenplay thing for Tony Kushner…maybe.

Robert Zemeckis’s Flight (which screens for LA press later this afternoon) may emerge as a Best Picture contender or not, but early reactions suggest that Denzel Washington is all but certain to land a Best Actor nomination, and that he may even wind up as a front-runner, particularly in view of the general opinion that Daniel Day Lewis’s Abraham Lincoln performance is more in the realm of admirable or respectable or highly honorable rather than jolting or live-wire.

Zero Dark Thirty could become a late-emerging front-runner, but the trailers are selling a procedural, a “how it was done” story that follows the Argo fundamentals (top-secret mission, Islamic authorities kept in the dark, suspenseful third-act climax followed by flght to safety). It will have to play on some level like Fred Zinneman‘s Day of the Jackal — a thriller about a plot or mission with an outcome that is common knowledge, but which is nonetheless gripping or highly intriguing from start to finish.

Post-Toronto screenings of David O. Russell‘s Silver Linings Playbook have resulted in pushback from certain Oscar bloggers. “This?,” they’ve been saying. “This is what you were so excited about in Toronto? Well, we’re going to stand in the way of that.” I think it’s a guaranteed Best Picture nominee, but the sourpuss-and-sorehead resistance may push it to the sidelines. It’s certainly an acting nomination vehicle (Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro, Bradley Cooper). The naysayers could be overcome, of course, if SLP clicks with the rank-and-file like it has at the Toronto and Hamptons festivals.

The Master has not gone over with that 62 year-old white guy crowd (i.e., the ones who don’t work out as much as they used to), and therefore it’s probably all but finished as a Best Picture contender. Please understand this is not an HE quality judgment or a reflection of what the Movie Godz have decided. Joaquin Phoenix for Best Actor, for sure, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman for Best Supporting Actor, most likely, and Amy Adams for Best Supporting Actress. Almost certainly a Best Cinematography nomination for Mihai Malaimare, Jr.

For the 179th time, Quentin Tarantino doesn’t make Oscar movies (i.e., ones that resonate on some personal or universal level re shared emotionality or some human condition element). He makes audacious, swaggering, high-style, verbal-flash Quentin movies, and that is why I believe Django Unchained will not seriously figure as a Best Picture winner. Probably a nominee, okay, but Tarantino is a stylist first and last and everybody knows that. He refuses to come to grips with life as it is actually being experienced out there. He makes fantasias that primarily function as self-serving, self-referential acts of stylistic masturbation and ’70s grindhouse nostalgia.

Ang Lee‘s Life Of Pi may be Best Picture nominated — it deserves respect and allegiance — but I don’t believe it has a prayer of winning.

Beasts of the Southern Wild deserves to be Best Picture nominated, and it will be if the Movie Godz hold any sway, but it’s been doing a slow fade over the last few weeks. Just ask Pete Hammond what his Academy pallies have been saying.

The Promised Land trailer suggests that unless it delivers in some sort of wildly surprising way and is much, much better than generally anticipated, it hasn’t a chance.