“Why, my colleagues constantly wonder, are all the year-end awards contenders not being screened?,” writes Boston Herald film guy and columnist Stephen Schaefer. “Why has no one seen The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Australia, Cadillac Records, Gran Torino or Seven Pounds?”‘

Answer: Button will be screened next week in New York and Los Angeles. Clint Eastwood has only recently completed his final work on Gran Torino. Australia won’t be seen until l1.18 or thereabouts due to Baz Luhrmann doing last-minute post-production tweaks. And Cadillac Records (Sony, 12.5) …I don’t know what the deal is with this one.

Schaefer, however, feels that “the most obvious answer is the rise of the viral online community. That means once a movie is screened, instant judgment awaits. It’s not posting early reviews online [but] the buzz that concerns them.

“And when you have a risky $150 million prestige picture like Button or a risky epic like Australia with a star like Nicole Kidman who hasn’t had a domestic hit in far too long or Clint Eastwood‘s latest bid to continue his amazing record with the Oscar voters or Will Smith‘s reunion with the director who guided him to his Oscar nomination with Pursuit of Happyness, well, you have a lot of fear.

“Right now the studios can build buzz for all these movies, they can say they’re in the race for Best Picture and not be contradicted. But once they’re seen, reality immediately take over; the studios no longer have control. Weeks before a movie opens, its Oscar (but not necessarily its Golden Globe) chances could be over.”