“Oscar pundits are going 10-slot crazy this year, wondering whether the additional spots will go to the multiplex or to the art house,” writes the Hollywood Reporter‘s Stephen Zeitchik.

“Whatever answers emerge, it’s clear that with an expanded field, voters will have to make tougher choices than usual — if not when mentally filling out their list of 10, then when they start anointing movies from among that list. With the widened field, there’s a wider split between the feel-good contenders and the downbeat ones, between movies that depict the world as it is and those that show the world as we wish it to be.”

Zeitchik then startled me cold by suggesting that The Hangover might be one of the ten Best Picture contenders.

Voters, he says, “will have to choose between the story of an inner-city girl whose stepfather has repeatedly raped her and an old man who takes a magical, life-affirming balloon ride. They’ll have to decide between a group of male bomb-defusers drawn to the nightmare of the battlefield and a group of male friends drawn hilariously to the escapism of Vegas.”

Just a minute, hold on….Zeitchik has mentioned The Hurt Locker and The Hangover in the same Oscar-prognosticating sentence? Is the world coming to an end? Is it 2012 out there, causing Zeitchik to freak out and lose touch with his usually reliable perceptions?

“This choice won’t simply be a cultural statement,” he adds. “It’s no accident that, as the studio specialty business withers away, nearly all the downbeat contenders (Precious, Bright Star, The Hurt Locker) were made outside the studio system, while almost all those celebrating life’s aspirational side (Up, Star Trek, The Hangover, Invictus) were made within it.”

Star Trek? A nifty, neato zing-ding summer flick but a Best Picture contender? In what planetary system?

There’s something dark and malignant about a world in which reasonable professionals suggest that The Hangover and Star Trek might really and truly be serious Best Picture contenders while at the same time barely acknowledging the pristine perfection and world-class comedic gloom that A Serious Man divvies out in spades. There must be something in the air or the water. Some kind of mad swine flu of the mind.