Oscar Guide: EW's Prize Fighter on the four-way battle for Best Picture

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We’re still almost a month-and-a-half away from the close of nominations on Jan. 3. Academy voters have seen a lot already and have a few heavy favorites, but some potential contenders haven’t even begun screening for them yet. (Reporters sometimes get to see rough cuts, but voters must wait for the finished product.)

Based on the voters I’ve talked to, it’s close to a four-way tie between Ben Affleck’s Iran rescue drama Argo, Ang Lee’s mystical Life of Pi, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, and David O. Russell’s manic romance Silver Linings Playbook. (See here if you want a run-down of how votes are tallied. And check out Gurus O’ Gold and Gold Derby for aggregate rankings from others.)

If voting were held today I think it would go down like this. Again, it’s not my personal preference, but an estimation based on anecdotal sampling of voters. The safe thing would be to make this prediction now and stick with it for the long term, but voters seem to change their minds constantly. I think a lot could evolve, so I’m going to take a risk on an alternate scenario for how the final ranking could shake out. (More on that later.):

1. Argo
2. Lincoln
3. Silver Linings Playbook
4. Life of Pi

Both Argo and Silver Linings Playbook debuted in September at the Toronto International Film Festival to raves, but Argo has the advantage because it has already opened nationally to solid and enduring box office, is one of the best-reviewed wide releases of the year, and has been out long enough to build into  a consensus choice. It’s a safe bet, so if you ask voters to rank their favorites of the year, it’s usually the first one they say. “Solid” is the word I hear again and again from admiring Argo voters. Support for it could easily be the same, leading it straight to Best Picture victory.

But the downside to being such an early frontrunner is maintaining that momentum.

Argo is a sure-fire nominee, but Warner Bros. has to walk the line between maintaining its support and not wearing out its welcome. It’s easier for a film like The Artist to cling to front-runner status in a year when there isn’t a lot of major competition, but Argo will face an especially strong line-up of heavy-hitter challengers.

NEXT PAGE: The hurdles of Silver Linings Playbook

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