"Is it over yet?" 

Usually, that's a common refrain you hear during awards season at the beginning of February after countless pseudo awards shows, screenings, cocktail parties, interviews and film festivals.  Instead, it seems to be the nation's collective mindset about the upcoming presidential election.  Since the conventions at the end of August, the nation's attention has been distracted or bombarded by election coverage, debates and commercials.  And while few of the latter even air in Los Angeles, the movie industry is spending just as much time checking the latest poll results as a soccer mom in Kansas might be. Compound the last few months with three highly rated debates and 72 hours of Hurricane Sandy coverage (and concern) and you'll understand why it sort of feels like this year's Oscar race has been in a bit of a holding pattern.

Granted, the awards season machine hasn't stopped running. Screenings are in full swing, a number of key screeners have been went out and there are really only five potential contenders who haven't been screened yet: "Hitchcock," "Django Unchained," "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," "Promised Land" and "Les Miserables."  However, out of those five only three are really being taken seriously this season (Can you guess which?). 

Then there are the big question marks: "Cloud Atlas" received mixed reviews and "bombed" at the box office, but how come everyone who does see it seems to love it?  "Skyfall" is also a critics' favorite and should dominate the box office across the globe, but why is no one in the awards establishment taking it seriously? Every older white man critic seems to adore "Flight"* which seems to make it prime Academy fodder, but only Denzel Washington is a player? Really?

*Personal note, I love the first 30-40 minutes of the film.  It's everything after Washington's character gets to the hospital that doesn't work for me.

And yet, even in sunny California, it's still hard to go to an awards event without the subject of Sandy or the election coming up.  Assuming the election is settled on Wednesday, Nov. 7 (and that's a big if) the sprint should begin. Eight weeks until nomination ballots are due. And with no clear frontrunner, the next two months could make Obama-Romney look like a small town city council election.

Maybe.

Here is the current contender countdown as it looks today.

1. Argo
One contender that competing consultants and studios are having a heard time poking holes at. If it it can reach $100 million, it may be tough to beat.

2. Silver Linings Playbook
It's going to be a word of mouth wonder along the lines of "Argo," but it needs to survive the onslaught of "Life of Pi," "Breaking Dawn," "Skyfall" and "Rise of the Guardians" over Thanksgiving.

3. Les Miserables
The best picture campaign might not really begin until after nominations are announced.

4. Life of Pi
Everyone seems to love the middle, not the bookends.  That may be the difference between winning and just making the cut.

5. Lincoln

It's in, but feels like a big reach to win.

6. The Master
Gonna need the critics endorsement to make the cut. Was the September release date a mistake?

7. The Impossible

Keeps winning them over in guild screenings.  AFI is next.

8. Moonrise Kingdom
With "Anna Karenina" seemingly just a below-the-line player and "Promised Land's" prospects unclear, Wes Anderson's wonder should be Focus' no. 1 awards focus.  Just sayin'.

9. Beasts of the Southern Wild
Hearing a lot of buzz about Quvenzhané Wallis. Less buzz about the movie itself.
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10. Hitchcock
This is a pick 'em slot at the moment. We'll know more about this Hollywood drama after it opens AFI Fest on Thursday night, but for now? Why not?

What do you think of this week's rankings ? Share your thoughts below.