I've worked on Oscar campaigns and have covered this beat for a long time, but boy this is odd. We are days, even hours away from Academy members pressing send on their newfangled computers to end phase one of yet another great Oscar season and yet hardly anyone in Tinsletown feels secure about their contenders or which of their competitors is the true frontrunner.  Yowzas!

It started out with "Argo," then "Lincoln," then "Zero Dark Thirty" and then "Les Miserables" (possibly for a weekend) and since then it's been something of a mess. Obviously, "frontrunner" status is basically whomever is winning the PR war with the press, guild members and Academy's loose mouths, but it dictates how campaigns are run and where (and if) money is spent. And frankly, unless there is a major shock in the editing or directing category nods we won't know much until the PGA and DGA announce their year-end winners.  At this point, I'm ranking "Argo" at no. 1 because its primed for a comeback, has always been an industry favorite and its not clear their is enough passion for "Zero Dark Thirty" or "Lincoln."  Of course, that could all change next week, but as a snapshot of the race we are where we are.

While never a 100% baramoter the PGA Awards nominations on Tuesday did clear a few things up regarding the rest of the field.  "Flight," "The Master," "Amour," "The Impossible"?  The bubbles are popping underneath your best picture nomination dreams. The biggest question remaining is whether the Academy will honor nine or 10 films. Considering the lack of a consistent frontrunner for the past five to six weeks, it's easy to speculate that split first place votes will find 10 nominees this year. Then again, perhaps they'll shock us all and go with only seven or eight?  Whatever the outcome the Monday Morning Quarterbacking (on Thursday morning) will no doubt blame any result on the shortened voting season and cranky member's complaints over the online voting system. In fact, that's the safest bet of all.

With that in mind, here's the Contender Countdown for Jan. 3, 2013.

1. Argo
Will it all come back to Ben Affleck's fall favorite? Is this 'The Departed' all over again?  Some seem to think so.

2. Zero Dark Thirty

What political backlash? "Thirty" could land just as many nominations as "The Hurt Locker."

3. Lincoln
Some nice top 10 love, but only one critics' groups best picture of the year honor. It's a player, but is the passion there?

4. Life of Pi

The steady survivor in so many ways. Imagine if Fox Searchlight had run this campaign, it might have a shot at winning.
 
5. Silver Linings Playbook
After its sub par limited opening in November I bet a colleague it wouldn't make $30 million.  Guess that word of mouth wasn't a joke, huh? By Saturday it will be time to pay up.
 


6. Les Miserables
Universal execs have to love the box office, but they also have to be scratching their heads over the viciousness of some of the reviews. At this point, making the nine or 10 nominee field would be the win.

7. Skyfall
PGA nod proves just how solid the industry adoration is. I've had it as "in" for almost two months, but hey, just sayin'.

8. Django Unchained

After debuting at such a late date, the in is the win.

9. Moonrise Kingdom
Could have been a true contender? Probably not, but after an overall rocky awards season Focus will be more than happy with securing a best picture nod for one of 2012's biggest indie hits.

10. Beasts of the Southern Wild

Should be in. Want to say it's in. Fingers crossed.