We really should not be doing this.

June is way too early.  It goes against every rule I've ever given myself in this realm.  There is way too much that can change between now and -- most importantly -- the Venice/Telluride/Toronto Film Festival triumvirate in late August and early September.

And yet, today's announcement by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences completely changes the race.  By going from 5 to 10 best picture nominees, the Academy has opened the field to films that would usually not be seriously considered.  The fact that a significant number of voters will still have to get behind each candidate makes this year a complete cluster [expletive].  The Academy has changed it's rules, but it's still predominantly an older membership.  By expanding the number of nominees will it really skew broader?  Or, in a worst case scenario, will the field resemble the Independent Spirit Awards? (Not that we don't love the Spirits, but they are two very different things). 

More intriguingly, studios have already set release dates for many of these films based on the old system.  Will a wider field change their strategy?  Will they want to go earlier or later?  Does matter?  Trust me, even consultant will spend the next few weeks pulling their hair out on which pictures to focus on and which to cast aside.  It's made a monstrous undertaking even more unweilding. 

With all that in mind, here is a brief rundown of 25 candidates and their prospective chances of a nomination as of June 24, 2009.  And yes, even with nomination day six months away there are two locks.  Really.

Locks:
"Nine"
Harvey can breathe a sigh of relief.  Based on the trailer alone, there is no way it's not getting in.
"Invictus"
Unless Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman or Matt Damon commit a disastrous public relations folly,  this feel good about Nelson Mandela and a popular South African rugby star is in.

If as good as expected, it's in:
"The Lovely Bones"
Powerful script, great director and actors.  "Should" work.
"Amelia"
All the hallmarks of a classic prestige period pic nominee, plus Academy fave Hilary Swank. 
"Avatar"
If it's half as ground breaking as it's being hyped as, there will be a drumbeat for it. 

Wildcards:
"Precious: Based on Push a novel by Sapphire"
Sundance Favorite #1: Will be hard for some older members to take, but those who love it (this prognosticator included), love it.  Seems to win over most detractors.
"Up"
I'll believe it when I see it.  As long as  a best animated feature film category still exists, it's an excuse for members not to vote quality animated pictures in the big race.
"Shutter Island"
It was a wildcard to begin with, but now Martin Scorsese's new thriller could be more than a commercial hit.  Just like..."The Departed."
"A Serious Man"
Is it minor or major Cohen?  Still unclear.
"The Informant"
Is it minor or major Soderbegh?  Still unclear.
"The Road"
Esquire loves it, but will anyone else?
"An Education"
Sundance Favorite #2 was always seen as a best actress play for newcomer Carey Mulligan, but now it could be much, much more.
"Broken Embraces"


Almodovar's latest is a potential best actress play for Penelope Cruz, but wasn't considered any more than that out of Cannes.  Will that change when the industry sees it stateside?
"500 Days of Summer"
Sundance Favorite #3: This crowd pleaser could be a strong word of mouth summer hit.  if so, don't discount Searchlight to transform it into another "Little Miss Sunshine" or "Juno."
"Where the Wild Things Are"
Intriguing, perplexing and haunting from the trailer alone, even Warner Bros. may not know what to do with this one.  But if it's powerful enough, it could be a transcendent flick that breaks into the ten.
"The Hurt Locker"
Already one of the best reviewed films of the year, Kathryn Bigelow's thriller will have a lot of champions on ten best lists and in the Academy.
"Up in the Air"
Jason Reitman's follow up to "Juno" is another quirky tale with George Clooney leading the charge.  With that mix, its in the mix.
"Bright Star"
Jane Champion's period drama got a mixed reaction at Cannes, but it's another pretty prestige flick that could win over older members of the Academy.

No clue:

"The Private Lives of Pippa Lee"
Rebecca Miller's latest drama features Robin Wright Penn, Alan Arkin, Monica Bellucci, Julianne Moore and Keanu Reeves.  Is it Indie Spirt or new Oscar material?
"Everybody's Fine"
Miramax dramedy with Robert DeNiro, Kate Beckinsale and Drew Barrymore could be this year's "The Savages" or it could be "The Family Stone."  That's a big difference.
"The Boys Are Back"
Scott Hicks and Clive Owen in a seemingly heartbreaking tale.  Hicks hasn't made a good movie in over a decade though. Is this the comeback?
"Brothers"
This Jim Sheridan drama seems as though it's been delayed forever, but it has a quality filmmaker behind it, Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Tobey Maguire and (currently) an awards-friendly December release date.  You do the math.

Longshots:
"Star Trek"
Currently one of the best reviewed movies of the year, but let's be real -- it's also a "Star Trek" movie.  Some labels may never die.
"Disney's A Christmas Carol"
If Robert Zemeckis has finally figured out how to make motion-capture life-like and breathed something fresh into Charles Dickens' well known tale, it has a shot.
"Funny People"
Judd Apatow's latest is said to be his most dramatic.  If it works, could the Sandler comedy make it in?
"Public Enemies"
Mostly positive, but with many mixed reviews, it may be hard for Michael Mann's latest to be remembered this January.

Note: Paul Greengrass' "Greenzone" is said to be now in 2010.  With this news, things could always change and it could return to 2009.  Additionally, Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" is still not dated for this year.  It's unclear whether it will be released this year or not.  If so, it moves into the wildcards.

Now, let's not even consider this again until Toronto.  Whew.

What do you think of the laundry list?  Anything missing?  Anything in the wrong category? Share your thoughts below.