From London to Los Angeles, the first screenings of James Cameron's long awaited Sci-Fi opus "Avatar" had many pundits, critics and journalists eating crow.  In fact, some of us should be so stuffed we can't speak.  Not only is the film anything but a cheesy disaster, it is instead a stunning spectacle that should become a monster hit and a legit Best Picture contender.

That's right, you just saw the words "legit Best Picture contender" associated with a film this writer was seriously unimpressed with after seeing 20 plus minutes at Comic-Con this past summer.  Needless to say, the whole epic adventure -- all 2 hours and 25 minutes of it -- is a filmmaking achievement that will be hard for the Academy to ignore. It's not only in for Best Picture, but it should pit Cameron against his ex-wife, "The Hurt Locker's" Kathryn Bigelow, for Best Director (can you hear Baldwin's jokes now?).  Many in the industry are rooting for Bigelow to be the first female director winner in Oscar history, but Cameron's work here should make it an incredibly close race.

In terms of other categories, look for "Avatar" to land nominations in Best Original Score (James Horner), Best Editing, both Sound Editing and Mixing, Best Art Direction and possibly even Best Cinematography. And, duh, best Visual Effects are a lock you can take to Vegas -- this is a film whose CG work will leave George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson dumbstruck.  On the other hand, the one area that is hard to imagine any nominations are the acting categories.  Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana give perhaps two of the most impressive motion capture performances in the early history of the medium, but with such competitive leading actor and supporting actress categories already, it's hard to see the Academy taking that leap this year.

The big question though is whether "Avatar" can win Best Picture.  Let's be  frank. "Avatar" is still a quintessential Cameron film.  It's a tad too long, there are bad bits of dialogue (nowhere near as cringe inducing as "Titanic") and the villains are of the Billy Zane variety.  But amazingly, the romance and relationship between Worthington and Saldana's alien characters is much more believable than the "my heart will go on" shotgun wedding of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslett's duo in "Titanic." And again, there are moments in this movie that just absolutely astound in their breathtaking beauty and scope.  It's hard to believe it's even CG at times.

Then again, at this point you still have to call "Up in the Air" the front runner. However, the excellent dramedy is such a small, small film compared to "Avatar" (not that there is anything wrong with that either).  As time marches on and "Avatar's" global box office grows, can Jason Reitman's little flick withstand what could be a major theatrical phenomenon? 

With that in mind, here is Awards Campaign's revised contender countdown.

BEST PICTURE

1. "Up in the Air"
Will need help from critic's groups and a win over "Avatar" at the Globes and Producer's Guild.

2. "Avatar"
Will Academy members sit through it? Yes.  Will they be impressed? Yes.  Will they make it No. 1?  Unclear.

3. "Invictus"
"Avatar's" emergence made winning it all a bit tougher.  Needs to become a word of mouth movie to help

3. "Precious"
Lionsgate is starting to spend a bit more, but it may have peaked too soon.

4. "The Hurt Locker"
Could win either LAFCA or NYFCC this weekend.

5. "Up"
Just hard to imagine it winning the top prize, but Best Animated Feature is a lock.

6. "An Education"
"We're still here? Thank you!"



7. "Inglourious Basterds"
Why does it feel as though if another studio were running this campaign it could be a top contender?

8. "Nine"
Reviews haven't been kind so far, but it fills a slot.

10. "A Serious Man"
Still believe Focus will be able to ride the critical acclaim to a nomination.

11. "500 Days of Summer"
Cropping up in conversations, but is the campaign really there?

12. "District 9"
If it gets in many will be thrilled; if it doesn't there won't be much protesting.

And yes, it looks like Awards Campaigns' report on "Avatar" making the Globes race for Best Picture - Drama was right on the mark. 

Just for those keeping track at home.

Has the positive buzz convinced you to see "Avatar" now? Do you believe it can win Best Picture?  Share your thoughts below.

As the season heats up, look for breaking awards season news and commentary daily on Awards Campaign.  For the latest, follow @HitFixGregory on Twitter.