As awards season storms into November the pool of Best Picture candidates is finally starting to solidify.  If the new ten picture system has done anything, it's established a small handful of films that are almost sure things to make to the dance.  Every prognosticator has their own favorites, but a consensus at Movie City News' Gurus of Gold (which Awards Campaign participates) finds Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air," Lee Daniels' "Precious: Based on Push a Novel by Sapphire" and Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker" as pretty much sure bets at this early date.

This isn't just wild speculation.  The votes of 14 professionals who spend a good majority of the time watching the Oscar race over 3/4's of the year are at play here.  It's just not the quality of the movies, it's about considering the established field and what is yet to come.  And right now, there isn't much that hasn't been seen that could knock these three quality flicks out. 

You can find the rest of the Gurus top picks for last week here.  Awards Campaign's personal selections are a bit off from the consensus an we also takes into account new Fox Searchlight release "Crazy Heart" which could possibly knock one of the established ten out of contention (the film hadn't been screend when our original selections were submitted).  Check out Awards Campaign's current top 12 contenders and share your thoughts on the over field below.


BEST PICTURE

1. "Invictus"
It has only been seen by some WB execs, but the buzz so far is more than good.  More importantly, it has all the elements to build a consensus from Academy members (which is what wins the final price): an inspiring true story, a beloved Academy-friendly cast and a filmmaker in Clint Eastwood who many in the industry believe can do no wrong.  And if it's half as good as the trailer, it's in.  If it's as good and moving as the trailer?  It's the absolute frontrunner. For now, we're betting on the latter.

2. "The Hurt Locker"
It has the consensus Best Director frontrunner and should make almost every major top ten list of the year (and top many of them).  Would be a shock at this point if it didn't make it as one of the critical picks.

3. "Precious: Based on Push a Novel by Sapphire"
How many converts who didn't believe the hype surrounding Lee Daniels triumph change their tune over this past weekend? Judging by the reviews and the grosses, a very significant amount.

4. "Up in the Air"
The chance for over-hype is always possible, but we highly doubt it.  Those who will love, will love.  It's this year's "Juno" or "Little Miss Sunshine" slot filler.

5. "Up"
It's almost impossible to believe with ten nominees an animated film with as much artistic recognition as this one won't get in just because it's "animated."  If it doesn't, Academy be damned.

6. "An Education"
The celebrated coming of age drama could still be left behind, but it's hard to see it not making the final ten.  A consensus of critics top ten lists and lots of its lovely star Carey Mulligan at awards scene cocktail parties wouldn't hurt either.

7. "Nine"
The scuttlebutt on this one is all over the place. Last minute edits, songs being cut and some unprintable tips, but we won't have to wait long to find out whether it's good or not.  Press screenings will occur at the end of the week. 

8. "Inglourious Basterds"
Quentin Tarantino's latest has defied all odds to become both a critical and box office blockbuster.  Something suggests a good number of voters who watch their Academy screener Christmas week will seal the deal.

9. "A Serious Man"
Perilous #1: After a month of release, the buzz is starting to fade just a bit on the Coen brothers latest.  The approximately $5 million in box office in more than 238 theaters is pretty good, but how soon will the star-less comedy hit its natural ceiling? 

10. "District 9"
Perilous #2: We've heard a strong campaign is coming from Sony Pictures to support "District 9" which the critically acclaimed Sci-Fi thriller needs to make the cut.  We're still waiting for any signs of said campaign.

11. "Crazy Heart"
Jeff Bridges tour de force is on the cusp of cracking the top ten.  Will the Academy ignore some of the film's faults and emprace the heartwarming story as a whole.  It's still unclear.

12. "A Single Man"
A strong film this prognosticator loved out of Toronto, but was hard to envision the gay-themed drama as more than a showcase for Best Actor candidate Colin Firth. But now, surprisingly, straight men are starting to fall for it more than its intended audience.  Is it this year's dark horse?

Every week the Gurus will also make their projections on select other categories.  This time around Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Animated Feature are in the mix.  If you check out the Gurus list, you'll notice I originally included "Up in the Air's" Vera Farminga Best Actress in the mix.  Since then, she and her reps have decided to move her to the more competitive Best Supporting Actress category.  Really can't understand that one myself, but the field has been reassessed without her in it.  Additionally, it wasn't known Jeff Bridges would be eligible for "Crazy Heart" in the Best Actor race when ballots were originally due.

 BEST ACTOR

1. George Clooney, "Up in the Air"
Right now, it's the absolute best performance of his career. That may just do it.

 2. Jeff Bridges, "Crazy Heart"
The movie isn't as great as Bridges outstanding performance, but that may be the only reason he isn't the frontrunner. At the moment...

3. Colin Firth, "A Single Man"
Again, the movie doesn't live up to the actor's portrayal, but if Firth gets enough end of year recognition, there's no reason he can't steal the statue.

4. Morgan Freeman, "Invictus"
Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela under the direction of Clint Eastwood.  He or the movie would have to be really bad for him not to get nominated.

5. Sharlto Copley, "District 9"
Total gut...at the moment.  He's brought up too much by non-geek or genre people in the industry.  They may not remember his name, but they remember what he did on screen.  If he can sneak in a SAG nod, he may easily find his way to an Oscar nomination.

6. Matt Damon, "The Informant"
Something suggests Damon is going to be remembered by the acting branch for his physical transformation and hilariously endearing turn in Steven Soderbergh's dramedy.  But will it be remembered so long after its September release?
  

BEST ACTRESS

1. Carey Mulligan, "An Education"
The only thing not guaranteeing Mulligan a win is whether Streep makes it known she really wants to win this time around.

2. Meryl Streep, "Julie and Julia"
The legend is in.  But this time around if she makes it known she wants it after an embarrassing winless streak (for the academy), she'll probably get it.

3. Gabourey 'Gabby' Sidibe, "Precious: Based on Push a Novel by Sapphire"
The newcomer has gotten just as many critical raves as co-star Mo'Nique and the more Sidibe makes public appearances where she shows just how different she is in real life from Precious, she'll win more and more votes.

4. Abbie Cornish, "Bright Star"
Academy member rarely ignore period flicks and distributor Apparition has not given up campaigning this film nor Cornish's impressive performance.  She could tumble, but right now she's likely in.

5. Marion Cotillard, "Nine"
Word is she's the strongest of all the 'Nine' ladies.  If the film is good and well liked, that could find the French starlet Oscar nominated once more.

6. Helen Mirren, "The Last Station"*
*Haven't seen it yet, but an Academy member told me this weekend he's convinced she's in even though there is some question whether the role is lead or supporting.  That puts her on the immediate outskirts...for now.
    
BEST ANIMATED FILM

1. "Up"
You have to ask?
   
2. "Coraline"
Loved more by the animation branch then you might expect.  The fact Henry Selick directed doesn't hurt.

3. "Fantastic Mr. Fox"
Don't discount more stop motion love and a singular and successful vision unlike many of its counterparts.  Even "Coraline" doesn't feel as fresh and new as "Fox."

4. "Ponyo"
A better than good movie by Hideo Myiasaki is not getting ignored by the animation branch. No way, no how.

Look for another Contender Countdown every week on Awards Campaign.

Any major contenders or nominees missing from your point of view?  Share your thoughts below.

For constant updates on awards season and entertainment news follow Gregory Ellwood on Twitter at Twitter.com/HitFixGregory