A funny thing happened on the way to the Academy Awards nominations and it's just happens to be a little movie called "Avatar."  Jim Cameron's lauded Sci-Fi epic was supposed to be a mess, but the final result had many critics and pundits (including this one) eating crow.  Now, the 3-D phenomenon is poised to take the Christmas box office crown after becoming the "must see" movie for the holiday season.  Who knew the Oscar for Best Picture was also in its future?

It was apparent to many Oscar prognosticators after finally seeing "Avatar" that it could win it all, but the reports of a packed house of Academy members going gaga for the picture this past weekend all but sealed the deal. When 1,100 of around 6,000 members go bonkers for a flick that means something.  And, amazingly, 20th Century Fox hasn't even really started a campaign yet (although note to Foxie: don't discount the importance of getting Saldana, Cameron and Weaver out on the awards circuit).

Now, based on the latest results, not everyone at the esteemed Movie City News' Gurus of Gold agrees with this voting member.  But the other pundits who do, Pete Hammond, David Poland, Kris Tapley, Sasha Stone and Anne Thompson?  Let's just say we have a track record...and if EW's Dave Karger wants to stick with "Air"? Well, that's the disadvantage of living in New York and covering Oscar.  Sorry, truth hurts people. Plus, he can always change his vote next week.  With that in mind, Award's Campaign's latest contender countdown:

1. "Avatar"
Box Office plus critical acclaim plus landmark achievement in filmmaking push it over "Air" into the top spot. For now...

2, "Up in the Air"

No one really thought "Avatar" would be a serious contender, but in comparison it makes "Air" seem like such a small movie -- which is not what you need to win it all.  It doesn't help that it's also far behind "Hurt Locker" in the national critical accolades.  It could still win, but needs some luck along the way.

3. "The Hurt Locker"
Even this pundit is impressed and surprised by the number of critical accolades Kathryn Bigelow's thriller has received.  If it can pull out a win at the Globes, SAG Ensemble Award or the PGA Awards Best Picture (assuming it's nominated) it could really win it all.

4, "Inglourious Basterds"
If The Weinstein Company had played it's cards better "Basterds" could be a serious contender to win it all.  Now? A dark horse.

5. "Precious"
The year-end awards and critics groups have guaranteed it will make it in, but a chance to win it all was lost along the way (along with a chance at bigger box office as well). And here everyone thought Lionsgate was the perfect distributor.  Perhaps not.

6. "Up"
Everybody sure thinks it's a lock, but nobody talks about it.  Is that a good thing?  Hmmmm.

7. "Invictus"
Should cement its status in the annual holiday screener marathon.

8. "An Education"

Just hard to see it not making the ten. 

9. "Nine"
Fading fast, will the box Christmas box office be the final nail in the coffin or will a surprise result give Rob Marshall's maligned musical new life?

10. "The Blind Side"

There are a number of films that could slip in here from "Crazy Heart" to "500 Days of Summer" to "District 9" to "A Serious Man" to "Michael Jackson's This Is It" (don't laugh), but boy is that box office impressive for "Blind Side."

As an added bonus, MCN asked the Gurus some provocative and intriguing questions about the campaign so far. Here are AC's answers expanded for your reading pleasure.
 
1. Is "Up In The Air" better than 50% to win Best Picture at this time?
NO.  In fact, it could fall behind "Locker" in the second slot the way things are going.

2. Is "The Hurt Locker" better than 50% to win Best Picture at this time?
NO.  But, it could become the only serious challenger to "Avatar" by the time the final ballots are due.

3. Is "Avatar" better than 50% to win Best Picture at this time?
YES.  You betcha.  Something dramatic would have to occur for the film to lose a grip on its frontrunner status (cue the negative campaigning!).

4. Is "Nine" still a legit possibility to win Best Picture?
NO.  And that's an understatement.

5. Is "Inglourious Basterds" the hard-driving dark horse for Best Picture at this time?
YES.  It's one of the few that could upset "Avatar."

6. Can you imagine a film aside from the five in Questions 1-5 winning Best Picture at this time?

NO.  It's just not gonna happen. The remaining five have too many question marks or faults to really surprise.

7. Are Mo'Nique's chances to win being hurt in a real way by bad media buzz at this time?

NO.  This "buzz" is for lack of a better phrase B.S.  Awards Campaign will dive into this ludicrous subject matter over the holiday weekend.

8. Can an actor doing a motion capture performance, like Zoe Saldana in "Avatar," get a shot for an acting nomination at this time?

NO.  Sadly, not yet.  Saldana and Jim Carrey in "A Christmas Carol" deliver some amazing performances, but it's going to be quite awhile till the actor's branch celebrates it alongside traditional live action.

9. Has having 10 Best Picture nominees made the season more exciting so far?

YES.  The quality of the films isn't necessarily what the Academy was hoping for, but the drama of who is in and who is out is more exciting than ever.  If the old rules were in effect, we wouldn't even be discussing films 7-10 at this point in the race.

Do you think "Avatar" is really the frontrunner at this time? 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.