Well, that was a surprise.  After a breakneck week of SAG Awards nominations (important), critics groups honors (important) and Golden Globe nominations (least important), the race to Oscar ended up becoming even more convoluted than before.   

On the one hand, films that had screened late such as "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," "War Horse," "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" and even "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" were almost completely shut out of honors across the board.  The lone exception being "War Horse" and Rooney Mara with the HFPA's Golden Globes which is mostly just a marketing ploy.  In many ways, being able to judge those pictures assumed Oscar chances became much harder than anticipated.  In the meantime, "The Descendants" had something of a comeback, "Hugo" took a SAG fall and "The Artist" became the steady, but not universal, front runner.  One film that displayed some surprising momentum, however, was Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris."  

Ever since "Paris" became a critic's and audience darling last May, it was seen as being on the short list of possible nominees.  When it cracked SAG's best ensemble five on Thursday, things changed.  As noted previously, no film has won best picture over the past 15 years without having been nominated for this honor.  The actors form the largest branch of the Academy and their own honors within their own union (99% of actors in the Academy are SAG members) are typically a bellwether for Oscar nominations.  The other nominees were "The Artist" (in), "The Descendants" (in), "The Help" (in) and "Bridesmaids" (not so sure).  Out of those four, it's incredibly hard to see the later two winning best picture (although stranger things have happened).  "Paris"?  Well, that's another story.  The film is expected to have strong support from both the writers and directors branches where Woody Allen could easily land best original screenplay (likely) and best director (possible) nominations.  That's the sort of broad support across the org.'s 5,000 plus members you need to take the main prize.  On a busy Golden Globe Thursday, I talked to Sony Pictures Classics Tom Bernard about "Paris'" chances.

"It's anybody's game," Bernard says.  "'Midnight in Paris' is certainly a contender as one of the movies that could capture the best picture. But, it's a long road and you can see there is not one picture that's sort of the runaway favorite as happens in certain years. And I think it means a lot of people have seen 'Midnight in Paris' and have seen it more than once and I think it's a real tribute to the picture that it holds up."

Bernard adds, "it's a movie that satisfies and those are hard to come by. So, we're very excited about that. And Woody, I think, is an icon.  And I think for a guy to be at the peak of his powers in his late 70's and to come up with a movie this fresh?"

Many of my colleagues in the Gurus of Gold agree.  While the film bizarrely dropped in our post-Globes voting from fifth to sixth, longtime and savvy observers Pete Hammond and Steve Pond  (as well as myself) still have the film in our top five.

The main question is whether Classics has the skill to land their first best picture winner.  Many thought "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" would win in 2000, but "Gladiator" took them (as well as "Traffic") down. With the mini-major celebrating their 20th Anniversary this year, could a "Paris" win be the icing on the cake?  As Bernard notes, it's a long road.  And clearly, anything can still happen.

Here's the latest rundown of where films stand in the Oscar race. Note: I'm currently predicting seven to eight nominees will make the cut with the new rules.

1. "The Artist"
Clearly the frontrunner, but box office will play into the mix.  Can it go the distance?

2. "The Descendants"

Thank you LAFCA, HFPA and SAG for bringing the film's best picture hopes back to life.  

3. "Hugo"
The fine folks at Paramount don't want to be reminded, but no film has won best picture over the past 15 years without being nominated for a SAG ensemble award. "Hugo" was not.

4. "Midnight in Paris"
With a strong SAG showing and some HFPA love with the Globes, the long assumed nominee feels like it could turn the corner into a stealth best picture winner. Can Sony Classics pulls such a feat off?

5. "War Horse"
The fine folks at DreamWorks don't want to be reminded, but no film has won best picture over the past 15 years without being nominated for a SAG ensemble award. "War Horse" was not.

6. "Moneyball"

The love for Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill in the SAG nominations and the continued critics group wins in numerous categories show a broad love and respect for the picture.  At this point, it would be surprising if it didn't get in.

7. "The Help"
The SAG ensemble nomination was expected, but three acting nods from the org were not.  It's hard to see it winning, but Tate Taylor's debut should make the cut.

8. "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"
We're holding out hope that "Tinker" can win voters over as it is audiences and critics over the next few weeks before the nomination deadline.

9. "The Tree of Life"

No major critics group win.  No SAG nominations.  Terrence Malick's acclaimed drama may make many top ten lists, but Oscars is likely not one of them.

10. "Beginners"
Independent Spirits and Gothams were a nice boost, but the critics groups have mostly focused on Plummer.  Without being qualified for the WGA Awards it's going to be hard to determine how much recognition Mike Mills' extraordinary drama can receive from the Academy.

11. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2"

If it gets a Producer's Guild nomination, don't be surprised if it sneaks in the Oscar field. If not? No chance.

12. "Bridesmaids"
The SAG nomination for best ensemble and best supporting actress (Melissa McCarthy) was remarkable, but will enough voters really make the comedy blockbuster their first place vote?  Seems hard to believe.

Who do you think is in and who do you think is out for this year's best picture race? Share your thoughts below.

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