Well. This has been an interesting couple of weeks to start the new year.

As the 2011-2012 film awards season forges ahead, general assumptions and standby wisdom are beginning to fly out the window. What was beginning to seem somewhat settled is anything but. The bed looked like it was made, now the covers are thrown to the far reaches of the room.

And that, by the way, is a very good thing. As flabbergasted as I am by the fact that David Fincher's least compelling film to date seems to be riding residual respect from his impressive awards season showing last year, I am nevertheless happy that "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," and "Bridesmaids," for that matter, are keeping things interesting, keeping the circuit on its toes, drawing everything into a place of exciting unpredictability.

But is that really just a smokescreen? Underneath it all, "The Artist" is forging ahead, strong as ever, the likely Best Picture winner at this juncture. This isn't new news and some pundits have been sniping about it being the frontrunner from the sidelines for months, in fact (though our own Guy Lodge was on about its Oscar potential back in Cannes, when people were looking at him like he was crazy for bringing it up in such a conversation). Are all of these pleasant or not-so-pleasant surprises just accoutrement to the inevitable?

Maybe. Then again, maybe not. "The Descendants" is now the only film to have a perfect guild showing thus far, having been chalked up by the SAGPGADGAWGA and ADG. That will run out of steam tomorrow when the ASC nominates, of course, but for now, it gets that designation. "Inception" had a perfect showing throughout ALL the guilds and societies last year, though, and ultimately wasn't nominated in the two most important fields for gauging a Best Picture contender's chances: Best Director and Best Film Editing. The point being, nothing is a given.

The story out of the guild circuit so far is the lackluster showing for Steven Spielberg's "War Horse." I'll admit now that its chances of winning the big prize on Oscar night are all but completely gone, but it's silly to start writing it off as a non-nominee, I think. "Munich" didn't exactly light up the guild circuit, either (though it did get a DGA nod), but still, that wasn't a film with as populist a bent as "War Horse." So it's all very curious.

"Midnight in Paris" seems to be firing on all cylinders lately. I wouldn't be surprised if the ASC chalked it up tomorrow. And "Hugo" is quietly sticking in there as a formidable force, too. Some may point to its lack of a SAG ensemble bid to douse its Best Picture hopes, but I think it's right in the thick of that race, along with Woody Allen and Michel Hazanavicius's films.

Some might want to figure "The Descendants" heavily into the conversation for a win, but I'm still not feeling it. If it's fair to point to the fact that "Hugo" won't likely get an acting nomination then I think it's fair to point to the fact that "The Descendants" might not get a single below-the-line nomination. Yeah, the actors make up the biggest branch, but all those other branches add up to a considerable chunk of the vote, too, no?

Regarding the DGA nominees, it's once again worth pointing out the fact that the DGA is a massive organization, whereas the Academy's directors branch is a small, sometimes eclectic group. So someone like Terrence Malick still has a chance there. And so, by the way, does Steven Spielberg, regardless of this morning's news -- though admittedly, it's as slim a chance as ever.

But David Fincher's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" has to be considered a likely Best Picture nominee now that it has shown up with the PGA (which, by the way, uses the preferential balloting system) and the DGA. The last two years (since the Academy's change-up in the way the Best Picture category is sussed out), films that have made it in with both guilds have included "Avatar," "Black Swan," "The Fighter," "The Hurt Locker," "Inception," "Inglorious Basterds," "The King's Speech," "Precious," "The Social Network" and "Up in the Air." Pretty nice company. It's clear with 10 nominees the film would be in, but how do the new rules affect it?

And that's really the question, and it remains the key reason for the rule change this year: keeping things interesting. We just don't know how it'll shake out, how many nominees there will be (I'm still thinking seven, though I've moved "Moneyball" out of my predictions -- I don't know why, I just don't feel heat) and how the passion will be disseminated.

I'm okay with that, even if I am pulling out my hair at the way things are panning out for this film or that.

Guy and I have updated the Contenders section this week. The sidebar predictions reflect those changes. Meanwhile, keep up with the back and forth of the season and all the critics and guild announcements so far via The Circuit.

For year-round entertainment news and awards season commentary follow @kristapley on Twitter.

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