There's been barely a moment to breathe since "The Imitation Game," "Birdman" and "The Theory of Everything" showed their wares at Venice, Telluride and Toronto, but there's rarely any rest for the weary during awards season. Three films are making noise in the Best Picture rankings this week and all for different reasons.

David Fincher's "Gone Girl" has already received some strong early reviews, but its big closeup will be Friday when it opens the 2014 New York Film Festival and a theater full of prestige pundits finally get to see it. Pre-release polling shows a strong $25 million-plus opening for the big screen adaptation of Gillian Flynn's novel and the flood of reviews this weekend "should" give the film an even bigger boost (no doubt part of 20th Century Fox's plan). "Girl" is one contender that will likely need to solidify its standing from both critical and moviegoer response. Like "Captain Phillips" last year, a monster domestic tally will only help its cause in the long term. The early October date, which means many Academy members may actually see it in a theater, doesn't hurt either.

J.C. Chandor didn't have much luck with his well received "All Is Lost" last season, but he's already back with the period New York thriller "A Most Violent Year." A24 purposely waited to release the first trailer, a poster and a release date for the film until after the glut of Toronto Film Festival breaks had passed. While the New Year's Eve release date is slightly unconventional and may "seem" late, the studio isn't hiding the picture. It turns out "Year" will be opening AFI Fest 2014 and continues that festival's foothold as a major stop on the awards season ride. With that screening a good two months before its release, everyone will know how big a player it is or isn't.

"Still Alice," a film this pundit reviewed and pegged as Julianne Moore's latest Oscar worthy performance before anyone else (cough, truth), was quickly snatched up at Toronto by Sony Classics. The mini-major revealed it would open the drama in New York and Los Angeles on Jan. 16, causing panic chatter from those on social media who therefore assumed it wasn't going to qualify for Oscar. Yes, it will. "Still Alice" will get a qualifying run no doubt in December and Moore's frontrunner status is in tact. It's an interesting strategy for SPC. On the one hand, if Moore wins the Golden Globe the Sunday before, it will lead to a huge per-screen in limited release (and if she does, don't be surprised if they consider adding a few other cities to that opening weekend mix). Moreover, Oscar nominations are announced the day before, Jan. 15, which would be the icing on the cake for a great box office run. For Oscar, however, this means "Still Alice" won't be in public theaters during the nomination process. It won't matter for Moore; enough of the acting branch will see her through screeners and SAG Q&As for her to make the cut, but will it hurt the picture? "Still Alice" is a film that could easily resonate with the Academy and sneak into the Best Picture field. Especially if some of the other expected contenders falter. Here's hoping SPC screens the [expletive] out of the movie to give it a chance.*

*One additional note: Maria Shriver is a producer on this film (she's been tweeting about it constantly). If she becomes a public part of the campaign? Watch out.

Before checking out this week's countdown, here's the latest results from the Gurus of Gold crew including this prognosticator. And, yes, "Boyhood" is going to get nominated. I just don't believe it's in the top five (not yet anyway).

Sept. 25, 2014

1. "Interstellar"
Anyone who thinks this is a fanboy ranking is seriously naive, but enjoy being smug now. You'll see.

2. "The Imitation Game"
Steady now. Let everyone else have their moment. Then get ready to pounce in November.

3. "Birdman"
Expect the buzz to return after it closes NYFF in a few weeks.

4. "Unbroken"
Ms. Jolie is going to be busy on other projects during most of the season. That's a big hurdle for Universal to jump considering this is one picture where she needs to pound the pavement like her husband Mr. Pitt did for "World War Z" (and we're just talking box office here).

5. "The Theory of Everything"
How can Focus Features turn it into a contender that could actually win it all? Ponder.

6. "Boyhood"
Box office is finally slowing down. Looks like it won't hit $30 million domestic in this "first run" (expect a re-release in January when nominations are announced).

7. "Gone Girl"
Feels like it's in. Sounds like it's in. We'll have a better idea this weekend.

8. "Inherent Vice"
Waiting for the press conference where Joaquin Phoenix tries to avoid questions about "Doctor Strange" in only the bizarre way he can. (Marvel, do you really know what you're getting into here?)

9. "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
If you think Scott Rudin is going to let this critical and box office gem be forgotten you just don't know Scott Rudin.

10. "Foxcatcher"
One of those players where the reaction from the first major Academy member screening will tell the tale.

Outside looking in:

"American Sniper"
The great unknown, pt. 1

The great unknown, pt. 2

The buzz is getting bad people. Be concerned for Brad and the boys. Very concerned.

"Still Alice"
A late addition to NYFF would be ideal (although possibly not possible), but an AFI Film Fest gala is a must.

We're not saying the Best Actress field is getting crowded, but if Rosamund Pike becomes a lock for "Gone Girl," Searchlight can't take a Reese Witherspoon nod for granted. Just sayin'.

"A Most Violent Year"
One story no one is talking about yet are potential double nominations for Jessica Chastain. Best Supporting Actress for "Interstellar" and Best Actress for "A Most Violent Year."

"Big Eyes"
TWC would be smart to screen this one at AFI Fest if it has a real chance to crack the field.

"Into the Woods"
Am I the only one excited that this is the biggest thing Tracy Ullman's done in years?

The Contender Countdown appears every Wednesday or Thursday, except when it doesn't.

With over a decade of experience in the movie industry, Ellwood survived working for two major studios and has written for Variety, MSN and the LA Times. A co-founder of HitFix, Ellwood spends his time relaxing hitting 3’s on the basketball court and following his beloved Clippers.