What's that sweet smell of vanilla wafting in from the kitchen? Yep, it's bakeoff time already. Earlier today, the Academy announced the shortlist of 10 films still in the race for the Best Visual Effects Oscar. On January 3, the visual effects branch members will gather to view 10-minute excerpts from the shortlisted films before voting on the final five nominees.

None of the inclusions is as surprising as one particular omission. For its jaw-dropping re-creation of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, I had thought Juan Antonio Bayona's "The Impossible" a sure thing for a nomination, let alone a shortlist spot. However, despite nominating "Hereafter" in 2010 for a far less impressive tsunami sequence, the voters felt differently: the Spanish production failed to make a list dominated by expensive Hollywood product.

A trio of superhero blockbusters -- "The Amazing Spider-Man," "The Avengers" and "The Dark Knight Rises" -- made the list, though I'd argue that the effects work in all three is solid rather than dazzling. Greg Ellwood, who's handling the category in our Contenders section, predicted that none of them would ultimately be nominated; that seems less likely now, though four of his predicted nominees ("Cloud Atlas," "The Hobbit," "Life of Pi" and "Prometheus") are still good to go.

The shortlist features seven films Greg had included in his own Top 10 for the category: the outliers, in addition to the aforementioned "Spider-Man," were "Snow White and the Huntsman" and "Skyfall." "Huntsman," I think, is a pretty good call on the branch's part: the pumped-up fairytale's wilder visual concepts are a triumph of aesthetic stylization as well as techno-savvy.

I'm less convinced that "Skyfall," slick as its pyrotechnics are, represents some of the year's very best work in the field: while the film is looking good for cinematography and sound nominations, I'd be surprised to see it go further in this category. The all-but-forgotten "John Carter," however, could well pop up in the nominee list: this branch can be forgiving than most of ambitious work in costly flops, which should also steer "Cloud Atlas" to a nod. 

Like most Oscar pundits, however, I sense the path is increasingly clear for "Life of Pi" to secure at least one win on Oscar night, and not just because -- bar a surge in momentum for "The Hobbit" -- it's the only Best Picture contender in the bunch. 

Here's the full shortlist: 

"The Amazing Spider-Man"

"The Avengers"

"Cloud Atlas"

"The Dark Knight Rises"

"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"

"John Carter"

"Life of Pi"

"Prometheus"

"Skyfall"

"Snow White and the Huntsman"

Surprised? Disappointed? What do you expect to see nominated, and what do you expect to take the prize? Have your say in the comments.