When asked this season what film I think will win Best Picture, I've said "Les Misérables" since about September. Obviously for a stretch that was sight-unseen. Then the film, and others, came along. And I stuck with it. Largely I had to defend the call against those who couldn't see a film that is perceived as "divisive" (and boy are the detractors LOUD) winning the top prize, and they had a fair enough point.

The only thing is, I see passion for the film and the nay-sayers are a bit marginalized. Critics and industry people view this film differently. And those who love the film LOVE it. You can't ignore that kind of embrace. Few films this year really have it. And it's particularly important in a season that seems more up-for-grabs than any in recent history.

But as more and more members have finally caught up with the majority of the season's offerings in the past few weeks, I've made sure I paid attention to one thing in particular in my conversations: consensus. Consensus and general agreement wins you Oscars. But many films have inherent marks against them. There are really only two films, though, that tend to be enjoyed, adored, respected and liked all the way across the board, and one of them has taken shape as the potential taker of the cake. That film is "Argo."

The other film, by the way, is "Silver Linings Playbook," but I don't think it has the proper weight to carry through to a win. The Weinstein Company will put up a valiant fight, as they should. Gunning for three in a row is noble and they have another crowd-pleaser. But it's not my bet.

When I rank these films here and at the Gurus o' Gold collective at Movie City News, I approach it from the standpoint of "most likely to be nominated." And passion drives that consideration more than it does in the vote for the win, given the process by which votes are counted. So "Les Mis" is still on top for me in that regard. Its champions are in love, moved, rocked by the film. But when all those number twos and number threes start to pile up in the vote for Best Picture during phase two, "Argo" is likely to pop up more often than "Les Misérables," and that will obviously be key.

None of this is an epiphany. Guy has been picking "Argo" for a while for these same reasons. Many readers have, too. But it didn't settle for me until I really got a (tangible) load of how much it is holding strong with Academy members. And boy is it ever.

When the rest of the season's offerings came along, it seemed like Ben Affleck's film had been elbowed out of the way. There were shiny new things for the press to play with and chew on and prop up. But it's crucial to point out that "Argo" is the one nipping at the heels of "Zero Dark Thirty" for critics' Best Picture prizes this season, not "Lincoln," not "Silver Linings Playbook," and obviously not "Les Mis." It's still here. It still comes up in every single conversation with members. It still feels like the thoroughbred it was out of the gate in Telluride.

"But 'Argo' can't win anything else," some say. Well, not true. It can win Best Director; Ben Affleck is well-liked and is seen as resurrected by his filmmaking career, while 2010's "The Town" is perceived in many circles as a film that should have gone farther. It can win Best Adapted Screenplay; it's a tough race with "Lincoln" and "Silver Linings Playbook" in there but Chris Terrio can easily take the prize with his "The Ends of the Earth" turning on actors and filmmakers behind the scenes right now. It can win Best Supporting Actor, believe it or not; Alan Arkin is in the same boat as Tommy Lee Jones, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robert De Niro in that they've all won before, so it's a level playing field. And it can win Best Film Editing; William Goldenberg will likely be duking it out with himself (and co-editor Dylan Tichenor) for the work that went into "Zero Dark Thirty" for that award.

Speaking of Kathryn Bigelow's film, more members haven't seen the film than I would have thought at this point. And a lot of ballots have already been turned in. That can also be said of films like "Amour" and "The Impossible." The truncated schedule has sent things into a tizzy and that, by the way, is another thing currently in "Argo"'s favor: it's been visible for a long time. Early fall launches ended up being fortuitous in a schedule such as this. That's also true of films like "Flight" and "Skyfall."

Phase two is always a different beast and anything can happen. This year it will be uniquely interesting because it will be a massive six weeks rather than the usual four. It could get ugly, too, given how tight the race is. But "Argo" has survived the tempest so far and there's no reason to think it can't survive a little bit longer.

So as the year draws to a close, I would be tempted to move my chips -- which I haven't been overly vocal about, except by way of defense -- over to Ben Affleck's thrilling, crowd-pleasing, unassuming and well-regarded third feature film. But nothing's a safe bet. "Les Misérables" could still win. "Lincoln" could win. It's still a race, as much as it ever was.

And that's why this year is so exciting.

Check out my updated predictions HERE and, as always, see how Guy Lodge, Greg Ellwood and I collectively think the season will turn out at THE CONTENDERS.