The Promised Land
Picking a film no one has seen as the Best Picture frontrunner is always a foolhardy decision, but then again, picking against director Gus Van Sant when he’s been given an emotionally charged script and Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Frances McDormand, Rosemarie DeWitt and Hal Holbrook seems equally idiotic. Focus Features was originally planning to release the film sometime in 2013, but after evaluating the material, post-production was rushed in order to get the final product ready for the last week of December. That’ll qualify it for the Oscars, and ideally, begin a steady march toward February domination.

Damon has always been an actor who rises with the quality of his material. Playing an oil executive trying to secure drilling rights should offer him a chance to use his vocal brilliance, and as his principal adversary trying to defend the community, Krasinski should be able to tape into the small town charm he’s perfected on The Office. I’m not ready to guarantee a Best Picture win, but if I have to pick the film most likely to get it done, it’s without question this one.

The Silver Linings Playbook
Buzz at the Toronto International Film Festival has created several Best Picture winners in recent years, like The King's Speech or Slumdog Millionaire, and if there's anything getting that level of attention this year, it's The Silver Linings Playbook. Director David O. Russell's follow-up to the Best Picture nominated The Fighter might seem a little too slight on the surface, a dark comedy about two damaged people building a connection, but everyone who's seen this film says it's home run, and the kind of movie the Academy won't be able to resist.

And with Oscar favorite Jennifer Lawrence in one lead role (some say a lock for a Best Actress nomination), and the charming Bradley Cooper in the other, Silver Linings is getting the kind of buzz for its performance that can lead up to Best Picture-- think of how Melissa Leo and Christian Bale both won Oscars for their work in The Fighter. Two years ago Russell brought the Academy a film they clearly loved, but was caught in the scrum between The Social Network and The King's Speech. Making a movie with tons of festival buzz is a great way to get a Best Picture nomination, but doing it just 2 years after another big hit? That's how you win the whole thing.

The Avengers
Why should Joss Whedon’s The Avengers be in the Best Picture conversation? Because Oscar history has shown us that box office and critical appreciation matter, and the summer blockbuster has both in spades. With $1.5 billion in the worldwide bank, The Avengers easily ranks as the highest-grossing film of 2012, and the third-highest grossing film of all time. Superhero movies make money; that goes without saying. It’s the overwhelmingly positive reviews written for Avengers that have us hoping the Academy takes notice. Whedon’s film boasts a 92% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, with a 69% positive on the tougher MetaCritic.

Granted, box office success does not guarantee a Best Picture nomination. If that were the case, then Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest would have had legitimate shots at Oscar gold. But films like James Cameron’s Titanic and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: Return of the King have blazed a trail for money-hoarding blockbusters, and a victory on Oscar night for a comic-book tentpole would be the vote of confidence heard around the world.

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