Another slew of awards and nominations came in this weekend and the result is that this year's stagnant deathmarch of an Oscar race got a tiny bit shaken up, or at least it got a bit more confusing.

To recap, for most of the season a troika of damaged contenders have been assumed to have a lock on nominations, with the assumption that one of them would take the top prize, despite the fact that each has big minuses. The top three have been Precious (too heavy-handed) Up In the Air (just not quite fantastic enough) and The Hurt Locker (too obscure, unseen by the public). And of those three, Up In the Air has remained the front runner with Hurt Locker taking a distant third at the back of the pack.

By weekend's end, however, the big three had been transformed into the big four, with Hurt Locker suddenly making a move on the outside.

The first piece of non-game changing news was the announcement of the slightly influential but important sounding American Film Institute's Top Ten list. The list reaffirmed the big three, giving them all slots. The one real possible game-changer was the stunning inclusion of The Hangover on the list, which has been mentioned as a dark horse contender for one of Oscar's ten best pic slots.

Next to weigh in was the LA Film Critics Association. The dwindling band of full time movie reviewers began what might prove to be a late surge for Hurt Locker, giving the little bomb-disposal movie that could the year's top honors.

A couple of other long-shots kept their dreams alive with the perhaps-not-all-that-influential Broadcast Film Critics nominations. The Weinstein Company's two dark horses, Inglorious Basterds and Nine, (the latter of which has met with very mixed, at best, critical response) led the pack with the most nominations as well as each scoring Best Picture nods.

And finally today, the New York Film Critics weighed in, seconding their LA brethren's support of Hurt Locker; naming the film as the best of the year and giving Kathryn Bigelow the best director nod.

However, the biggest news shaking up the race was not in the awards but in a flurry of reviews that emerged this weekend for James Cameron's long awaited Avatar. While widely assumed to be a stink-bomb in the making (by us at least) the film has met with rapturous, over-the-top hosannas, leading a stunned awards guru, David Poland, to write,"Avatar joins the 3 or 4 locks for an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture."

Here then are the current standings in the thrilling race to be Oscar's Best Picture of the Year, with a mere three months and a half months left to go; noting by the way, that the most important milestone on the Oscar trail, the Golden Globe nominations, happens tomorrow morning, potentially throwing the entire race in uproar once again.


The Rap: Liked by almost everybody, head-over-heels loved by very few; a vulnerable front-runner. But who could knock it off its pedestal?
Favorable Winds: Continues to make best picture lists.
Negative Winds: Makes lists but leads very few. The "relevant" topicality, as pushed by Frank Rich, is a quality that generally fades in Oscar's mind as the season draws on and hype dies down.

The Rap: Little film with a lot of very very committed fans in the critical world.
Favorable Winds: Swept critics awards this weekend; possible Cameron vs. ex-wife director Bigelow storyline may be irresistible for Oscar.
Negative Winds: Bestowing the top trophy on a film no one has seen (grosses still total under ten million) is a potentially suicidal move for Oscar.

The Rap: The little drama's power and messageyness still hits Oscar where it hurts, despite heavy-handedness.
Favorable Winds: Still riding its sweep of the Spirits.
Negative Winds: Hard hitting horror show story showing strong signs of looking less interesting as time passses.

The Rap: James Cameron's 3D outer space epic exploded into the race with rapturous reviews this week, but remains unseen by Oscar voters.
Favorable Winds: The reviews have been strong enough that Avatar could potentially be that rare film Oscar prays for; the giant blockbuster with enough critical standing that it comes in and sweeps the table — and boosts ratings, like Titanic or Lord of the Rings.
Negative Winds: Question mark whether the 3D effects and 2D plotting will prove just too much for voters to swallow in a Best Picture.

The Rap: Quirky war epic may be the Tarantino film with broad enough appeal to win him a seat at the table.
Favorable Winds: Led the Broadcast Film Critics nominations; retains a base of hardcore admirers.
Negative Winds: Remains a highly love-it-or-hate-it film, and with ultimately more post-modern fluff than weighty Oscar appeal.

The Rap: Charming little film that won't fade away.
Favorable Winds: Keeps making friends and wears perhaps the best of the Oscar dramas; should pick up lots of acting nominations.
Negative Winds: Too small and non-messagey a film to be a serious contender for the big prize.

7. UP!
The Rap: Pixar cartoon is beloved by many, but Oscar remains no friend of the cartoon.
Favorable Winds: Shows up on almost every ten best of the year list.
Negative Winds: Has yet to show the sort of awards muscle with other prizes it would need to stampede over anti-cartoon prejudice and force its way into the top tier.

The Rap: The South African rugby picture is widely appreciated, but has few jumping with glee.
Favorable Winds: Oscar's love for Eastwood remains strong; Morgan Freeman's performance almost guaranteed nomination.
Negative Winds: Weak box-office performance has sapped what momentum the film have; Eastwood has been so celebrated by Oscar already that the bar has become very high for him to earn yet another.

The Rap: Huge Oscar pedigree, but early response is very tepid.
Favorable Winds: Topped nominations in Broadcast Critics awards.
Negative Winds: Palpable lack of excitement about what should have been a shoo-in.

The Rap: What was thought to be the Coen's most obscure and personal film continues to win over fans.
Favorable Winds: Strong showings on ten best lists.
Negative Winds: Obscurity of topic and structure continue to keep it at arm's length from top tier.

The Rap: Almost entirely buried in its theatrical release, continues to impress those who have seen.
Favorable Winds: Should get acting nods for its strong performances by Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson.
Negative Winds: Could be the first film that failed to gross a million nominated for Best Picture in recent history.

Third tier contenders: White Ribbon, Lovely Bones, A Single Man, The Road, The Blind Side, In the Loop, Julie and Julia, The Hangover.