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Many top contenders for approaching Academy Awards

Credit: Christa Hester/Forum Editor Credit: Christa Hester/Forum Editor

Finally, after 10 months of anxiously waiting (nearly recovering from the debacle that was the Hathaway-Franco hosting gig), the 2012 Oscar season is here. Although the Academy Awards aren’t until Feb. 26 of next year, the just-as-tense pre-awards nomination race is in full swing. Following is a bit of a cross-section of this year’s best films in an effort to familiarize you with this year’s slew of Oscar hopefuls and make a few predictions and parallels. These are mostly speculated from personal movie viewings as well as in response to pre-Oscar movie festival turn-outs and movie release reviews and grosses.

There are already forerunners in a few of the major categories: Viola Davis (The Help) and Meryl Streep (for the prescreened The Iron Lady) are probably leading the Best Actress nominations; Michael Fassbender (Shame) and George Clooney (The Descendants) are in a toss-up for the Best Actor win; and Martin Scorsese (Hugo) and Steven Spielberg (for the not-yet-released but already-popularized War Horse) are among the favorites for Best Director.

The heated Best Picture race has been under the spotlight since the academy changed the nomination pool from a strict 10 films to somewhere between five and 10 films earlier this year. Listed below are films that will likely be top contenders for the award, including films that have been released and films that have yet to be released but have already been lauded by eager movie critics:

The Descendants: This dramatic comedy, a story about a father re-examining his life after the accidental death of his wife, has earned critical appraisal for its warm tone and performances. Although the film itself is likely to be nominated, most critics doubt that it will persuade the likes of academy voters and come out victorious. Acclaimed performances by Clooney and newcomer Shailene Woodley (from ABC Family’s tween sensation The Secret Life of the American Teenager) are more likely to take home the Oscars.

Hugo: This Martin Scorsese-directed magical film has already earned a wide array of critical acclaim, including the award for Best Film of 2011 by the National Board of Review. Perhaps the academy will reward this whimsical film despite its straying away from the traditional Best Picture precedent.

The Help: Based on Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling novel, this film was widely acclaimed for its performances and screenplay following its August premiere. Although many critics were inspired by its warm message of friendship and sisterhood, some criticized the movie for not taking enough risks. Given that the majority of critics thought it was fantastic, however, it still has nomination potential.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: Directed by David Fincher (who also directed The Social Network), this film, set to release Dec. 21, has been heavily anticipated by critics and moviegoers for months now. Extended trailers and promotions have increased its popularity, and many are beginning to foresee an Oscar nomination for this edgy offering.

Midnight in Paris: One of the only comedies on the contenders list, this movie has garnered numerous high approval ratings for its performances and directing. It’s said to be Woody Allen’s best film in a while.

Moneyball: A long-standing hit with fans and critics after its late-September release, Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt (in what has been applauded as his best performance yet), is a true story with deep life morals. If Oscar voters understand the elevation of this movie from a normal sports classic, it has a solid chance to be among the nominees.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: This movie is adapted from Jonathan Safron Foer’s renowned novel about a boy coping with his father’s death on 9/11. Although it does not arrive in theaters until Dec. 25, many critics have high hopes for the literary classic because of the book’s success and the movie’s extraordinary casting (Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, to name just two).

The academy usually nominates films from a wide spectrum and hands the victory to either the Hollywood blockbuster or the low-budget, more independent film. The Artist, a movie centered on the Hollywood silent film era, attracted rave reviews after its late November release for its brilliant acting and evocation of the era. A larger budget film, War Horse, directed by Steven Spielberg, releases later this month and has been painted as an instant epic classic for its cinematography and plot (shown to be tried and true by its previous versions as a book and play). These two films have the highest probability to take home the golden statue based on what the academy tends to go for.

So who will win? Will it be one of these predictions or none of the above? Maybe it’s time for the Harry Potter franchise to receive academy acknowledgment for its final film or for the ambivalently-reviewed Terrence Malick film The Tree of Life to obtain a nomination, even though it seemed to baffle many critics.