‘Argo’ jumps ahead of ‘Les Miserables’ in Best Picture race at Oscars

Just how fluid is the Best Picture race at this year’s Oscars? 

Matt Atchity (Rotten Tomatoes) just switched from “Lincoln” to become the ninth of our 25 Experts backing “Argo” for the win, giving it leading odds of 5 to 1. This third film from Ben Affleck scored an impressive 86 at Metacritic and is a hit with audiences as well, grossing $43 million in just two weeks. Indeed, so strong is the word-of-mouth that this taut thriller about the rescue of six American hostages from Iran in 1980 fell by only 15% in its second weekend. (See predix of all Experts here and see racetrack odds here.)

Atchity joins Scott Feinberg (Hollywood Reporter), Pete Hammond (Deadline Hollywood), Guy Lodge (In Contention/ Hitfix), Paul Sheehan (Gold Derby), Sasha Stone (Awards Daily), Peter Travers (Rolling Stone), Glenn Whipp (Los Angeles Times) and Susan Wloszczyna (USA Today).

Eight Experts — Edward Douglas (Coming Soon), Tariq Khan (Fox News), Sean O’Connell (Hollywood News), Tom O’Neil (Gold Derby), Christopher Rosen (Huffington Post), Keith Simanton (IMDB), Alex Suskind (Moviefone) and Jeff Wells (Hollywood Elsewhere) — are still predicting the yet-to-screen “Les Miserables” will prevail. It has odds of 11 to 2. 

The pedigree of this project, an adaptation of the 1987 Tony-winning Best Musical by Oscar champ Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”), is impressive and features Oscar nominee Anne Hathaway who leads the Best Supporting Actress race as well as Tony winner Hugh Jackman (“The Boy From Oz”) and Oscar champ Russell Crowe (“A Beautiful Mind”).

Four Experts — Thelma Adams (Yahoo), Steve Pond (The Wrap), Dave Karger and Chuck Walton (Fandango) — still favor one-time frontrunner “Silver Linings Playbook” which now has odds of 15 to 2. This winner of the audience award at the Toronto filmfest in September opens on Nov. 21. David O. Russell‘s comedy-drama showcases Jennifer Lawrence who has dominated the Best Actress category for weeks. She currently leads with odds of 7 to 4. 

Michael Musto (Village Voice) and Richard Horgan (Mediabistro/FishbowlLA) support the still-unseen “Zero Dark Thirty.” In her followup to 2009 Best Picture winner “The Hurt Locker,” Oscar champ Kathryn Bigelow tells the tale of Seal Team Six and its hunt for Osama Bin Laden.

One Expert apiece are going with “Life of Pi” and “Lincoln,” which each screened as a work-in-progress at the recent New York filmfest.

Anne Thompson (Thompson on Hollywood/Indiewire) favors the former in which Oscar winner Ang Lee (“Brokeback Mountain”) brings Yann Martel‘s fanciful tale of a boy and a Bengal tiger to the screen in glorious 3-D.

And Kevin Polowy (Next Movie) likes the looks of the latter in which Steven Spielberg documents the last days of the 16th American president. Two-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis continues to lead the Best Actor race with odds of 7 to 4. 

While two critical darlings — “The Master” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” — do not top any of our Experts’ predix, each could still reap a Best Picture bid by attracting a small but passionate group of academy voters.

Joaquin Phoenix, star of Paul Thomas Anderson‘s critically acclaimed “The Master” (85 at Metacritic), certainly stirred up passion with his denunciation last week of campaigning for consideration. The film is finishing up its initial run with receipts of about $15 million.

The fanciful “Beasts of the Southern Wild” won’t be eligible for SAG consideration but remains a strong possibilty for Oscar nods. This first feature film from documentarian Benh Zeitlin scored an impressive 86 at Metacritic and grossed just over $11 million. It marks the movie debut of Quvenzhane Wallis, a precocious six-year-old likely to make Oscar history as the youngest-ever Best Actress nominee. 

Rounding out our list of likely nominees is Quentin Tarantino‘s “Django Unchained,” another unknown entity which won’t be seen for several more weeks. 

Four films rank just below this top tier of contenders.

Peter Jackson‘s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is the first of three prequels to his Oscar-winning “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Initial reports on the picture promise it to be a visual treat. Can it can break into the Best Picture race? Each of the three “LOTR” films did, with the final one winning a record-tying 11 Oscars.

Wes Anderson had a hit this summer with his charming period piece “Moonrise Kingdom.” The quirky comedy scored 84 at MetaCritic and grossed $45 million stateside, second only to his 2001 film “The Royal Tennenbaums” which reaped Anderson an Original Screenplay bid. 

Robert Zemeckis returns to life-action films for the first time since “Castaway” (2000) with “Flight,” an intense character study starring two-time Oscar champ Denzel Washington. Although ultimately uplifting, this drama depicts a man in the depths of despair. It closed out the New York filmfest and much of the talk focused on the performances of Washington and British actress Kelly O’Reilly who could surprise in the Supporting Actress race.

Christopher Nolan rounded out his Batman trilogy this summer with “The Dark Knight Rises.” The picture divided critics as some, like Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times), hailed his achievement while others, such as Dana Stevens (Slate), were less impressed. The film fell short of 2008’s “The Dark Knight” both at Metacritic (78 vs. 84) and the box office ($446 million vs. $553 million). 

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