It seems that articles wanting to suss out the Best Picture race thus far are starting to sprout up. This because often the first half of the year does produce formidable films that could make it all the way to the end — but the key is, as always, advocacy. Those of us who beat the drum loudly can often help a film be remembered come critics awards time — and one major award from a critic puts a film in contention to win. Kris Tapley wrote at In Contention. Pete Hammond wrote up his favorites for Deadline. Jeff Wells wrote a halftime wrap-up on Hollywood-Elsewhere and Nathaniel Rogers wrote one on The Film Experience. The official start of Oscar season kicks off, realistically, at Telluride. That’s the moment where the herd begins to thin — and each Oscar hopeful gets a turn at bat. If the critics hate a film, some shuffling can be done to make sure voters see it before they read the reviews (Les Miserables, Extremely Loud, etc). If critics love it, voters might still hate it. But right around Telluride the fuzzy picture begins to clear. The films that have the best chance right now are those with buzz. Though it’s hard to really tell what’s buzz and what is just high praise. We know the Oscar race is a game of timing, capturing the moment. If the moment passes, no amount of infused hype can resurrect the movie. It will then be forgotten for awards season only to emerge as an underrated masterpiece in years to come. How do you capture the moment? Who knows. It remains a mystery as to why some movies win and some don’t. But we’re not looking for sure-to-be disappointing winner yet. We are still in the phase where hope springs eternal. Right now, anything is possible. To that end, the films so far that have the best chance for a Best Picture nomination are those that will have a healthy share of number one votes. I feel confident that the following five films could manage many number one votes right now: 1. Before Midnight — On the one hand, it’s a film that could take the critics darling slot and thus, be resented by the Academy. But I figure, this is a film that will remind many in the industry why they got into making movies in the first place: to tell good stories. Who could not appreciate the dedication to this production, the decades-long evolution of a passion project. To see the third film in the series emerge as such a complex masterpiece is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. It should remain the favorite of many a voter, especially those who lived through the French New Wave — but to anyone who’s attempted a relationship for the long haul, as well. 2. Inside Llewyn Davis — It isn’t just that the Coen brothers have delivered another intricately written standout, it’s also that this film takes us on a visceral trip back to mid-century Greenwich Village just before the Bob Dylan bomb changed everything. In many ways, it is a reminder of the days of pure music — when you’d stroll into a club and hear pure songwriting. It was a rare moment and those times are gone. I suspect that on top of the great writing, acting and directing, this film will become the favorite of many who remember that era and look back on it fondly. 3. Nebraska — This is still the film I think could go all the way to a win. But I am attempting to downplay my enthusiasm in hopes that I can help keep the hype on the down-low. As many of our parents are heading into old age, some into Alzheimer’s and dementia, this is a movie that will hit home with many. It is subtle and tender-hearted — but it says so much about family, America and its director, Alexander Payne. 4. Fruitvale Station — As with all the films named so far, the director’s vision here is key. The strength of Ryan Coogler work here could easily stake his claim in the Best Director category. Fruitvale Station will blow a hole through the safe and conventional Oscar race by being one of the few films that takes a hard look at a social issue. On one level it’s an important story about Oscar Grant, who was “accidentally” shot on a subway platform. Beyond that we’re witnessing the moment Ryan Coogler entered the film industry as a talented young African American auteur. In order to prevail with a nomination, Fruitvale Station will have to be the number one film for many — but a recent SAG screening went very well. I suspect it will have more than enough support to get it into the Best Picture race. 5. Stories We Tell – How to regard this wonderful film by Sarah Polley? Will it become the ninth nominee, slipping in without many other nominations besides writing and picture? It’s possible. It’s a charmer, and perhaps one that will resonate with voters who prefer to vote for films that move them emotionally. While it seems an easy call for a screenplay nod it’s harder to imagine anything bigger, but right now it has the heat. Films that are in the conversation but will need additional push: Mud — A surprising hit on the indie circuit and one that should do well with Spirit Award voters (who will then hand out their top prize to an Oscar film that has no business in the Spirit Awards race). The Place Beyond the Pines — Screenplay, maybe an actor nod, or supporting. Frances Ha — Should get some kind of recognition somewhere, most likely for screenplay, but it is also exactly the kind of movie the industry often ignores. It will need additional buzz from critics. But what do you all think?