By Scott Youngbauer

A little over half way through the 2010 movie year the Oscar race is a bit of a puzzler with no clear front-runner in sight. Perhaps Piranha in 3D might be onto something by campaigning a little early. I know I would like to see Elizabeth Shue finally get her statue for her Leaving Las Vegas snub. On the more serious end of the race there are a handful of films this year that might have a chance to slide into the top ten.

Since its debut at Sundance in January The Kids Are Alright was the film with the most buzz going into 2010, and yes the film does live up to it.  Since its release in July the film has become both an audience, and a critical favorite.  I think it’s more than likely to see it as a serious contender for best picture, along with every acting category. Word is Focus Features is pushing Annette Bening for lead, and Julianne Moore for supporting.  This would be a smart move due to the fact it’s hard to choose one over the other if they competed against each other in the category.  Since both are actresses who have yet to win it’s likely this will be the year for both of them. As far as Lisa Cholodenko it’s more likely for her to be recognized in the original screenplay category then directing. I don’t think since Kathryn Bigalow won this year it will necessarily mean Cholodenko will be a sure thing with a female directing nomination. Plus, her screenplay speaks for itself with great natural dialogue that complimented the performances beautifully.

Mark Ruffalo is a safe bet in the supporting category. Ruffalo has never been an actor to win awards in his often charming if not overlooked roles. Ruffalo is at home in the role of the L.A hipster sperm-donning dad. His performance is effortless, something that the Academy loves when it comes to the supporting category. Other potential nominations for this film might be one of the kids getting recognized. Both Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutchenson are fantastic in the film.  Why not slide them into a supporting category slot next to either Moore or Ruffalo? It might be refreshing to see this youthful talent be recognized in awards season. If one of these two wonderful actors have a shot at being nominated it would have to be Wasikowska since her story seems to bookend the film. Again both of these nominations for these youngsters are a left field prediction, but at this point in the race it could be possible.

Speaking of young actors, Jennifer Lawrence has given one of the best performances of the year in Winter’s Bone. Part story of survival of a teen providing for her family, part a detective story, this film was an emotional wallop with one of the most powerful climaxes so far this year. It’s a film that could possibly be a dark horse for a best picture nomination. Lawrence’s powerful performance speaks of years far beyond her age, and it’s a strong female character that the Academy usually responds to in lead categories.  Look for the studios to push this film with a campaign when it is released on DVD next month.

Of course no award prediction would be complete without the dream tripping adventure that was Inception. A nomination for both picture, and director, is surely in order.  Does it merit a best picture win? The box office run has been impressive, and a fresh reminder that American moviegoers still love to be challenged to think at the movies. Also, it’s a film with a strong fan base. That alone might open the film up to a possible win. Avatar in a way paved the way for blockbusters to take back awards. Even though Cameron’s epic lost to a smaller film it might be likely to see a similar film takes its place next year.

Like Avatar, what Inception has going for it is that it’s visually breathtaking, and an experience all in itself to watch in a theatre.  Maybe the Academy this year will side with a crowd favorite? As far as the performances by the cast being recognized, it could be possible, but unlikely. Leonardo DiCaprio gives another admirable performance, but it’s hardly Oscar worthy. There’s also rumor of another nod for Marion Cotilliard. But Cotilliard’s performance never quite rose above how vacant the character is. She’s a creation of a dream after all; her character is merely a projection. None of it her fault, Cotilliard played the part of the mysterious wife quite well. Her scenes lacked the emotional punch that merits a nomination.

Let’s not forget Toy Story 3, which had me and about every other 20 year-old that grew up with the films sobbing like a little girl when leaving the theatre. Pixar’s film strikes an emotional cord with people, something that goes along with about every movie nominated for best picture. Another animated film might also have a shot at a best picture nod, and How To Train Your Dragon might be that wild card. Animated films are starting to be serious contenders since there are starting to be so many great ones. After all, Up was nominated for Best Picture last year. The little brother animated feature category is starting to take on a life of its own. Since the academy is starting to favor bigger crowd pleasers with nominations why not nominate this charming family film?

Other smaller films that could have been released this year that have some possible awards tracking are The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Get Low, and Animal Kingdom. What’s tricky about this point in the race for smaller films is that studios really don’t pull out the big guns in the campaign until November and December. So far with the race is still wide open. A clear front-runner is likely to emerge soon enough this fall.