And here we are… the nine nominees for Best Picture. As I — and my fellow Picktainment prognosticators — have stated many times, 2011 was a year filled with some really good movies, but nothing that stood out as a truly stellar effort, say like last year’s winner, The King’s Speech.

We each had our picks for the films we liked the best from this list, with my preference being Midnight in Paris and The Descendants. And there were other films I wished had made the list, like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II (that one is for you, too, Adam Spunberg).

Even though it was a lackluster year, I don’t think this is an indication movies overall are going downhill, as some may believe. It’s true the box office numbers fell considerably in 2011, but there are many factors contributing to people staying home: recession, intriguing TV, downloadable films, etc. For me, I look at each year as a new possibility for some great cinematic experiences. What can I say? I’m an optimist.

Without further ado, here are the 2012 Oscar nominees for Best Picture:

The Descendants
The Skinny: When workaholic land baron Matt King (George Clooney) discovers his wife – now in a coma from a boating accident — has cheated on him, he tries to reconnect with his daughters (Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller) and find out how his life got so screwed up.

Trivia Tidbit: Amanda Seyfried auditioned for the part of the older daughter, which eventually went to Woodley, best known for her role in TV’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager.

 The Consensus: Descendants hit home with me, especially after multiple viewings. Writer/director Alexander Payne has always been someone I admire for how he portrays his dysfunctional characters as they go through hilarious and poignant moments in life. It may be considered too slow moving and slice of life-ish for Best Pic, but it is still a worthy addition.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The Skinny: With the help of certain people he meets along the way, the precocious 9-year-old Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) searches New York City for the lock that matches a mysterious key left behind by his father (Tom Hanks) — who died in the World Trade Center on September 11 — and hopes it will shed light on why his dad died.

Trivia Tidbit: In an early draft of the script, The Renter, played by Supporting Actor nominee Max von Sydow, finally speaks at the end. Von Sydow was opposed to it, since he felt the movie was about Oskar, and it wasn’t necessary to know whether or not The Renter recovers his speech; he doesn’t.

The Consensus: I had a feeling Extremely Loud would make the Best Picture list, even though it was a late entry into the award season due to last-minute editing and late screeners. It encompasses a few Oscar qualities, including strong acting and directing pedigrees (Hanks, Sandra Bullock and Stephen Daldry) and a subject matter close to any American’s heart. But at this point, it’s a long shot.

The Help
The Skinny: Based on the bestselling novel, an aspiring writer (Emma Stone) returns to her Mississippi hometown during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and decides to detail the lives of the African-American hired help, telling their story from their perspective.

Trivia Tidbit: Kathryn Stockett’s book on which this film is based was rejected 60 times before it was eventually published.

The Consensus: The Help is a genuine crowd pleaser from beginning to end – and the fact it made a bunch of money at the box office boosts its credibility. As for winning the big prize, the Academy will most likely focus on the two acting leads instead – Best Actress nominee Viola Davis and Supporting Actress Octavia Spencer – giving the film its just deserves there.

The Skinny: Set in 1930s Paris, an orphan (Asa Butterfield), who lives in the walls of a train station, is wrapped up in a mystery involving his late father, an automaton – and a small novelty shop owner (Ben Kingsley) who may not be who he seems.

Trivia Tidbit: Using 3D technology for the first time, director Martin Scorsese wore clip-on 3D lenses over his prescription glasses to get the right perspective.

The Consensus: With 11 Oscar nominations (one more than The Artist), Hugo might win the Best Picture Oscar – but probably not. While certainly a visual masterpiece, tapping into old movie nostalgia on a much grander scale, the film also plods a bit and doesn’t necessarily capture the same whimsy as The Artist. So maybe not Best Pic, but look for Hugo to win many technical awards.

Midnight in Paris
The Skinny: While visiting Paris with his fiancée (Rachel McAdams) and her parents, a successful Hollywood screenwriter (Owen Wilson) romanticizes what it would be like to live in the City of Lights during the 1920s, when writers like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald came together to create brilliant works. Little does he know he is about to be transported back in time to meet them.

Trivia Tidbit: Director Woody Allen attempted to shoot the film in Paris in 2006, but abandoned the project because it was too expensive.

The Consensus: Ah, Woody. It’s been awhile since he has had a Best Picture in the mix, and Midnight in Paris is a wonderful way to herald him back to the list (even though he could care less). This is definitely one of my top five favorite movies of 2011, speaking to the English major in me. Although I would love it to win the top prize, my feeling is the Academy will give it the Original Screenplay award it deserves — and that’ll be it

The Skinny: Based on a true story, the film follows the budget-strapped Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), who, in 2001, bucked the usual system of drafting players. Employing an ace number cruncher (Jonah Hill), Beane used computer-generated analysis and statistics called sabermetrics to build a winning team.

Trivia Tidbit: Production of the movie was set to begin in 2009, but Columbia Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal axed the movie after objecting to changes made to Steven Zaillian’s script by original director Steven Soderbergh.

The Consensus: Moneyball sounds sort of boring on paper, but the film simply zings. For a novice like me, it teaches a few things about the business of baseball and gives you a real inside look. But unfortunately, it may only appeal to those Academy members who love the sport.

The Tree of Life
The Skinny: The film follows a Texas family in the 1950s, focusing on the eldest son, Jack (Sean Penn), as he goes from the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years, trying to reconcile a complicated relationship with his father (Brad Pitt). But there’s also a bunch of other stuff going on.

Trivia Tidbit: The tree of life that appears in the film is a gargantuan 65,000-pound live oak tree situated at Smithville, Texas.

The Consensus: With a stellar cast that also includes Jessica Chastain, this is a visionary and strange tale from the eccentric auteur Terrence Malik. The Tree of Life received mixed reviews, some calling it genius, others scratching their heads in bewilderment. Yet, whatever you say about Malik, he certainly is unique – and the Academy just loves him. Wonder what he’ll finally win his Oscar for?

War Horse
The Skinny: Boy meets horse. Boy bonds with horse. Horse is sold off to the British Calvary at the start of WWI. Horse has many adventures, meets many people but longs for the boy. Boy joins the army to find horse. Boy and horse are finally reunited. Tears flow.

Trivia Tidbit: Fourteen horses played Joey during the movie. The “main” acting horse in the film, Finder, also portrayed Seabiscuit in that movie about the famous racehorse.

The Consensus: I had high hopes for War Horse when I heard about it. Directed by Steven Spielberg, it seemed to have Best Picture written all over it – epic, a period piece, war, horses, you name it. Unfortunately, the film didn’t hold up to the expectations, coming off a tad hokier than intended, and it lost steam. Still, it’s a masterful effort from Spielberg and I’m glad the Academy is recognizing it.

And finally, my pick for Best Picture…

The Artist
The Skinny: George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a charismatic silent film star, finds himself spiraling into depression when talkies take over at the Cineplex – only to be saved by a rising starlet named Peppy (Berenice Bejo).

Trivia Tidbit: Peppy’s house in the film is silent film star Mary Pickford’s house, and the bed where George Valentin wakes up is Pickford’s actual bed.

The Consensus: It’s the clear winner at this point — for better or worse. The simplistic film with seen-before themes charms beyond belief and harkens back to a time when, well, actors didn’t talk and instead used their facial expressions and surroundings to convey the emotions of the story. Still, is it really Best Picture? I don’t think so, but I want to win the pool, so it’s my bet.

Road to the Oscars Series

January 27: Best Live Action Short – Kit Bowen

January 31: Best Animated Short – Savanna New

February 1: Best Documentary Short – Christa Youngpeter

February 2: Best Documentary – Dantzler Smith

February 3: Best Foreign Language Film – Steve Neumann

February 4: Best Visual Effects – Michael Benedict

February 5: Best Sound Editing – Michael Benedict

February 6: Best Sound Mixing – Joseph Doherty

February 7: Best Makeup – Katie Mae Peters

February 8: Best Costume Design – Jax Russo

February 9: Best Art Direction – Scott Youngbauer

February 10: Best Film Editing – Michael Benedict

February 11: Best Cinematography – Scott Youngbauer

February 12: Best Original Score – Adam Spunberg

February 13: Best Original Song – Adam Spunberg and Savanna New

February 14: Best Animated Feature Film – Steve Neumann

February 15: Best Adapted Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

February 16: Best Original Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

February 17: Best Supporting Actor – Joseph Doherty

February 18: Best Supporting Actress – Angela Stern

February 20: Best Actress – Andrew Payne

February 21: Best Actor – Kit Bowen

February 22: Best Director – Andrew Payne

February 23: Best Picture – Kit Bowen