What makes this race particularly thrilling and impossible to pin down are the overwhelming number of variables still in play, not the least of which is the preferential voting system. For Best Picture, each voter has to rank all 10 nominees, and the counting goes through multiple rounds of re-distribution until a winner is finally chosen (I can't really explain it even though I kinda understand it). Many Oscar-centric websites have proven that the film with the most #1 votes in the first round of voting may not be the film that ends up winning. It really comes down to which film appears strongest on each voter's 1, 2 and 3. That means, basically - will someone who picks A Serious Man as #1 also pick Avatar at 2? If you pick Avatar at 1, what's your number 2? Frankly, it's making BP a chore because we in the Oscar prediction universe don't know if this will even HAVE an effect.
Using past statistics, I can say that this year is awesome in its diversity. Just take a look:
Golden Globe - Avatar
PGA - Hurt Locker
DGA - Hurt Locker
SAG - Inglourious Basterds
Scripter (& probably WGA) - Up in the Air
While most people say DGA is *it* as far as Oscar goes, the race is MUCH more variable this year. I think Bigelow will be the first woman director winner. I do. But if she IS, I also think Picture will probably go somewhere else.
Also consider: the five films with Best Editing nods are District 9, Precious, Avatar, Basterds and Hurt Locker. You can't win Best Picture without an Editing nod. So even if Up in the Air wins the WGA, it can't surge for the jugular. It just can't.
On top of that: You know the last time a movie won Best Picture without a Best Screenplay nomination? 1965. The Sound of Music. The last time a movie won with neither Best Screenplay NOR a single acting nomination? 1933. Cavalcade. Avatar has neither. Does this kill it? Yes and no. For it to win would be a statistical anomaly, but its box office is itself kind of anomalous. Plus, it's not exactly winning anything outside of the Globe.
What's the other alternative? Inglourious Basterds. It already took the SAG. It was disqualified from the WGA, so we won't know how that could effect its chances. The O. Screenplay category is pretty steep, what with the Coens, Hurt Locker, Up, and The Messenger providing possible threats at every turn. Were Hurt Locker to beat Tarantino early in the evening, the rest of the night would be over.
But what if Tarantino wins Screenplay? With Christoph Waltz poised to win Supporting Actor, we already know the Actors are behind Basterds (and it won SAG Ensemble...). Now, Basterds is not nominated for the ACE, but IS nominated for the Editing Oscar. Let's say Hurt Locker loses the ACE to District 9. That can help Basterds win; even if D9 wins the OSCAR, it could help Basterds. If Hurt Locker wins the ACE and the ASC, the game is probably over.
For the sake of fantasy though, I say Basterds can win. Mostly because I think the 10 nominations make this year prime for a Pic-Dir split. It's all about how the weight gets thrown. And with Harvey Weinstein as a producer, that weight really matters. He got Winslet the Oscar last year. He's coming back to form despite economic woes at his company. This is his moment to give Tarantino the Oscar, and he knows it. He helped Tarantino get Pulp Fiction made, they've made all his subsequent movies together - is this the "coronation night"?
This is, of course, all speculation. Plenty of stuff still to come.