The Silver Linings Playbook Bradley Cooper Jennifer Lawrence

However, early frontrunners find themselves at something of a disadvantage -- one only has to look at "The Social Network" or "Up In The Air" in recent years to see pictures that had trouble sustaining their momentum all the way through February. And while "Argo" and "Silver Linings Playbook" have also emerged as favorites, opinions differ as to which looks like the most likely to earn golden statues. Each has their advantages. "Argo" is an entertaining thriller with comic elements, and an inside-baseball movie angle. A period setting gives it a better shot at technical awards, and while Warner Bros are unlikely to play it up, the events in the Middle East have given it a timeliness that it didn't have even two weeks ago.

However, it was "Silver Linings Playbook" that took the Audience Award at TIFF, which some have taken as a sign that David O. Russell's massively crowd-pleasing comedy has the edge on "Argo" at this point. There's no doubt that the film is a bona-fide popular darling -- we've hardly heard a bad word against it at this point, although we're sure that'll come -- and it has advantages that "Argo" doesn't. It's more of an actors picture, for one, with as many as three nominations looking likely, while it seems to connect at a much more emotional, universal level, which always helps. And the Audience Award certainly bodes well. In 34 years, nine victors went on to be Best Picture nominees, including three in the last four years, two of which - "Slumdog Millionaire" and "The King's Speech" won the top prize.

Ben Affleck, Argo

That said, it's not a no-brainer precursor. Only four TIFF audience award winners have actually won Best Picture in its 36 year history -- the two above, plus "Chariots Of Fire" and "American Beauty," nearly twenty years apart -- and popular hits like "Eastern Promises" and "Where Do We Go Now?" failed to get any awards traction at all. Moreover, no comedy has won Best Picture since "Shakespeare In Love" in 1999, and it's easy to compare "Silver Linings Playbook" to another early festival hit last year, "The Descendants," which couldn't keep up its traction to win major awards.

And that's what so potentially exciting about the next few months -- not only are those three looking good, but there are at least seventeen or eighteen films that we see as serious Best Picture possibilities, and at least half that number that feel like they could ultimately end up winning the major award. Normally at this stage of the season, those numbers have been halved, and certainly by the time the New York Film Festival was over the last few years, it was clear that "The King's Speech" and "The Artist" were on their way to victory.

But whereas the fall festivals have often seen the awards season tightened up, this time around, it's kept things broad and interesting this year. Given that even a weak year like 2011 saw nine nominees for Best Picture, we can see the full compliment of ten coming in this year. There's still lots more to come, and more movies to play for critics -- "Lincoln," "Zero Dark Thirty," "Life Of Pi," "Les Miserables," "Django Unchained" -- that could still shake things up.

This week's Best Picture chart follows on the next page.