It happens around the same time every year. Between the feeding frenzy of Thanksgiving and the spending spree of the holidays, buzz builds, tension mounts and the leaders in Hollywood's annual Olympics emerge.
Oscar season is in full swing.
This morning's Golden Globe nominations added to the hype, building up dramas including "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Doubt" and "Frost/Nixon," all of which scored five nods each.
Many of the movies currently in theaters and due to debut this month are the ones studios consider most viable for the industry's highest honor. Critics' circles are already choosing their favorite flicks of the year, predicting which filmmakers and actors might take the stage come February's Academy Awards ceremony.
Below, check out 10 films predicted to pick up nominations when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announces them Jan. 22 and find out why they're making waves.
"Slumdog Millionaire" does not fit the mold of a blockbuster, nor is it the type of film that usually peaks the academy's interest. But the British drama about a young hustler from the hard-up 'hoods of Mumbai who goes on India's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and exceeds all expectations, angering law enforcement and those who doubt his abilities, has wowed audiences and won critical acclaim since it hit the festival circuit.
"Slumdog" picked up the People's Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival in September. Earlier this month, the National Board of Review named "Slumdog" film of the year and lauded star Dev Patel's breakthrough performance. "Slumdog" also scored a Golden Globe nod today for best drama. It's currently playing in limited release.
'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button'
Few actors can stack a movie like Brad Pitt and Oscar winner Cate Blanchett. The plot of "Benjamin Button" is also the sort of classic drama to which the academy often gravitates. It's based on a 1922 short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald about Benjamin Button (Pitt), a man born with a malady that reverses the aging process. Blanchett's character (Button's love interest) attempts to help him cope with his condition. "Benjamin Button" swept the Golden Globe nominations today, picking up five nods, including best drama. It opens in theaters Dec. 25.
Picking Up Golden Globe Nominations
In a year dominated by political drama, it comes as no surprise that a film rooted in political history is rising to the top of the list of Oscar contenders. Based on a play of the same name by Peter Morgan, the Ron Howard-directed "Frost/Nixon" stars Frank Langella as the former U.S. president and Michael Sheen as David Frost, the British broadcaster who grilled him in a series of post-Watergate TV interviews.
"Frost/Nixon" picked up five Golden Globe nominations, including best drama. The movie opened in select theaters Dec. 5 and will be released nationwide Christmas Day.
For filmmakers seeking to score awards, all signs point to Meryl Streep. The 14-time Academy Award-nominated actress seems to win critical acclaim with almost every movie she graces. "Doubt" is no exception. Set in the 1960s, "Doubt" centers on a nun (Streep) who accuses a priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) of abusing a student. He denies the allegations and she spearheads a campaign to uncover what she believes is the truth.
Along with "Benjamin Button" and "Frost/Nixon," "Doubt" picked up five Golden Globe nominations, including one for Streep's performance. It opens Dec. 12 in limited release.
Gus Van Sant's epic about 1970s gay rights leader Harvey Milk has been at the top of critics' lists since Sean Penn was picked to play the lead role. It picked up three key awards from the New York Film Critics Circle: best film, best actor and best supporting actor for Josh Brolin, Penn's co-star. It opened in limited release in late November.
Though critical reception has been mixed, with a cast led by Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes, "The Reader" has the stuff to peak the academy's interest. Set in post-WWII Germany, the drama centers on a law student who reunites with a former lover years after their affair mysteriously ended, when she defends herself in a war-crimes trial.
"The Reader" scored a Golden Globe nomination for best drama and was named one of the Top 10 films of the year by the Broadcast Film Critics Association. It opened Dec. 10 in limited release.
Just as "The Wrestler" tells the story of a veteran professional fighter trying to claw his way back up to the top of the heap, the movie is being hailed as the comeback of veteran actor Mickey Rourke. Rourke plays wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson, who's elbowing his way back into the ring with the support of his stripper girlfriend, played by Marisa Tomei.
Rourke scored a Golden Globe nomination for his performance and the movie won the Golden Lion Award for Best Film when it premiered at the 2008 Venice Film Festival. "The Wrestler" opens in limited release Dec. 17.
Clint Eastwood masterminded "Gran Torino" both behind and in front of the camera, directing and starring in the drama about a racist Korean War veteran who catches an Asian boy trying to steal his prized 1972 Gran Torino automobile.
Eastwood's performance picked up an award from the National Board of Review, but instead of his acting and directing skills, another one of his talents might be recognized by the academy. He's nominated for a Golden Globe for co-writing the title song for "Gran Torino"; it wouldn't be a surprise if the song got him an Oscar nod too. "Gran Torino" opens in limited release Dec. 12.
And Two Not-So-New Films Likely to Run in the Oscar Race:
'The Dark Knight'
Superhero blockbusters aren't usually the type of films for which the academy flips, but there's a perfect storm of reasons for why "The Dark Knight" will probably show up on the list of Oscar nominees come Jan. 22.
Heath Ledger's final, chilling performance as the Joker has had critics talking for months; it would only be natural for him to pick up a posthumous nomination -- he's already nominated for a best supporting actor Golden Globe. "The Dark Knight" also stands to score Oscar recognition for its makeup and musical score.
Disney-Pixar's latest collaboration may be the pair's most critically acclaimed one yet. "Wall-E," about the epic space journey of a small, waste-collecting robot, won over audiences during the summer. Now it's winning awards.
Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association named "Wall-E" the year's best movie. It's the first time the organization has awarded that honor to an animated movie. "Wall-E" also made the National Board of Review's list of Top 10 films of the year.