Making the Movie Blog is happy to make some early Oscar predictionsIt’s never too early to start speculating. (Hey, if it’s good enough for Jesus’ birthday…) Anyhow, you can’t be early if Variety already started doing it:

Our Contenders issue highlights those films that, at this early stage in the kudos race, look well placed to get Oscar heat come February. We’ve cited 25 films — excluding animated pics — that, in our view, look set to grab multiple noms.

This year’s race could be a doozy. No clear favorite for top prize, Best Picture, has emerged, unless it is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which is handicapped by having come out way back in March. Fahrenheit 9/11 is out of the documentary race and into the running for it, leaving the Documentary category a toss-up (my personal pick is Touching the Void but I doubt it will suit the Acad’s taste).

‘Best Picture’ is a misnomer in the same vein as ‘World Series’. Non-English language films (I hate the increasingly archaic term ‘foreign language’) like The Sea Inside and House of Flying Daggers are uniformly strong and should probably be competing on an equal footing with English language films. Add to this a truly entertaining family film like The Incredibles (which ought to win the new Best Animated category handily) and you have a lot of good stuff that doesn’t even qualify for the top award.

On the acting side, which is the closest-followed and easiest to guess, Variety seems to feel that there are a high number of strong male perfs and a low number of strong female perfs. Certainly there is no clear leader like Charlize Theron last year, but that seems a little highenmighty, even for Variety. Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, Kevin Bacon as a child molester in The Woodsman and Javier Bardem as a paraplegic in The Sea Inside seem to be front runners — at least in the tradition of characters with disabilities overcoming the odds. Kate Winslet is figured to split the vote on her perfs in Finding Neverland and Eternal Sunshine. For that reason, I think Imelda Staunton (for Vera Drake) is a lock. As least as much of a lock as someone can be in the middle of November.

My true interest is in the screenplay races. Sideways is the front-runner for Best Adapted. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the front-runner for Best Original. As far as who else will be nominated in these categories, well, I never second-guess the Academy. You could see Brad Bird get an extra nod for The Incredibles or even Michael Moore, especially if he doesn’t make the cut for Best Picture.

And then there’s the biggest wildcard of all: The Passion of the Christ. Not eligible for Best Pic because it’s in Latin (where there should be Greek) and Aramaic, it’s huge success is a bugaboo that the Acad might feel obligated to acknowledge at a level other than tech credits. Screenplay? Director? Most Anti-Semitic? (“The best lack all conviction while the worst / are full of passionate intensity.” — W.B. Yeats, ‘The Second Coming’)

Make no bones: Oscar’s rough beast is slouching toward the Hollywood Bowl. I can’t wait.

Read Oscar Chase, part 2: Kinsey takes the lead