Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, despite the star wattage of Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, has a chance only if the Academy members at Warner Bros. and Paramount decide to join forces like they did when making the movie, as the folks at Scott Rudin Productions will be spreading their Oscar love pretty thin already.
In addition to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, other Best Picture longshots include Terrence Malick's Cannes Film Festival winner The Tree of Life (Fox Searchlight), Tomas Alfredson's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (a Focus Features release that'll have a better chance if Focus' parent company, NBC Universal, throws its Oscar-voting weight toward the prestige British import), and Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive (FilmDistrict).
Even less likely, though certainly not impossible, are Paul Feig's Bridesmaids (Universal / Relativity Media), a SAG Award nominee for Best Cast, and George Clooney's The Ides of March (Columbia).
Asghar Farhadi's A Separation, no matter how brilliant, will land a Best Picture nod only if Farhadi himself lands a Best Director nod. Our point: Don't expect that to happen. The same goes for Sean Durkin's Martha Marcy May Marlene, Jeff Nichols' Take Shelter, Mike Mills' Beginners, and other such well-received "small movies" that failed to ignite at the North American box office. (Or to have Harvey Weinstein hawking them.)
Shoo-ins for the Best Director shortlist are Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris, Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist, Martin Scorsese for Hugo, and Alexander Payne for The Descendants. Our bet for the fifth slot is Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life, though DGA Award nominee David Fincher is just as likely a contender for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Less likely (while remaining in contention) are Bennett Miller for Moneyball, Tomas Alfredson for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Nicolas Winding Refn for Drive, and Tate Taylor for The Help. Barring a miracle, Stephen Daldry's string of Oscar nominations -- Billy Eliot, The Hours, The Reader; one for each of his feature films -- will be broken when Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is left out of the running in the Best Director category.
Midnight in Paris picture: Roger Arpajou / Sony Pictures Classics