The National Board of Review has officially ushered in Oscar Season as they unveil their 2009 Awards.  For the next few months, we’ll be treated to a flurry of Critics, Guild and Industry Awards that will hope to demystify which films and performances will be selected to the increasingly long Oscar shortlists.

Before the floodgates open, it’s best to start with a barometer, a slate of potential nominees unencumbered by the thoughts of people who write reviews.  With that, here is the inaugural 2009 Oscar Power Rankings.

As always, contenders are listed in order of likelihood of their being nominated, and not based on the probability of their ultimately winning. And, as a bonus, with Best Picture expanding to ten nominees this year, we’ll bring you the top fifteen contenders for the biggest prize in filmdom.

Best Actor


1 – George Clooney in Up In The Air

The early reviews and buzz from the festival circuit are absolutely overwhelming and its star is absolutely certain to benefit.  Just when you think Clooney can’t get anymore, he’s an early lock to for a Best Actor nomination.

2 – Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart

Two months ago nobody knew this movie even existed, now people are buzzing like beehives around his performance, and one of the most underrated actors who ever lived may finally get his first statuette.

3 – Morgan Freeman in Invictus

When it became known that Morgan Freeman would be playing Nelson Mandela in a movie directed by Clint Eastwood, Freeman was essentially a lock right then and there.  So far, nothing much has changed.

4 – Colin Firth in A Single Man

Much like Crazy Heart this is a latecomer to the Oscar dance and one for which the buzz is steadily increasing.  Now that Firth has shown he can do more than just glower, he’s got a good shot at his first nomination.

5 – Daniel Day-Lewis in Nine

Day-Lewis in a film based on a massively praised musical that itself was based on a Fellini film?  There’s probably a law somewhere in California that he has to be nominated.

6 – Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker

The top five in this category are as close to lock as could be at the start of December.  Remner has the only real shot at sneaking in if this movie can regain its summer momentum.

7 – Michael Stuhlbarg in A Serious Man

The buzz has been kind of stagnant on this film as a whole since it came out.  Sure, the reviews were outstanding, but it may be a bit perplexing for it to sweep its lead into an Oscar nomination.

8 – Viggo Mortensen in The Road

It seems like Mortensen is always just barely missing out on nomination.  It looks like that will happen to him again this year as The Road didn’t quite get the reviews necessary to push him over the top.

9 – Matt Damon in The Informant!

If they gave out Oscars in September, Damon would have been a lock.  Too bad for him there was still another six months to go in that meantime.  By the time of Oscar morning there’s a good chance nobody will even remember this movie existed.

10 – Nicolas Cage for The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

In the midst of a personal catastrophe, Cage is receiving his best reviews since Adaptation.  However, this film may be a bit too extreme for the more conservative members of the Academy.

Best Actress


1 – Carey Mulligan in An Education

Ever since this movie came out a month or so ago, nobody’s been able to stop talking about Mulligan’s breakout role.  Something very strange would have to happen for her not to be nominated.

2 – Gabourey Sidibe in Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire

Advanced buzz for this film made it look like this would be a nom for Monique and a ‘maybe’ for everybody else.  Now that the film has it theaters, Sibide is receiving a lion’s share of the buzz and praise.  Following her charming trip around the talk show circuit she’ll be very hard not to nominate.

3 – Meryl Streep in Julie and Julia

Another year, another nomination for Streep.  The only way this doesn’t happen is if It’s Complicated hits really big and voters switch their support to her performance in that film.

4 – Abbie Cornish in Bright Star

She’s kind of under the radar right now, but also poised to be the early critics awards’ darling and will soon be this year’s typical ‘Best Actress Nominee in a Movie Nobody Knows Exists’.

5 – Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side

Every year this category is so thin that somebody gets in without much merit.  This year it’ll probably be Bullock who is getting glowing reviews for a movie that may just make $200 million at the box office.

6 – Helen Mirren in The Last Station

This is where it starts to get really thin.  Early buzz is good for this movie and Mirren has ascended to Oscar royalty recently, so she could vault her way in.

7 – Saoirse Ronan in The Lovely Bones

This movie is the ultimate enigma: It could hit solidly and rake in a pile of nominations or it could come up short and miss out completely.  If it’s good, Ronan could be a lock.

8 – Shoreh Aghdashloo in The Stoning of Soraya M.

This movie is slowly moving into prominence and deals with issues Oscar seems to love these days.  Aghdashloo has been a bit of an awards darling recently, so her new-found cache could see her sneaking in.

9 – Penelope Cruz in Broken Embraces

This isn’t quite getting the love, buzz, or great reviews normally associated with Pedro Almodovar, but it’s never wise to count out Cruz when she’s acting in her native language.

10 – Emily Blunt in The Young Victoria

It could happen (this movie is steadily gaining buzz) but this is probably too small a film.

Best Supporting Actor


1 – Christoph Waltz in Inglorious Basterds

Ever since he first downed some milk in a French cottage, Waltz has been an absolute lock for his portrayal of Nazi sleuth.

2 – Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones

This film is the ultimate question mark, but Tucci’s portrayal of a deranged killer is the only clear answer right now.

3 – Matt Damon in Invictus

Once again, Clint Eastwood is directing a movie about Nelson Mandela.  Damon could spend the entire movie picking his nose and he’d still have a good shot at a nomination.

4 – Peter Sarsgaard in An Education

This is where this category becomes wildly unclear.  This movie is adored by critics, but most of that love is directed at Sarsgaard’s costar, Carey Mulligan.  Can he benefit enough?

5 – Alec Baldwin in It’s Complicated

Baldwin hasn’t received a nomination since The Cooler in 2004, so it’s starting to feel like he’s overdue.  Plus, he’s hosting the show this year so his profile will be high.  Still, this movie could be a bit of a miss.

6 – Christopher Plummer in The Last Station

He’s getting most of the buzz for this film for his portrayal of Leo Tolstoy.  It just remains to be seen how big a hit this movie will be with critics.

7 – Anthony Mackie in The Hurt Locker

The film has a good shot to dominate critics awards in the early going, which should raise Mackie’s profile; however, it looks like most of the residual buzz will go to his co-star Jeremy Renner.

8 – Alfred Molina in An Education

Right now it seems like Peter Sarsgaard is the supporting actor most likely to receive a nomination from this film, but Molina has been shown love from Oscar in the past, so don’t count him out.

9 – Woody Harrelson in The Messenger

This movie has just started to pick up momentum, and most of its newfound buzz is directed towards Harrelson.  Most of his competition has gotten a head start, but he could gain on him if the praise for his film holds steady.

10 – Christian McKay in Me and Orson Welles

His portrayal of the iconic filmmaker has earned him this year’s slot as the “Hey, we could probably nominate that actor” competitor.  It’s always a longshot, but Gloria Stuart rode that buzz all the way to a near win for Titanic.

Best Supporting Actress


1 – Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air

She’s the It Girl of this year’s Oscars after receiving extraordinary reviews for her performance in Up in the Air.  Oscar loves to include an up-and-comer in this category.

2 – Monique in Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire

She should be number one, but after some strange PR gaffes (allegedly demanding an appearance fee to go to the New York Festival premiere of this film) she just can’t be considered a lock.  Still, a new publicist will probably direct he campaign smartly.

3 – Julianne Moore in A Single Man

It seems like forever since Moore has done anything of consequence, so Oscar voters will be happy to welcome back the former double-nom for her highly praised work in this cooly hot indie darling.

4 – Vera Farmiga in Up in the Air

The Departed was supposed to be her breakout, but everybody just noticed the boys in that movie.  Now she’s back with a role that could be her breakout.  Just as long as Kendrick doesn’t steal all of the buzz.

5 – Mariah Carey in Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire

Oscar loves it when the famously pretty de-glam for a role.  That alone makes Carey a strong contender, especially in such a highly praised film.

6 – Susan Sarandon in The Lovely Bones

Another in the “Will Lovely Bones be great or mediocre?” nominee camp.  Sarandon hasn’t gotten an Oscar nomination since she won in 1996 for Dead Man Walking.  She’s long overdue and, if this movie hits, she’ll be a surefire nominee.  But it’s a big if.

7 – Judi Dench in Nine

The supporting actress field is so crowded in this movie that it’s hard to make a convincing case for anybody.  Dench is Oscar royalty so she has the best chance, but nothing is a sure thing for this film’s ladies.

8 – Melanie Laurent in Inglorious Basterds

The Weinsteins usually turn most of their campaigning attention to one film, and that is more likely to be Nine.  The lack of focuse on Basterds could find Laurent in the lurch for her breakout role.

9 – Penelope Cruz in Nine

Another potential victim of the crowded Nine field.  Cruz could stand out and be in the minds of voters due to her recent win, but that’s all conjecture right now.

10 – Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart

She might be lead, but she’ll probably be supporting.  Her nomination is contingent on just how far the buzz for Bridges can carry the rest of this film.

Best Director


1 – Clint Eastwood for Invictus

Again, Clint Eastwood directed a movie about Nelson Mandela.  It will have to be VERY bad for Eastwood not to get yet another nomination.

2 – Rob Marshall for Nine

He’s got the Weinsteins behind him, something that brought him much success when he made Chicago, another film based on an acclaimed musical.

3 – Lee Daniels for Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire

This doesn’t seem like the type of film that normally gets insane buzz for its director, but with the overwhelming acclaim for Precious, it seems impossible for Daniels to be overlooked.

4 – Jason Reitman for Up in the Air

If the reviews and buzz out of Toronto hold true then Reitman is a lock.  Quite a nice start to his career, no?

5 – James Cameron for Avatar

The film probably wouldn’t be nominated if there weren’t ten slots to fill this year, but either way, Cameron would be dead set for the “Director That Doesn’t Match Up” slot.  This is a film that will be seen as a monumental achievement in directing more than anything else.

6 – Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker

She has two biases to overcome.  One, the Academy (and film industry in general) has a bias against women behind the camera.  She’d only be fourth female director nominated.  Second, she’s still kind of known as the director of Point Break.  Not exactly Oscar bait.

7 – Quentin Tarantino for Inglorious Basterds

Tarantino will suffer from The Weinstein Company’s inevitable attention toward promoting Nine, its more surefire Oscar contender.  This lack of major support will probably prevent QT from notching his second nomination.

8 – Joel & Ethan Coen for A Serious Man

The Coens suffer from Man‘s early season release date and also the fact that they just won ever Oscar in creation two years ago.  Voters may want to wait for another massive film from the Coens before they turn their way again.

9 – Peter Jackson for The Lovely Bones

Again, if this movie hits, Jackson’s a lock.  If it misses, it’s King Kong redux.

10 – Tom Ford for A Single Man

Buzz is growing for this movie, and its slick use of style could find Ford its greatest beneficiary.

Best Picture


1 – Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire

At this point, with the stellar reviews and its subject matter, not voting for this movie will be seen as something of a sin.

2 – Nine

It’s a musical, it’s from the same people as former big winner Chicago and it’s got the Weinstein Marketing buzzsaw behind it.  It will have to be really bad for it not to get nominated.

3 – Invictus

For the last time, Clint Eastwood directed a movie about Nelson Mandela.  Just way too much Oscar bait there for it not to get a nibble.

4 – Up in the Air

The overwhelmingly positive reviews, the glowing and growing buzz, the Clooney factor, the emerging Reitman factor.  This one seems poised to explode.

5 – The Hurt Locker

Finally, an Iraq war film was positively receive at the box office and by critics.  Voters will probably jump at the opportunity to honor something so topical.

6 – Avatar

If this is the movie-changing event that it is purported to be, it will be impossible for the Academy to ignore with ten slots to fill, even if it is something of a popcorn flick.

7 – Inglorious Basterds

It has The Weinstein Company behind it, but probably not the full brunt of its force.  Still, Harvey Weinstein has to be licking his chops at the prospect of having only two wide releases in a year and both of them getting nominated for Best Picture.  This shouldn’t slip through the cracks.

8 – A Serious Man

This just seems like something voters will pencil in when they’re scratching their heads for a fourth spot to fill.  The reviews were just good enough for it to stick around.

9 – Up

Ever since the creation of the Best Animated Feature category, no animated film has been nominated for the big prize (though Shrek and Wall-E would have if it weren’t for the cartoon category).  With ten spots to fill, Up should finally break the ‘toon stalemate.

10 – An Education

This ten slots thing is tough.  Is this movie really going to get nominated?  It’s got the reviews, the buzz for Carey Mulligan will help it, but still – does this feel like a Best Picture nominee?  This year, it does.

11 – The Lovely Bones

This movie will absolutely soar up this list if it’s any good.  So much pedigree there with a beloved book and Peter Jackson.  Still, it could be terrible.

12 – The Road

It seemed like the pedigree should be enough to get this into the top ten, but it never quite got the reviews it really needed.  Plus, the whole year-delay stigma hurts it.

13 – Bright Star

A very small film, but a well-reviewed one nonetheless.  Look for it to grab an early win from some critics group and start to develop buzz from there.

14 – A Single Man

This is a fast riser as it’s been gaining buzz for weeks now.  It could continue forward, but it still has a long way to go.

15 – The Hangover

This was certainly the most beloved film of the year by general audiences, and with the expansion to ten slots, doesn’t that mean it kind of has to get nominated?