Contender Countdown: Is this the year we have fewer than 9 Best Picture nominees?

A common question from those playing the awards season game the past few weeks has been: “Will this be the year we get fewer than nine Best Picture nominees?” It's not that anyone is rooting for fewer nominees (it's not in their business to), but with so many smaller films vying in the race many are assuming there won't be enough support for nine again. And yet, haven't we heard this before? Well, yes and no.

Two years ago, many felt there would only be seven or eight nominees. Instead, “Amour” and a late-arriving “Django Unchained” ended up making sure there were nine once again. That year in particular was a big studio season with seven of the nominees from the major studios either domestically or, in “Django's” case, internationally (anyone in the U.S. thought it was a studio film despite The Weinstein Company releasing it). Three years ago, the first season of the Academy's qualifying rule, many pundits predicted just eight, only to be surprised when “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” made the cut. That year also featured five studio releases and three mini-major releases that made over $44 million each (“Descendants” hit $82.5 million). Many believe the more studio pictures in the mix, the more they actually get seen and the better the chances are for nine or even 10 nominees. Remember this last point.

Looking at this year's crop of contenders, you only have three to four legitimate studio films in the mix and only one release that looks like it will earn anywhere near $100 million (“Gone Girl,” which has made $161 million to date). Granted, both “The Imitation Game” and “Selma” could do very well, but ending up anywhere in the $80 million range domestically would be huge wins for those pictures. So, if you took a statistical approach, it doesn't look good for nine nominees, particularly if you believe the studio movie theory. That being said, since fewer than nine hasn't happened yet we're sticking with it for now.  That voting tabulating format may just guarantee it.

Before hitting this pundit's latest ranking of the top 10 Best Picture contenders, let's check out what's going on at Gurus of Gold shall we? The big news is the expected jump of “Selma” up to no. 4, “Interstellar's” continued descent off the chart and “A Most Violent Year” cracking five gurus charts when it hadn't received any votes the week before (thank you NBR). Most notably, “Unbroken” hasn't dropped after a majority of gurus (but not all) saw it this past weekend. The votes are slightly all over the place, but the consensus is it will make the cut (until it won't).

Keeping all that in mind here's HitFix's Contender Countdown as of…

Dec. 5, 2014

1. “Boyhood”
NYFCC is big. Landing their West Coast counterparts would be bigger. Still concern enough Academy members don't know enough about the movie though.

2. “The Imitation Game”
Huge per screen over the holiday weekend was a great sign for its Oscar hopes. Critical reaction is not euphoric, however. Will it be the lowest rated winner since “Crash?”

3. “Selma”
Somewhat worried Paramount might not realize what they have, but critics reviews and, sadly, the current political environment will make this the must-see movie of the holiday season.

4. “Birdman”
Winning the Gotham for Best Film over “Boyhood” and earning Best Actor for Michael Keaton was huge. If it can win the SAG award for best ensemble and the DGA for best director it could win it all. Is that too much to ask?

5. “Gone Girl”
It's Dec. 5 and all appears quiet on the Century City front. Time for Mr. Fincher to let a campaign begin in earnest, yes?

6. “The Theory of Everything”
Missing out on NBR's top 10 wasn't the best news, but buzz from Academy members is that they love it which is more important anyway.

7. “Foxcatcher”
It's borderline, but the reviews are strong and Carell, Tatum and Ruffalo's peers love their performances. If it can land a best ensemble nod from SAG it's definitely in.

8. “Whiplash”
Disappointing box office (love ya SPC, but true), but another one generating buzz from guild members. Could be the screener hit of the season.

9. “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Spoiler alert: This is my no. 1 film of 2014, but all signs point to the industry not giving it serious consideration. At this point if it misses out on SAG any Best Picture hopes will be hard to recover from. And that would be a true shame since it's much better than most of the movies on this list.

10. “Unbroken”
Simply: We wouldn't be surprised if it made it and wouldn't be surprised if it didn't.

On the outside looking in but possibly not for long: “A Most Violent Year”

What is your top 10 Best Picture list looking like? Share your thoughts below.