It's never too early to start thinking about the Oscars. September marks the beginning of the season in which most of the contenders are released and we've already seen some strong candidates for the win. Metro Hollywood's Ned Ehrbar selects the films he thinks will top every Academy member's list this year.

 

1. "Argo"

 

At this point, Ben Affleck’s true-life CIA rescue thriller is pretty much a lock for a Best Picture nomination — and the odds-on favorite to win. The subject matter is Hollywood-friendly, poking fun at the industry while also making it heroic, and its continued box office success means it’s also a popular favorite.

 

2. "The Master"

 

A likely nominee but a long-shot to win, P.T. Anderson’s drama suffers less from any uproar over its Scientology subtext -- turns out there was no outrage -- than it does from it generally leaving audiences cold. It’s still a work of art, but one that won’t break through with more crowd-pleasing competition.

3. "Life of Pi"

Ang Lee’s ambitious, 3-D behemoth is a bit of a question mark, but it will probably earn a nomination for sheer artistry. Whether audiences connect with its shipwrecked hero and animal companions, though, is yet to be seen. It could just as easily find itself facing the same uphill battle as...

4. "Cloud Atlas"

A big, messy, ambitious film that’s guaranteed not to win Best Picture but deserves at least to be nominated, "Cloud Atlas" — which has so far divided critics and left audiences cold — will likely pick up a good share of technical nominations but miss winning in any of the name-brand categories, a proud tradition carried on by "Inception" in 2011 and "Hugo" in 2012.

5. "Les Miserables"

If it’s about crowd-pleasing, this may give "Argo" its stiffest competition. It’s got a rousing, power-to-the-people story, an all-star cast led by Hugh Jackman, "The King’s Speech" director Tom Hooper and famous, tear-jerking songs. Yes, we hear the people sing.

6. "Lincoln"

Directed by Steven Spielberg. Written by Tony Kushner. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln. It’s almost as if "Lincoln" was built in an Oscar Bait lab. Of course, that’s how Spielberg’s "War Horse" appeared last year until people actually saw it. The difference is that "Lincoln" is actually good, and Day-Lewis is a lock for a Best Actor nod.



7. "The Impossible"

Depending how audiences respond, this true-life survival tale could also be tough competition for "Argo." It’s equal parts harrowing and uplifting, with a standout performance by Naomi Watts and a chilling recreation of the 2004 Tsunami. Already a runaway success in the director’s native Spain, we’ll see if Americans flip for it as well.

8. "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

While this gorgeous indie about New Orleans bayou dwellers battling a hurricane is expected to sweep the Film Independent Spirit Awards, it’s a bit more of a long-shot for an Oscar nod — but a deserving one. Maybe the devastation of super-storm Sandy will boost its relevance.

9. "Silver Linings Playbook"

This one has also been earning raves at festivals for director David O. Russell ("The Fighter") and actors Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper (as a man with a mental condition) and Jennifer Lawrence (as the woman who helps him), who has a lot of Best Actress heat building around her.

10. "Skyfall"

A Bond film as a Best Picture nominee? If ever there was a chance, it’s with this one. And after all, the Best Picture category was expanded specifically to make room for smartly made action films like this. It’s a shame "The Dark Knight Rises" didn’t live up to its predecessor, or it might be on the list instead.