"Babel"Pro: Voters may finally discover artsy director Alejandro González Iñárritu, thanks to an A-list cast and a timely message about irrational hysteria over terrorism.
Con: Older academy members may balk at "Babel's" violence and avant-garde interweaving of four globe-scattered stories.
"Blood Diamond"Pro: Slick entertainment with political message. DiCaprio really sparkles.
Con: Looks like an action film, so may not be taken seriously.
"Bobby"Pro: Looks like "Titanic" with lots of celebs on course to collide with historical tragedy. Poignant clips of real Bobby Kennedy a plus.
Con: Detractors say it's really "The Love Boat" with pop stars like Lindsay Lohan and Ashton Kutcher aboard.
"Catch a Fire"Pro: Voters like real struggles against Third World oppression ("The Constant Gardener").
Con: African political drama "Hotel Rwanda" was nommed for best pic at Globes, not Oscars.
"The Departed"Pro: Take Martin Scorsese, add heartthrobs, blood, guns and let Jack wig out. Box-office gold = Oscar gold.
Con: Boys misbehavin' is fun, but not weighty.
"Dreamgirls"Pro: Nearly a dozen musicals have won best picture, and this one's a B'way classic about showbiz.
Con: Recent film tuners flopped ("The Phantom of the Opera," "The Producers").
"Flags of Our Fathers"
Pro: Clint. "Flags' " theme of disillusioned soldiers facing civilian life is a proven Oscar conqueror ("The Best Years of Our Lives," "Coming Home").
Con: Could it be "Jarhead" without Jake?
"The Good German"Pro: Oscar champ Steven Soderbergh directs Oscar A-listers George Clooney and Cate Blanchett in big December pic.
Con: Popcorn pix aside, Soderbergh has crashed since "Traffic."
"The Good Shepherd"Pro: Academy loves movies directed by actors (Robert De Niro), plus dramas based on real life (this is about the early days of the CIA).
Con: De Niro hasn't proved himself as a director.
"The Last King of Scotland"
Pro: Forest Whitaker is bewitching as Ugandan devil Idi Amin.
Con: Amin is so creepy it's hard not to penalize the pic.
"Little Children"Pro: Kate Winslet aches magnificently for love. Jackie Earle Haley is hauntingly creepy.
Con: The icky subplot about a tortured sex offender forces viewers to — eeew — feel for him.
"Little Miss Sunshine"Pro: Like "Crash," it's an inspirational story that keeps chuggin' at the box office.
Con: Is it more like "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," a box office juggernaut that was ignored at the Oscars?
"The Pursuit of Happyness"Pro: Superstar Will Smith is winning as a destitute dad determined to succeed so he may provide for his son.
Con: Too sappy?
"The Queen"Pro: Oscar embraces small biopics ("Capote") and everything British ("Shakespeare in Love").
Con: In the best-actress race, Helen Mirren faces a real age bias: Women older than 40 rarely rule.
"Running With Scissors"
Pro: The long-overdue Annette Bening gets a flashy role. Based on a book that's a cult fave.
Con: Bening's nutty role is often unsympathetic.
Pro: With seven defeats, Peter O'Toole is Oscar's biggest acting loser. (That's a plus.) He's also great as a lecherous, booze-swilling actor inches from the grave.
Con: It's hard to sympathize with a bully geezer lusting after a young tart.
"World Trade Center"
Pro: Oliver Stone is a proven Oscar plus ("Platoon," "Born on the Fourth of July") and handles this Sept. 11 drama deftly. Plus, it's all about heroes.
Con: It's a bit schmaltzy and may have opened too soon.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times