Oscars best picture contenders: What to expect

"Argo," starring Ben Affleck (right) and Bryan Cranston, is nominated for seven Academy Awards, including best picture. Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

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Here's one reason moviegoers get so excited about the Academy Award for best picture: There's always something to complain about. "Forrest Gump" over "Pulp Fiction"? How about "The English Patient" over "Fargo" and "Jerry Maguire"? If there's an afterlife, Oscar voters should be forced to spend it watching "Dances With Wolves" instead of "GoodFellas." Well, you can't please everyone -- although this year's front-runner comes pretty close.

"Argo" It's no masterpiece, but just about everyone warmed to Ben Affleck's feel-good thriller. It seems destined to be this year's "Slumdog Millionaire" or "The King's Speech."

"Zero Dark Thirty" The year's most challenging film, perhaps too much so. Blistering attacks from the right and the left, plus a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation, may have scared away Oscar voters.

"Silver Linings Playbook" This fun, fizzy, romantic comedy was a total pleasure, but Oscar voters tend to favor serious fare in this all-important category.

"Lincoln" Steven Spielberg's biopic was another polarizer: Some saluted it; others shrugged. As Abe himself knew, a split vote is a tough win.

"Les Misérables" The star-studded musical won't walk away completely empty-handed, but competition in this category is too fierce for a win.

"Django Unchained" A strong showing from Quentin Tarantino's epic-length Western, but reaction has been split: Is it an important movie about racism? Or just a silly shoot-'em-up?

"Life of Pi" A stunningly real-looking tiger -- actually done with computers -- is the main reason this Ang Lee movie made it to the nominations.

"Beasts of the Southern Wild" It's nice to see an independent film get a shot at the big leagues. It's the whole reason the Oscars expanded this category two years ago.

"Amour" A French-language film about an old woman dying? Let's call that a long shot.

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