Well, the moral of the story is not to bet on anything too early.
As of right now, there is no clear Best Picture winner for this year's Academy Awards. Last year, despite the valiant attempts of Juno fanatics, No Country for Old Men had all but won the Best Picture statuette. This year, for those looking for a clear frontrunners, no such luck.
Australia, a onetime surefire winner, fell by the wayside when it debuted to middling reviews. Baz Luhrmann + Nicole Kidman =/= Oscar glory, it seems. Moulin Rouge! was just a fluke! Ahehehe...
Doubt is all but finished, what with Meryl Streep getting knocked around for her less-than-realistic portrayal of her character.
Milk has no shot at Best Picture. No shot whatsoever. Why? It's too gay. That's not my opinion, of course; that will be the opinion of every homophobic member of the Academy voting bloc. Brokeback Mountain couldn't even win, ant it didn't even say the word "gay".
So what movies are left? The Curious Case of Benjamin Button looks like it'll be the big winner of the year, but there isn't the same definitiveness over it that we saw with Old Men. Frost/Nixon looks like a contender, but in a politically-charged year, it's not often that a political film would win.
The big wild card is Slumdog Millionaire, AKA the Little Miss Sunshine of this year. Quite a few Oscarologists are saying that because of Slumdog's high Rooting Factor (it's Dickensian, if you will), it has a chance of usurping Button's frontrunner status. An underdog Slumdog? Looking very possible.
The Dark Knight, in a stronger year, might fall by the wayside. However, with little competition surrounding it, I would consider it a lock for a nomination. However, it won't win. Superhero flicks just don't win Oscars, no matter how many Heath Ledgers it has.
So what fills the fifth spot? WALL*E got strong buzz right after coming out, but the chatter fizzled after a while. Rachel Getting Married is incredible, but I don't think it's buzzy enough. Revolutionary Road has the stars and the history (Leo and Kate together again!), but, like Rachel, buzz just isn't strong enough. Finally, I've Loved You So Long has a bombastic performance from Kristin Scott Thomas, and she'll get honored with a nomination. However, the movie isn't in English. Foreign flicks are like superhero flicks. They just don't fly in the Best Picture race.
What will win? It's way too early to take a guess, but I will anyway. Button looks like a surefire winner, filled with stars (Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton), length, technical prowess, etc. Still, don't count out the Chariots of Fire factor in Slumdog.
This is a fairly weak year, so the winner may not really be Oscar-caliber. But something's gotta win.
...Go Rachel Getting Married.