It's a rare year: For every nominee, there's a real argument

More often than not, the Oscar for best picture is either a one-horse race (as with “Titanic” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”) or two pics that go head to head (“Shakespeare in Love” vs. “Saving Private Ryan”).

This year, even the Vegas oddsmakers can’t draw a bead.

Only “Babel” and “The Departed” have star wattage. Martin Scorsese could claim the sympathy vote (among other things) after a storied career that’s seen many nominations and no wins, while “Babel” has a Golden Globes victory — but will the love of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. rub off on Academy voters?

“The Queen,” Stephen Frears’ take on what may have happened inside Buckingham Palace after Princess Diana’s death, can claim the best reviews. Will American voters show their Anglophilic tendencies? (See: “Shakespeare” and “Chariots of Fire.”)

After Clint Eastwood’s “Flags of Our Fathers” failed to make Oscar headway, Warner Bros. made an 11th-hour decision to release “Letters From Iwo Jima” Dec. 20, rather wait for spring. They were right — and to underestimate any project from one of Hollywood’s most iconic figures would be a mistake.

Finally, there’s the would-be black sheep, “Little Miss Sunshine.” Prior to the Producers Guild and SAG kudos, Fox Searchlight’s little-pic-that-could would have been happy with its invite to the best-picture party. Not anymore.

You can make an argument for any of them. So we did.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more