Two of the four major contenders left to enter the Oscar races, "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Les Miserables," are getting major exposure to the awards community over this long weekend, with "Les Miserables" igniting in New York today. I'll be seeing the two films Sunday and Monday, respectively. 

The earliest of the early words is that "Les Miserables" will emerge as a leading best picture candidate, while "Zero" might have its strongest push for lead actress Jessica Chastain. Neither of those revelations is a surprise at all. But this awards season has shown that initial hype does not always translate into longterm frontrunning – remember when "The Master" was supposedly writing its Oscar ticket in August screenings – and as late as it might seem, we are still six weeks the due date for Academy ballots. 

"Lincoln" has had the most heat of late, including an all-out promotional push that I believe is the most intense of any film in the awards arena so far this year. A pic nomination seems all but guaranteed, but I'm still not convinced it will generate the fever to put it over the top. From the opposite direction, I haven't been sold that "Silver Linings Playbook," despite its hugely passionate base of support, will ultimately become a picture that sufficient numbers at the Academy will push to an Oscar win. Meanwhile, the popular "Argo" is still lurking as a fail-safe. That means there's plenty of room for "Les Miserables" to surge to frontrunner status and hold, but the second wave of reaction to the film should be more telling. 

Looking farther ahead, "The Hobbit" is set to begin wider exposure. I know of some Nov. 30 screenings; I'll be seeing it Dec. 3. "Django Unchained" is looking like the last of the major awards contenders to get a proper introduction to awards season. 

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