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Introduction

Our Contenders issue highlights those films that, at this early stage in the kudos race, look well placed to get Oscar heat come February. We’ve cited 25 films — excluding animated pics — that, in our view, look set to grab multiple noms. With the big day more than three months away, several films have yet to be screened. Thus, some pics are wild cards, others could fall by the wayside over time; and still others are below the radar so far.

Other content includes:

Everyone’s a winner
In an annual ritual, pundits — studio execs, journalists, publicists and educated onlookers — guess about the virtues and shortcomings of current awards contenders and inevitably someone will sadly shrug, “It’s a weak year.”

Wild card lurks in toon deck
With four high-profile animated features released this year — DreamWorks’ “Shrek 2” and “Shark Tale,” Disney/Pixar’s “The Incredibles” and Warner’s “The Polar Express” — it might seem like the shortlist for Oscar’s animated feature category is already taking shape.

Moore for the money
This past summer, as distributors across the U.S. were racing to line up qualifying runs of their nonfiction films for the documentary Oscar, Michael Moore’s juggernaut “Fahrenheit 9/11” loomed especially large.

Speaking in tongues
The 55 contenders for last year’s foreign-language Oscar nominations included several artistically and commercially hefty choices.

Safety in numbers
Special effects studios like to continually raise the bar, and the work in 2004’s tentpoles doesn’t disappoint.

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