Pete Hammond

With less than a month to go, the stage is set for one of the strangest Oscar showdowns in memory. Certainly the season started with some clear favorites emerging, like Argo at Telluride, Silver Linings Playbook at Toronto, then Lincoln just after the election, followed by Life Of Pi. I thought Paramount’s Flight also might emerge as a major best picture contender around this time, but when critics awards and early nominations for Globes and CCMAs started coming in, it was clear this was mainly just a play for Denzel Washington and John Gatins’ original screenplay. At Christmas time, we got Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained, and the hotly anticipated Les Misérables to complete our seven-pack of best picture contenders. What many weren’t anticipating was that two small indie films that made a splash earlier in the year were also going to come in. Beasts Of The Southern Wild managed to hold on to all that momentum from its Sundance debut a year ago, and then Amour took Cannes by storm, winning the Palme d’Or and later travelling on the fall film circuit to Telluride and Toronto. That both were able to cash in that early 2012 awards goodwill and still make Oscar’s list was impressive, especially in the face of one of the most competitive and rich races for the ultimate prize in many years.

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So what do we have? It’s as free-wheelin’ a race for Oscar as it can possibly be. Usually at this point, there are one or two strong contenders left in the hunt. Not this year. An argument can be made that, depending where the momentum shifts in the next month, it is almost anyone’s race, at least for best picture. But that also extends to some of the acting races (well, maybe not for you, Daniel Day-Lewis and Anne Hathaway) and even director, which has been turned on its head by the directors branch, who went their own way in snubbing DGA nominees Ben Affleck, Kathryn Bigelow, and Tom Hooper in favor of smaller films from Michael Haneke, Benh Zeitlin, and David O. Russell. At the very least, the directors have upended the race and made it a lot more interesting and less conventional. It is entirely conceivable that the guilds, which most closely reflect the Academy’s sensibilities, will further upend the race. In a year when so many movies are top quality and have their own unique constituencies supporting them, a split vote could produce some very nervous moments on Oscar night and some very unexpected results. Could a popular movie like Argo actually emerge as the best picture champ without winning any other Oscars?

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It’s possible—not likely, but possible. Will the directing and picture categories split? Possible. Could Argo win DGA, Life Of Pi win best director at the Oscars, and Lincoln take home best picture? Who knows? It is a year where anything, and I mean anything, can happen.

And then there is the question of the earlier nominating period and online voting. The Academy assured me, perhaps because of all the publicity about snafus in the new voting system, that more members voted this time around than ever before. Will that continue through to the finals, especially now that there is a longer period, six weeks instead of four, between nominations and the Oscar show? Will the method of voting continue to be the story and could it affect the outcome in a razor-thin margin race like this one promises to be?

It has indeed been a rollercoaster ride for Oscar in his 85th year, and I have a feeling he’s got a few more surprises in store for us before this is all over.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.

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