All Best Picture Oscar winners

And the Best Picture Oscar could go to, oh, just about all 8 nominees

Oscars1920LOS ANGELES — This is the point at which the Oscar Best Picture normally sets up as a two-horse race: Birdman or Boyhood? 12 Years a Slave or Gravity?

But this is not a normal year, and these are not normal horses.

Of the eight Best Picture nominees, a good case could be made for as many as five truly serious contenders: The Revenant, Spotlight, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian and The Big Short. The other three — Brooklyn, Bridge of Spies and Room — are not trailing far behind.

In fact, they're barely trailing at all; not with preferential balloting, in which voters rank choices that are hand-run through an algorithmic series of steps to determine the winner. And we have never seen so little distance between the front-runner and last place in the years since the Academy expanded the category from five nominees in 2008.

Yes, a Crash-level surprise could be in these eight tightly packed contenders ... and it wouldn't even be that much of a surprise.

The wind has shifted for 'The Revenant'

Forced to choose one, the smart money shifts now from Spotlight to The Revenant, which led all nominees Thursday with 12 and on Sunday picked up the Golden Globe for Best Picture, Drama. stays in the hunt despite a Globes shutout, but there is clearly momentum behind Alejandro Iñárritu's shot at back-to-back Best Picture winners.

The director nominees might be a sign that there's no gold on the surface of The Martian, as Ridley Scott was somehow left off the list. But a Best Picture win without the director's nomination happened as recently as Argo. All five nominees, meanwhile, have a horse in the Best Picture race (Iñárritu, Adam McKay for The Big Short, George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road, Lenny Abrahamson for Room and Tom McCarthy, Spotlight). Not a lot of clarity to be found there, either.

The Revenant could really start to lumber away with this if it sweeps top honors at awards ceremonies for the Producers Guild (January 23), Screen Actors Guild (January 30) and Directors Guild (February 6). That would show that the Academy's branches are leaning the same way, and give at-large voters four straight major Revenant wins to ponder while finalizing their ballots for the Feb. 23 deadline.

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