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Oscar in August!

Award season shouldn't start 'til the end of summer, but just like Christmas, it just keeps creeping up earlier and earlier. Even in August, Oscar talk bubbles to the surface in La-La-land. With end of the year contenders like "Memoirs of a Geisha," "Walk the Line," and "Jarhead" already screened in some form or another (thank you, my spies), the races are really starting. A number of these candidates will be shown at next month's Toronto Film Festival (yes, look for complete coverage here at MSN Movies and Hitlist), but before we trek to the Great White North, here are 10 questions that can already be answered about this year's award season.

Is Steven Spielberg's "Munich" this year's "Million Dollar Baby"?
Yes. One advantage to being the last major Oscar contender screened is that it benefits from award season fatigue. With its late December release date, Spielberg's retelling of the 1972 Olympic hostage crisis is primed to take the reigns of the Oscar race just like "Baby" did last year.

Will the Best Picture race be dominated by the studios this year?
No. Well, more so than last year, but an independent feature has been nominated for Best Picture every year since 1993. That's not going to change now.

Will George Clooney prove his directing chops aren't a one-time fluke?
Yes. Clooney impressed many with his first directing effort, "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind."  His follow up, "Good Night. And, Good Luck," has been chosen as the opening night film at the New York Film Festival (a prestigious slot) and it may become this year's "Quiz Show."

Is Peter Sarsgaard this year's Jude Law?
No. With four movies coming out before the end of the year ("The Skeleton Key," "Flightplan," "Jarhead" and "The Dying Gaul") Sarsgaard is certainly duplicating Law's multiple picture overload from 2004. Luckily, they are mostly supporting roles and his turn in "Jarhead" might just get him the Oscar nod he missed out on for "Kinsey."

Which movie is more of a serious Oscar contender: "Crash" or "Cinderella Man"?
"Crash." Supporters of the Paul Haggis drama are very passionate about it and while there are those that dislike it (myself included), don't be surprised by nominations for Don Cheadle, Thandie Newton, Screenplay and (gasp) even Best Picture. "Cinderella Man" may suffer from "Million Dollar Baby" backlash and Russell Crowe's recent arrest won't help. "Cinderella" is far more likely to follow "The Road to Perdition" (not many) than "Seabiscuit" (a bunch) in its pursuit of nominations.

Could Keira Knightley and Reese Witherspoon get their first nominations?
Yes. Word is Knightley carries the charming "Pride and Prejudice" and Witherspoon is exemplary as June Carter Cash in "Walk the Line."

Is this the year of the ladies?
Yes. Zhang Ziyi and Michelle Yeoh ( "Memoirs of a Geisha"), Diane Keaton ("The Family Stone"), Charlize Theron and Frances McDormand ( "North Country"), Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette ("In Her Shoes"), Maria Bello ("A History of Violence"), Kate Winslet ("All The King's Men"), Uma Thurman ("The Producers"), Judi Dench ("Mrs. Henderson Presents"), Felicity Huffman ("Transamerica"), and previously mentioned Witherspoon ("Walk The Line") and Knightley ("Pride & Prejudice") are just the beginning of a very crowded field.

Could Steve Martin finally get his first Academy Award nomination?
Yes. The legendary comedian may find himself in the Best Adapted Screenplay category for "Shopgirl," which is based on his own novel. Hopefully, the upcoming "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" isn't a blemish on his campaign.

Are there seriously good movies and performances we haven't seen that are already in danger of being overlooked?
Yes. The excellent "The Squid and the Whale" and Robin Wright Penn's amazing turn in "Nine Lives" deserve the same buzz as the big dogs out there.

Is this the year that a remake is nominated for best picture?
Yes. "All The King's Men," "The Producers" and "King Kong" (too many prognosticators are counting this one out) all have a legitimate shot. Remakes are rarely nominated, but this year could buck that trend.

MSNBC looks at the 2005 Oscar race

Next: Letters: Why You've Stopped Going To The Movies
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