A funny thing may have happened on the way to the Oscar stage.  Despite significant hype and massive critical acclaim, it doesn’t look like Martin Scorsese’s “Irishman” or Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” is in the driver’s seat for Best Picture.  Instead, that other contender from way back in July, Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood,” may have taken the lead.

Maybe.

Granted, at the moment, the fact that there is so little time this season in between the nomination announcements and final voting makes the entire process feel somewhat up in the air. But, any veteran Oscar watcher will tell you that you “win” Best Picture in phase one, not in phase two. And that’s even the case if you end up being the universal second choice that wins the race on the preferential ballot. Intriguingly, that timeframe might be “Once Upon’s” biggest advantage.

The lowdown is that the one movie that continues to be on a majority of AMPAS member’s lips is Tarantino’s Hollywood-set fairy tale.  And it’s not just AMPAS members I’ve talked to.  It’s the chatter among pretty much everyone professional paid to campaign outside of Netflix (obviously).  Now, before you take this tea as some sort of anti-Netflix conspiracy, simmer down a moment. AMPAS members that have seen “Marriage Story” appear to universally like it, but there’s always the caveat of “Oh, but I think it’s ‘Once Upon'” or “No, Tarantino is going to win.”  The Cannes title has screened and been in theaters for months.  It may, and that’s a major emphasis on “may,” have settled with members as “the one.”  But as always there is a ticking clock, even if it’s a shorter one than years past.

Sure, Martin Scorsese’s opinion on the uncinematic qualities of Marvel Studios films is the unexpected story that will seemingly not die (yet) this season, but here’s the thing, most Academy members simply don’t care.  And the bigger revelation is that most of them haven’t even seen “The Irishman” yet. The Robert De Niro and Al Pacino drama is in limited release now but will be on the streaming service as of Nov. 27.  That gives AMPAS members a good six weeks to catch it at home with a click or two before ballots are due (and beginning during the Thanksgiving holiday, no less).  And considering there are just 11 (!) titles on the AMPAS screening site at the moment and screeners are late because of confusion over the Academy’s “new” service that’s a significant advantage for Netflix.   Like Clint Eastwood earlier this Century, Scorsese has a significant voting block that worships at the altar of the master filmmaker. If Netflix can use those six weeks from Nov. 27 through Jan. 7 to pick off enough other AMPAS members to place “Irishman” first or second, well, they’ve got a case for the win on Feb. 9.

By the way, did we mention that it’s Nov. 14 and there are just 11 titles on the Academy screening site?  We didn’t forget that, did we?

Of course, the great settling hasn’t occurred yet.  “Jojo Rabbit,” “Parasite” and, again, “Marriage Story” could all find ways to capture the crown.  But, at the moment, it looks like Tarantino is sitting pretty.

November 14, 2019

1. “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood”
Leo really better not let go this time.

2. “Irishman”
Could flip back to the top spot once it’s on Netflix later this month.

3. “Marriage Story”
It absolutely has a shot to win, but this doesn’t help Noah.

4. “Jojo Rabbit”
Critics may be “polarized,” but audiences and guild members don’t seem to be. If it gets a SAG Ensemble nod or Scarlett Johannson gets a supporting actress nomination? Watch out.

5. “Parasite”
It probably looked like getting the Best Picture nomination, was the win, and it probably is. That being said, pushing either Song Kang-ho or Cho Yeo-jeong for an acting nomination much, much earlier would have been a smart move. With just enough acting branch support it could have made history.

6. “Little Women”
AMPAS loves Greta and that’s a good thing for Sony Pictures.

7. “1917”
We’ll know soon enough, but if not things get very, very interesting.

8. “The Farewell”
Movies that move you usually play to The Academy. A24 has to constantly remind members how touching Lulu Wang‘s drama is and what an indie hit it is. A strong box office run in China – it opens on Nov. 22 – won’t hurt.

9. “Joker”
Is there actually enough first-place votes to make the cut? Perhaps one of the toughest contenders to gauge.

10. “Bombshell”
This pundit is a fan, but members seem to love the performances so far more than the picture itself. Long way to go though.

11. “Ford v. Ferrari”
Perception wise it’s lost a ton of momentum, but if it’s a big enough box office hit things may change.

12. “The Two Popes”
The last time a studio had three films they distributed earn Best Picture nominations was over 60 years ago. Those are tough odds for Netflix even if the movie is a genuine crowd-pleaser.

13. “Pain & Glory”
You could argue this slot should go to Sony’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” but see our previous point on “The Two Popes.”

Best Picture
Best Actor
Best Actress
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best Director