No front-runners yet in Oscar race

What if they held the Oscars next winter and nobody came?

As things stand now, that wouldn't be a bad idea. For the first time in 21 years on the movie beat, I can't think of a single release in the first six months worth a best picture nomination. Well, maybe one, but “The Visitor” won't register on Hollywood radar screens.

We have three reasonable animated contenders: “WALL-E,” “Kung Fu Panda” and “Horton Hears a Who.” The documentaries “Young@Heart” and “Gonzo” (about Hunter Thompson, due here soon) might be decent choices. But live-action narratives?

Summer blockbusters have been more entertaining than usual and will compete for technical prizes, but does anyone think “Iron Man” will end up being one of the five best films of the year? (Put your hand down, dude, you're embarrassing yourself.)

Sure, distributors usually load prestigious titles into the last third of the year, assuming (mostly correctly) that lazy Academy Award voters will have short memories. But by this point in the year, we've usually had a “United 93,” “Away From Her” or “Zodiac” to get pulses racing a little.

“Sex and the City” won Emmys, but nobody will suggest it for Oscars. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” got a 1981 best picture nomination, but “Indiana Jones” won't and shouldn't. Let's hope autumn yields a rich crop of contenders.