I love those early picks!!

Two-thirds of the way through the year, only two serious candidates for the Best Picture Oscar have yet emerged: “Crash” and “Cinderella Man.” But the next four months are Hollywood’s favorite time for prestige pictures, bringing us the return of Oscar favorites Steven Spielberg, Jamie Foxx, Cameron Crowe and Sean Penn. Here’s a tip sheet for the early Oscar favorites.
Good Night. And Good Luck (Oct. 7)
George Clooney’s second effort as a director tackles up-to-the-minute issues, taking on Sen. Joe McCarthy through the eyes of Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn). Though the film is small in scale and shot in black and white, no political story gets Hollywood more excited than an attack on McCarthyism.
Prospects: Best Picture and Screenplay, Clooney for Best Director
Elizabethtown (Oct. 14)
Crowe’s first film since the uneven “Vanilla Sky” is a hugely anticipated return to semi-autobiography for the writer-director of “Almost Famous,” which won him a screenwriting Oscar. Orlando Bloom stars in this comedy-drama about a workaholic who buries his father but is cheered up by a stewardess (Kirsten Dunst). “Lord of the Rings” elf Bloom hasn’t proven he’s an actor yet, but with all the armor he’s been lugging around lately, he hasn’t had a chance.
Prospects: Crowe for Best Director and Best Screenplay
Northcountry (Oct. 14)/Walk the Line (Nov. 18)
This year’s “Ray” wannabe is “Walk the Line,” starring Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash and Nashville-bred Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash. Phoenix got an Oscar nomination for his campy work in “Gladiator,” but can he rule the screen the way Cash ruled country music? Director James Mangold’s films have been hyped before (“Cop Land,” “Girl, Interrupted”) but he’s never had much success. An equally juicy role goes to Charlize Theron in “North Country,” about a landmark sexual harassment suit among miners that features Oscar favorite Frances McDormand. Beautiful women who play deglamorized blue-collar types are practically guaranteed Oscar glory.
Prospects: “North Country” for Best Picture, Phoenix for Best Actor, Witherspoon and Theron for Best Actress, McDormand for Best Supporting Actress
Jarhead (Nov. 4)
Based on Marine sniper Anthony Swofford’s memoir of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, “Jarhead” has everything you look for in an Oscar film: a literary pedigree, an Oscar-winning director (“American Beauty” helmer Sam Mendes) and an acclaimed cast featuring Jamie Foxx, Peter Sarsgaard and Jake Gyllenhaal.
Prospects: Best Picture, Foxx and Sarsgaard for Best Supporting Actor, Mendes for Best Director
The New World (Nov. 9)
Reclusive director Terrence Malick (“Badlands,” “The Thin Red Line”) retells the story of Capt. John Smith and Pocahontas (newcomer Q’Orianka Kilcher). But Malick’s films are weirdly muted, and Hollywood’s been tiring of perennial almost-star Colin Farrell.
Prospects: Best Screenplay, Malick for Best Director, Kilcher for Best Actress
Breakfast on Pluto (Nov. 18)
Neil Jordan’s latest will make Cillian Murphy a star, if he isn’t one already on the strength of his attention-grabbing turns in “Batman Begins” and “Red Eye.” Murphy is said to be spectacular as a rocking Irish drag queen in the IRA-themed drama. Ever since 1992’s “The Crying Game,” Jordan pretty much owns the IRA cross-dressing subgenre.
Prospects: Best Picture and Screenplay, Murphy for Best Actor, Jordan for Best Director
Rent (Nov. 23)/The Producers (Dec. 21)
Inspired by the success of “Chicago,” two big Broadway musicals are coming to the screen. The tragic, AIDS-themed “Rent” is directed by “Harry Potter” helmer Chris Columbus with Rosario Dawson and Taye Diggs as stars. There’s also “The Producers,” which brings back stage stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, and adds Will Ferrell and Uma Thurman.
Prospects: Best Picture for either, Lane for Best Actor, Dawson for Best Actress
Memoirs of A Geisha (Dec. 9)/Brokeback Mountain (Dec. 9)
A film Spielberg originally was set to direct went to Chicago’s Rob Marshall instead: “Geisha,” another literary adaptation, stars the indestructible “Crouching Tiger” star Ziyi Zhang. And “Crouching Tiger” director Ang Lee is back, too, with the gay-cowboy drama “Brokeback Mountain,” starring Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger in a film that has to be better than its log line.
Prospects: Best Picture, Ang for Best Director, Zhang for Best Actress
All The King’s Men (Dec. 16)
Another politically hot December film, this remake of the 1949 Best Picture winner about sleazy politics is sure to take a whack at the Bush White House. It stars another committed lefty, Sean Penn, along with Jude Law and Anthony Hopkins. Top screenwriter Steven Zaillian takes his first directing job.
Prospects: Best Picture, Zaillian for Best Director and nods for Oscar favorites Penn, Law and/or Hopkins
Munich (Dec. 23)
The Christmas season brings out the really big gun: Steven Spielberg, who examines the Israeli agents assigned to assassinate the terrorists who killed Israeli athletes during the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich. Originally titled “Vengeance,” the script is tightly guarded. But it’s written by leftist playwright Tony Kushner and is said to have found inspiration in a book slanted against the Israelis. So observers assume it’s going to cast a harsh eye on the Mossad’s actions. The star is “Layer Cake” breakout Daniel Craig.
Prospects: Best Picture and Screenplay, Spielberg for Best Director