The last Oscars derby ended just weeks ago, but -- admit it -- you can't wait to find out which ponies are out front for the next race. Our forum posters are already making early predix here, but below is some of our own noodling too.
Among the Oscar contenders for best picture, for example, are Peter Jackson's "The Lovely Bones," Clint Eastwood's untitled project, Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island," Rob Marshall's "Nine," Ang Lee's "Taking Woodstock" and Stephen Frears' "Cheri."
The Oscar winning "Lord of the Rings" scripters Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens adapted Alice Sebold's best-selling novel, "The Lovely Bones." Jackson -- who also won Oscars for directing and producing the third film in the 'Rings' trilogy -- performs the same roles here. Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan ("Atonement") is the murdered girl who watches over her grieving parents -- Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg ("The Departed") and supporting actress winner Rachel Weisz ("The Constant Gardener").
Clint Eastwood won his two directing Oscars for best picture champs "Unforgiven" (1992) and "Million Dollar Baby" (2004). Four-time nominee Morgan Freeman co-starred in both those films and won the supporting Oscar for the latter. The old friends reunite for this fact-based film (at one time titled "The Human Factor") set in post-apartheid South Africa. Freeman portrays Nelson Mandela and Oscar nominee Matt Damon ("Good Will Hunting") as the coach of the first integrated rugby team.
With the period crime drama "Shutter Island" based on the 2003 best-selling mystery by Dennis Lehane ("Mystic River"), Martin Scorsese helms his first film since winning an Oscar for 2006 best picture "The Departed." Three-time Oscar nominee Leonardo DiCaprio ("What's Eating Gilbert Grape," "The Aviator," "Blood Diamond") takes direction from Scorsese for the fourth time. He plays a U.S. marshal searching for a patient (Emily Mortimer) missing from a Cape Cod hospital for the criminally insane in 1954. Oscar winner Ben Kingsley ("Gandhi") is the head of the hospital, with Oscar nominees Max von Sydow ("Pelle the Conqueror") as a dubious doctor and Michelle Williams ("Brokeback Mountain") as DeCaprio's wife.
Rob Marshall ("Chicago") works his magic on another stage-to-screen transfer with an adaptation of the 1982 Tony-winning best musical "Nine" that was, in turn, inspired by Federico Fellini's 1963 Oscar-winning "8½." Two-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis ("My Left Foot," "There Will Be Blood") is the wayward film director at the center of the action, while a bevy of Oscar winners are the women in his life -- Marion Cotillard ("La Vie en Rose") as his faithful wife, Penelope Cruz ("Vicky Christina Barcelona") as his mistress, Nicole Kidman ("The Hours) as his protege, Judi Dench ("Shakespeare in Love") as his mentor and Sophia Loren ("Two Women") as his mother.
Oscar winner Ang Lee ("Brokeback Mountain") reunites with Oscar-nominated scripter James Schamus ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") for "Taking Woodstock," a biopic set against the backdrop of the famed 1969 musical festival. With Schamus now head of Focus Features, expect a big push from the studio for this period piece. Emmy-nominated writer Demetri Martin ("Late Night with Conan O'Brien") plays the son of the couple -- two-time Oliver winner Henry Goodman ("Assassins," "The Merchant of Venice") and Oscar nominee Imelda Staunton ("Vera Drake") -- behind the festival. The rest of the cast is filled with theater folk, including Tony winners Liev Schreiber ("Glengarry Glen Ross") and Dan Folger ("The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee") and nominee Jonathan Groff ("Spring Awakening").
Twenty-one years after "Dangerous Liaisons," Michelle Pfeiffer reunites with director Stephen Frears ("The Queen") and Oscar-winning scripter Christopher Hampton for an adaptation of Colette's 1920 novel, "Cheri." Back then, Pfeiffer earned the first of her three Oscar nods for playing the innocent; her other noms came for "The Fabulous Baker Boys" and "Love Field." Now she is the seductress who beds the young son (Rupert Friend) of her courtesan friend (Oscar winner Kathy Bates, "Misery").
And while Pfeiffer has never won an Oscar, Meryl Streep just lost for the 13th time. She could be contending again for playing chef Julia Child in "Julie and Julia." Writer-turned-director Nora Ephron earned Oscar nods for her original scripts for "Silkwood," "When Harry Met Sally" and "Sleepless in Seattle." In her adaptation of Julie Powell's best-selling memoir, Ephron tells the parallel stories of a modern day woman -- two-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams ("Junebug," "Doubt") -- working her way through Julia Child's classic cookbook and its origins.
In flashbacks set in 1950s Paris, Meryl Streep plays the culinary wizard and her "Devil Wears Prada" co-star Stanley Tucci is her husband. An accent and a physical transformation could well earn the soon-to-be 60-year-old actress another Oscar nod after 12 leading bids and another three supporting ones. And while she has only two wins ("Kramer vs. Kramer," "Sophie's Choice") to show for her efforts, Streep should remember that all-time champ Katharine Hepburn didn't take three of her four lead actress Oscars till she was at least that age. This contender is produced by Scott Rudin ("Doubt," "No Country for Old Men," "There Will Be Blood") and due to open Aug. 7.
Photos: Warner Bros., Columbia Pictures