Denzel Washington, Flight

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

A year ago, filmmaker Robert Zemeckis detonated one of the biggest bombs in Hollywood history, Mars Needs Moms. Today, he's got a shiny new Oscar vehicle.

What a difference Denzel Washington makes.

Here's a look at the awards-season prospects for Zemeckis and Washington's Flight:

So Far, So Good: The just-released drama about a commercial pilot (Washington) who miraculously avoids an air catastrophe only to come under scrutiny for substance abuse has passed the critics' test. "It is nearly flawless," writes Roger Ebert in his four-star review.

Washington's Notices Are Nearly Flawless, Too: "Tremendous" (Detroit Free Press). "Ferocious" (New York Times). "Marvelous" (Chicago Tribune). Keep searching, and you'll find a dozen more praiseworthy adjectives just like these.

So, Pencil Him In for a Best Actor Nomination: You probably won't regret it. Right now, Washington is an 8-to-1 pick to take the trophy, per the U.K. gaming site Only four other stars have better odds.

Could Cloud Atlas deliver Tom Hanks another Oscar?

One Plausible Reason He Won't Win His Third Career Oscar: Because Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln) could win his third career Oscar. (In the early-going, nobody, but nobody, has better odds than Day-Lewis.)

Yet Another Plausible Reason: Flight, which looks to be jockeying for the ninth or 10th Best Picture slot (if the field goes that deep), and which will have to catch fire to snag Zemeckis a Best Director nomination, won't have quite the mojo that a shoo-in like Lincoln will.

Cliffhanger Question:  Will queasy Oscar voters, who apparently didn't have much stomach for the acclaimed but Best Picture-snubbed United 93, as well as Zemeckis' own 2000 film Cast Away, have better luck hanging with Flight's plane-crash scene, one that even Washington described as "tense and intense?"

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