By Dave Karger
Updated November 24, 2008 at 10:22 PM EST
Penn: Phil Bray; Kidman: James Fisher

We’re only two days away from opening day for Milk and Australia, two highly-hyped films with big Oscar dreams, and I’m very curious to see how they both perform with the nation’s top critics. As is the case with most Baz Luhrmann productions, Australia should split reviewers down the middle, with some falling for its lavish direction, romance, and production, and others dismissing it as two hours and 45 minutes of schmaltz. I currently have it at No. 8 on my roughly ranked list of Best Picture contenders, which is probably a bit higher than other OscarWatchers would put it. But with its scope alone it should attract that segment of the Academy that looks for “big” movies.

addCredit(“Penn: Phil Bray; Kidman: James Fisher”)

Many of my Oscar-blogger colleagues, meanwhile, have Milk solidly in their top five as of now, while it’s my No. 6, still fighting for inclusion among the eventual nominees. I’ve seen the film twice and it’s wonderful, with certain nominations for Sean Penn and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. The reviews should also be almost uniformly positive, with praise for director Gus Van Sant for making an accessible screen biography of Harvey Milk without sacrificing any edge or grit. With some high profile critics awards, and strong flyover-state box office, it could certainly displace an early favorite like Revolutionary Road or Doubt and become a Best Picture nominee.