By Dave Karger
January 13, 2009 at 09:04 PM EST

Could Clint Eastwood do it again? In 2004, his directorial effort Million Dollar Baby was an eleventh-hour entry in the awards race and ended up winning Best Picture and Best Director, among several other prizes. Two years later, his late addition of Letters from Iwo Jima came from nowhere to earn a bunch of top-tier nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. And now, his fascinating drama Gran Torino is indisputably the hot movie of the moment: It just raked in nearly $30 million in its first weekend of wide release, and it’s the film that most Oscar voters discovered last, screening it just before ballots were due. I’ve long been a believer in Eastwood’s Best Actor chances and still think he’ll displace The Visitor‘s Richard Jenkins or even The Curious Case of Benjamin Button‘s Brad Pitt next Thursday. But with many voters said to be loving the film, could it eke out a Best Picture nod as well? It sure seems like a long shot: Even though they showed up late in the game, Million Dollar Baby and Letters from Iwo Jima still landed on some important pre-Oscar tallies, while Gran Torino was overlooked by the PGA, DGA, SAG, and even the Broadcast Film Critics Association top 10. Still, if there’s any film that could end up as a surprise Best Picture nominee, this could be the one. The ultimate irony: If the savvy Warner Bros. team is able to push Torino into the big dance, the movie they just might bump out is their own mega-blockbuster, The Dark Knight.

addCredit(“Anthony Michael Rivetti”)