By RUTHE STEIN
Scripps Howard News Service
This time last year, anyone attempting to divine the Oscar nominees would have had a lot more to go on. ''No Country for Old Men,'' ''Michael Clayton,'' ''Into the Wild,'' ''Eastern Promises,'' ''Away From Her,'' ''La Vie en Rose'' and ''In the Valley of Elah'' were all already in release. Other potential nominees such as ''Atonement'' and ''Juno'' had played festivals, leaving a trail of reviews to aid one in prognosticating.
This time around, reels of the most likely Oscar nominees are locked in a vault somewhere in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Oscar buzz for earlier releases such as ''W.'' and ''Rachel Getting Married'' is barely audible anymore. The perception that this is an off year for movies could change once the studios march out their top-of-the-line product.
Here's how the Oscar race is shaping up ...