Even when I started following the industry obsessively, I always wondered how it came to be that by October or November of each year, there would always be a fairly clear picture of who the Oscar "frontrunners" were, which films were falling out of the race, and sometimes even which movies are "locks" in certain categories I figured the buzz had to start somewhere -- and that to some extent, the tail had to be wagging the dog.

Maybe it starts with glowing advance Hollywood Reporter reviews. Consider Ray Bennett on Meryl Streep in the ABBA musical Mamma Mia!, due July 18th: "Streep is sensationally good in rendering the whole yarn credible and in making dramatically moving songs such as 'Slipping Through My Fingers,' sung to her departing daughter, and 'The Winner Takes It All' to a lost love. It's no stretch to think of her performance in Oscar terms, ranking with previous musical winners such as Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand and Catherine Zeta-Jones."

So: is this that fabled "Oscar buzz" we keep hearing about, or just one dude sounding off about a movie he liked? Is this the first step toward Streep being a "Best Actress lock" come December? I wouldn't have put Mamma Mia! (or, for that matter, The Dark Knight) on my Oscar shortlist a few months ago -- looks too silly! The release date's all wrong! But I guess now that I've read The Hollywood Reporter, I'm supposed to think it's a contender. Right?

Or did you know that all along?