It’s early June, which means it’s time to start hammering you with premature awards season coverage!

As someone who’s learned to stop loathing and accept the Oscar derby, I’m still a bit leery of engaging in speculation this far removed from August (which is when the prestige positioning truly begins). Perhaps I’m still smarting from championing Warner Independent’s shrewd long-lead buzzing of Paul Haggis’s In the Valley of Elah; though I feel partially justified in proclaiming that it might get a favorable reception from elite critics if a must-read blogger enthused over the Crash-master’s latest two months before official screenings started, it ultimately got a tepid launch in mid-September and one (1) paltry Oscar nomination (for Tommy Lee Jones’s undeniably great performance). In other words, there’s no way of knowing what any of this nonsense means until we’re in the thick of the race – at which point we can ascribe our incorrect guesses to William Goldman’s immortal declaration, “Fuck you, I’m ordering the fish.”

That said, we’re obliged to whisper excitedly over Universal’s decision to move Clint Eastwood’s Changeling (which has nothing to do with Peter Medak’s excellent The Changeling) up to October 24th (from its previous November 7th slot), where it will get a limited release before going wide on the 31st. Unlike Elah, we have plenty of buzz on Changeling, which screened in-competition at Cannes to generally favorable notices. And this is interesting because Clint has a second ’08 release on the way: Gran Torino.

Gran Torino, a quiet drama about an old racists’ unexpected friendship with a Vietnamese boy, is tentatively scheduled for a December release. The last time Clint hit the accelerator on one of his already efficient productions, he got Picture and Director nominations for Letters from Iwo Jima. Prior to that, he sprinted through post on Million Dollar Baby and left the Kodak double-fisting trophies. Clint rushes well.

Current conventional wisdom holds that Changeling will vigorously contend for Actress (Angelina Jolie) and numerous design awards. Since Jolie was just denied a nomination for A Mighty Heart, I think she’s as close to a lock as anyone can be in early June (when she was considered a lock last year for A Mighty Heart, but whatever). As for what this move portends for its Picture chances, consider this: the last five winners of the Academy’s top prize were released in November, October, May, December and December. Ergo, per Conrad Bain, “nobody knows anything”.