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In a season of underdog triumphs, Oscar contenders jostle for 'little guy' status

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America was built on the notion of bootstrap success and punishes anyone who gets overconfident, says Mr. Silverstein. He points to one of the year's early underdog favorites, "Juno," a small film about a young girl's struggle to handle an unexpected pregnancy, which is beginning to suffer from "underdog" fatigue.

Audiences, not to mention Academy voters who actually determine the Oscar winners, don't like being "spun," or told what to think about a movie by studio campaigns, he says. Americans have given their hearts and movie dollars to this year's "little film that could," (last year's was "Little Miss Sunshine"). Problem is, the small-budget film isn't all that little anymore. The movie has made more money at the box office than any of the other Best Picture nominees – more than $125 million so far – which has dimmed its dark-horse pallor a tad. And thereby, some of its Oscar chances, say a number of observers. "It's hard to go on calling it an underdog at that point," adds Silverstein.

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