Big guns wheeled out for opening shots in annual Oscar battle

Fortunately, I managed to miss the worst of the northern snows last week as I was in London catching up on many of the perceived big hitters which will arrive on cinema screens in the forthcoming awards season.

It was a frenetic time, dashing from one screening venue to another. Firstly, there was Danny Boyle's 127 Hours, co-written by our own Simon Beaufoy. The Coen Brothers' True Grit, based on the same western novel that spawned John Wayne's only Oscar-winning performance, received a very warm reception.

Throw in Barney's Version, the re-imagining of Graham Greene's classic novel Brighton Rock and the awesome spectacle that is Tron: Legacy and some serious pictures were rolled out to an eager press.

The British film that everyone is talking about is The King's Speech. It is leading the way this year in the UK's Oscar hopes and we can fully expect Colin Firth to be nominated as best actor in a category that could see him duelling (again) with Jeff Bridges, who could well get the nod for his growling, no-nonsense lawman in True Grit.

All these titles are released in the UK prior to the end of February – Oscar time. They're already out in the United States. Thus it is that so many of the year's best movies are shoe-horned into the eight-week period that immediately follows Christmas.

The reason? All the big awards ceremonies take place in January, February and March. Count them: running up to the Academy Awards are the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors' Guild Awards and the Baftas. Throw in several high-profile international festival awards – all of them an indicator of potential glories to come – and it's often relatively easy to pinpoint the Oscar hopefuls.

For it is indeed the Oscars that really count. No big surprise, then, that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is said to be seriously considering moving its annual awards event to January.

The possibility of such a change was mooted by none other than Meryl Streep. In an interview last year she described the Academy Awards as "the big kahuna" and advocated that they should take place on New Year's Day to "pre-empt everybody else".

With awards events falling over themselves to honour what is, primarily, the Hollywood elite, Oscar has increasingly become the last runner in the race. To combat this in 2004 the Academy Awards moved back a month, from March to February.

A further move to the very beginning of the year might re-energise Oscar's importance as the pre-eminent bauble but, at the same time, it could diminish the traditional "awards season" to the extent that smaller films will suffer.

Pictures aimed at older audiences rather than

the teen multiplex crowd often garner much critical awareness by being associated with the long haul through the Globes, the SAG awards and the Baftas before finally arriving at the Oscars.

To move the Academy Awards would deny them that, just as the switch to an earlier date would inevitably have a detrimental effect on the multitude of other glitzy awards events.

Perhaps that's what AMPAS wants. After all, in the beginning there was Oscar. Maybe there can be only one.