If anyone were to have told you back on May 13 when Universal’s raunchy female comedy Bridesmaids opened that we would seriously be discussing its Best Picture Oscar nomination prospects a week before Christmas, the status of their mental health would been called into question. But even though it remains a long shot Oscar pundits are actively debating its Best Pic potential. Universal is ratcheting up its campaign with an eye on the prize it never dared dream about, and kudos for the Judd Apatow produced film directed by Paul Feig keep piling up as this awards season gets curiouser and curiouser.

For your consideration:

Bridemaids was recently named one of the year’s top 10 films by the American Film Institute, a prestigious and sought-after honor by awards merchants. It received two key SAG award nominations (a prime indicator of industry sentiment) for Outstanding Cast of a Motion Picture (SAG’s version of Best Picture) and Best Supporting Actress for Melissa McCarthy. She also won the Boston Film Critics nod for Supporting Actress and was named in the same category by the Critics Choice Movie Awards (which also nominated the film for Best Comedy and Ensemble). The Golden Globes nominated Bridesmaids for Best Picture – Musical or Comedy and Kristen Wiig for lead actress. Both Entertainment Weekly critics named the film one of their top three of the year. It made the Best Of lists of both A.O.Scott and Manohla Dargis at the NY Times and its current Rotten Tomatoes critical consensus score stands at 90% fresh, one of the year’s higher numbers.

Overall its key precursor awards haul to date is arguably more impressive than some films thought to be more likely Oscar bait like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Ides Of March, The Tree Of Life and The Iron Lady. Because of that its awards momentum has been slowly building despite the impossibly long odds of a comedy in this genre being taken seriously by enough Oscar voters to make the Best Picture finalists. Certainly it has shots for Original Screenplay by Wiig and Annie Mumolo as well as an acting bid for McCarthy but, assuming 75% of the Academy membership actually fill out their nomination ballots, it would need between 215 and 250 first place votes under new rules that say anywhere from 5 to 10 movies can be nominated this year. Are there that many members in what is sometimes thought of a kind of snooty Academy who would really name this movie as their favorite of the year? Seems kind of far-fetched but Universal for one is starting to drink its own Kool-Aid. At least that’s the impression I got yesterday in a joint phone conversation with Universal Chairman Adam Fogelson and Co-Chairman Donna Langley who think it has a shot at defying the conventional wisdom that says a “laugh out loud” comedy released in the first half of the year can’t be nominated for Best Picture.

“I think that we have had the good fortune of defying the ‘conventional wisdom’ category when it comes to awards … Erin Brockovich got released in March and Seabiscuit got released in July. And if you have a movie that really, really lands, and I think to this movie’s credit what I keep hearing repeated over and over again form people I trust, not just people looking to say nice things, is ‘I am a week and a half away from the end of the year and as I look at everything I have seen this year, it keeps coming back to me that Bridesmaids is one of the very best movies all year’,” said Fogelson. “I think the stickiness hurdle is much higher when you come out earlier in the year but if you have left that kind of impression on people and you get to the end of December and people are still saying ‘I keep watching  stuff and I am not seeing stuff that rises beyond it’, I think that that has its own momentum that is meaningful. …I think one could make a business argument but it’s not the primary reason we’re doing (this campaign). We’re doing it because if you have a movie that has achieved what this movie achieved it would be insane not to represent it and celebrate it accordingly.”

The studio is also in the Judd Apatow business having released such Apatow films as The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Funny People among others and Fogelson admits that a possible sequel to Bridesmaids is the early stages of “conversations we are having,”certainly no surprise since the breakout comedy hit was one of the few box office bright spots  in Universal’s 2011 schedule.

Langley believes the film goes beyond its genre and thinks the impact the film has had (as well as other lighter contenders this year like The Artist and Midnight In Paris) may have everything to do with the tough times. “I think it may have something to do with the general zeitgeist and the feeling out there. I think it is why you are seeing comedies doing so well for the moment. It may also have something to do with the number of films being nominated, that people feel they can expand their repertoire a little bit when they are voting and maybe change their criteria a bit in terms of thinking about what a best picture entails, what it contains, what it should be, and if you have more choices maybe that’s a factor too,” she said in assessing a wide open year that seems to have given different kinds of films an Oscar opportunity they rarely had in the past.

To be sure, as I mentioned to Fogelson, the word Oscar was likely not brought up when Bridesmaids was greenlit but he did say the initial reviews gave them pause and put the studio in a happy head space given that so-called “laugh out loud” comedies are rarely if ever represented in the Best Picture department. “I don’t think you would necessarily dream at the time that we’d be sitting here but the quality and the quantity of the reviews and the response to the movie certainly didn’t make it unthinkable if the landscape shook out the way it seems to be shaking out,” he said. Langley adds the movie carved its own unique niche that made it work as well as it did on audiences and now (hopefully) awards voters. “I think the movie just creates scenario after scenario that’s relatable as well as being laugh out loud funny so I think it’s the first time we’re actually seeing a kind of crying-with-laughter, huge set piece-driven comedy that underneath does have a great heart, great story and a very very relatable and rootable character.”

Considering the movie was released in May and is now on DVD, Universal crafted a unique strategy of holding back sending out their screeners to the Academy until 10 days ago. It appears to be a strategy based on the feeling other late-breaking movies might not deliver and Bridesmaids could then be on top of the pile ready to be discovered or re-discovered just before ballots (which go out on December 27) are in the mail to members.

Still, the financial return of Oscar recognition for a movie that has been played out is minimal. So the question remains are the Oscars still important  from a major studio point of view? “It depends on how you define important”, said Fogelson. “I think the business importance in pure dollars and cents has become more questionable over time … I don’t think making movies with an exclusive eye towards how you can get nominated makes a great deal of sense. But I think when you have made a movie that on its own has been recognized and celebrated the way this one has, yeah it’s important. No one here will feel the experience was anything less than spectacular if it doesn’t get nominations but I think that we would be thrilled and honored if that is what came to pass”, he said. “This movie has broken through a lot of barriers on its way to success. I think if it could continue to get acknowledged and continue to stay in the public eye as a spectacular film we would be ecstatic, and on that level its very important.”