Around 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, Emma Stone and Seth MacFarlane, along with some old guy from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, will announce the nominees for the 85th Academy Awards. Who will get picked? Who will get snubbed? The Oscars are never entirely predictable, but we have some educated guesses in the so-called major categories, before we bring you the full nominations list bright and early.
Note: Because of new-ish Academy rules, there could be anywhere between five and ten nominees. We'll list ten here, but the first five are the ones we think are the likely bets. The rest are in descending order of likelihood.
- Zero Dark Thirty
- Silver Linings Playbook
- Life of Pi
- Les Misérables
- Beasts of the Southern Wild
- Django Unchained
Why Them: Argo and Lincoln have had near-unanimous critical support since they their release and were directed by big Hollywood favorites. Zero Dark Thirty has a jittery seriousness that tends to appeal to some Academy voters (see: Traffic), despite the film's many controversies. Silver Linings is a crowd-pleaser, as is the artsy Beasts. Beyond that, Les Miz has obvious, bombastic Oscar appeal, Life of Pi was (simplistically) spiritual and lovely to behold, Django had cool factor, Amour was one of the best-reviewed films of the year, and Skyfall was a huge box-office success that the brilliant cinematographer Roger Deakins (always a bridesmaid, never a bride at these things — but maybe not this year!) turned into art.
The Wildcard: Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom could steal Beasts's indie-about-a-kid slot, or potentially Amour's, if that brutal foreign language film is deemed too "difficult."
- Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
- Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
- Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
- Naomi Watts, The Impossible
- Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Why Them: Chastain and Lawrence have won the bulk of the critics' awards, so they're basically locks. Like Whale Rider before it, nature-themed Beasts of the Southern Wild might see its young lead actress be made the Oscars representative of the larger film. Though, even if Beasts does get a Best Picture nod, we still see Wallis on this list; she's just too irresistible. Past that, things get a get murkier. Watts's fierce suffering ought to get her a nod, as will that of Riva, who at 85 perhaps gave the most bracing performance of them all. Academy voters like a "comeback" story like that. (Though, if Riva was ever gone, it was by choice.)
The Wildcard: The Deep Blue Sea's Rachel Weisz, the New York Film Critics Circle's choice for Best Actress, could easily oust any of the latter three.
- Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
- Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
- Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables
- Denzel Washington, Flight
- John Hawkes, The Sessions
Why Them: In the most crowded major race of the year, only Day-Lewis and Cooper are real sure-things. But let's also count Jackman in there, as Les Miz is an audience favorite and the Academy is a big fan of the erstwhile Oscars host. Beyond that, we think Washington, an Oscar veteran and two-time winner, has the momentum behind him, and a nod for Flight would be a good way to reward a film that many people liked but only a few loved. We're giving the edge to Hawkes in the final slot because he's been recognized of late as an undersung actor, and his performance was so physically demanding. (Yes, it takes a lot of work to move so little.)
The Wildcard: Joaquin Phoenix is the dark horse here for his gnarled, effortful work in The Master. If Academy members remember his long-ago movie (September!) and forget his anti-Oscars ranting, then he could bump Hawkes, or potentially even Washington.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
- Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
- Sally Field, Lincoln
- Helen Hunt, The Sessions
- Ann Dowd, Compliance
- Amy Adams, The Master
Why Them: Hathaway is likely to ride Les Miz all the way to a win in February. The rest already feel like also-rans. Her only real competition is Sally Field, with Hunt's gentle but "brave" (lotsa nudity) performance a distant third. The other two are mostly toss-ups. We think Dowd will get recognized for an ace performance in a tiny movie, yes, but also for her long, yet heretofore unheralded, career. She's the Margo Martindale of this year.
The Wildcards: Name actors often get random nominations in the supporting categories just 'cause, so Dowd's slot is seriously threatened by plenty of bigger movie stars. (We may be doing a big act of wishful thinking by putting her up there in the first place.) Stars like the ladies of Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Nicole Kidman for The Paperboy. Or there's another non-star, West End belter Samantha Barks, who gets one big song before she goes in Les Miz.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
- Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
- Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
- Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
- Alan Arkin, Argo
- Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained
Why Them: Jones's crusty but ultimately pleasant Thaddeus Stevens was the Lincoln crowd favorite, and he's the one to beat. De Niro got some of the best reviews of his later career for the feel-good Silver Linings. Hoffman dazzled as always in the showy The Master. On slightly unsteadier ground are Arkin and DiCaprio, but we think that the Academy loves Arkin too much to not give him a nod, thus making him the representative of the excellent Argo ensemble. Awards shows tend to give DiCaprio a "you did good, kid" pat on the back every few years and it just might be time for another.
The Wildcards: DiCaprio could get swapped out for Christoph Waltz or Samuel L. Jackson, both of whom also did lauded work in Django. There's also Independent Spirit Award nominee Matthew McConaughey lurking on the periphery. It'd be a great story to give him his first-ever nod for something like Magic Mike, and it would serve as an encouragement to a one-time box-office star who is barreling down a new creative path.
- Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
- Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
- David O. Russell Silver Linings Playbook
- Ben Affleck, Argo
- Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
Why Them: Affleck, Bigelow, and Spielberg are this year's favorites, as name directors with rapturously reviewed films. Russell's not too far behind them; he's a director that's been going a more Oscar-friendly route the past few years, so we suspect he'll be rewarded for that. And we think that Tarantino the arch auteur will occupy the last spot because the Academy likes to look "cool" when it can.
The Wildcard: Life of Pi's grand visualist Ang Lee could easily knock Russell out of the game.