*Fun fact: Since they took the year off to get married/have kids/be beautiful, this will most likely be the first year since 2005 that neither Penelope Cruz nor Javier Bardem will be among the nominees.
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
I honestly don't think we're going to get to 10 nominees this year; in fact, I'll go ahead and boldly declare that there will be eight nominees (the reds and the blues). With the outpouring of love for Hugo, I have a hard time seeing the Academy passing it up. Aside from Hugo, The Artist and The Descendants have dominated this discussion, so their nominations are probably locked up at this point. Though Midnight in Paris hasn't actually dominated in terms of wins, its received enough nominations and placed on enough Top 10 lists to convince me that it won't be passed over (plus, Woody Allen is an Oscar favorite, and his "comeback" year should be catnip for them). The Help's position as the top non-franchise film of the year at the box office should help, and its still generating plenty of buzz. War Horse is a bit more iffy; some love it, some don't, but it will probably still make the lineup for hitting the war-epic sweet spot. Moneyball and The Tree of Life still have passionate fans, which should lift them to nominations. Drive, too, has a strong base of support, but I'm not convinced that its large enough to nab the film a nomination here. As for Extremely Loud...now that its finally opened, critics have been mixed, and the film has failed to make a dent in any awards so far (not a single Golden Globe nod, for example). It could still be a film they like, critical reception be damned (see: The Blind Side, 2009), so its still in the mix as far as I'm concerned. However, J. Edgar and The Ides of March have, for the most part, seen their stars fall in this category, and its unlikely that either will make the cut.
Steven Spielberg, War Horse
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Martin Scorsese, Hugo
Spielberg, Allen, and Scorsese are the most-nominated living directors, and its very likely that this year all three of them will be nominated. Payne and Hazanvicius are almost locks at this point, having nabbed more than their fair share of honors so far this season. Scorsese, too, seems like a pretty sure thing. However, interestingly, it could be Spielberg and Allen that are on the shakiest ground. Both Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) and Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life) have been singled out by various groups, and both of their films are seen as director-driven, which can only help them here. My guess is that Malick is in a better position to spoil, but I wouldn't count out either of them at this point.
Brad Pitt, Moneyball
Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar
George Clooney, The Descendants
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Michael Fassbender, Shame
For the most part, Clooney, Dujardin, and Pitt are locks in this category, having made almost every shortlist and claiming a majority of the prizes so far. Though his film (and, to be honest, DiCaprio himself) are mediocre at best, this kind of biopic role is exactly the sort of thing that Oscar goes nuts over, and I would be surprised if they passed over him. That fifth spot has a lot of competition: Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) has a very quiet, reactive role - not really grabby - but he could still make his way in if enough people cry "overdue!" Woody Harrelson (Rampart) has a meaty role as a corrupt cop - the exact sort of role that won Denzel Washington this prize 10 years ago - but he needs a lot more people to see his film if he's going to make it. Michael Shannon (Take Shelter) is mesmerizing and has earned a few nods here-and-there, but he's going to need a lot more support if he's going to earn his second Oscar nomination. And Demian Bichir (A Better Life) surprised a lot of people by landing a SAG nomination, which could easily turn into a Oscar nomination as well if people support him. But I'm guessing that Fassbender will overcome his film's NC-17 rating and earn a nomination for a literally naked performance, topping off his breakout year.
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn
Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk about Kevin
The Iron Lady, Albert Nobbs, and My Week with Marilyn have all received middling reviews, yet Streep, Close, and Williams (respectively) have managed to squeeze into a multitude of honors anyway on their performances. Streep and Williams are playing the mimicry card, which makes them strong contenders here; Close, on the other hand, may be in danger of her film's poor reviews and her own understated performance. Davis remains a lock and a quite possible winner. Swinton has had a strange resurgence, particularly from some major organizations such as the SAG, and perhaps could earn her second Oscar nomination. However, her film has barely screened, and Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene), Charlize Theron (Young Adult), and Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) are all waiting in the wings and could easily snatch that last spot.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Albert Brooks, Drive
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn
One thing is certain: Plummer and Brooks, who have won almost every prize so far, will be nominated. From there, though, this category is the fuzziest. Branagh seems like a safe bet for his (far-too-easy, given the comparisons) performance as Laurence Olivier. Every once in a while the Academy gets really excited about Nolte, and this year seems to be another one of those, which could result in his third nomination. And yes, it does seem strange to see Hill here, but he turned in a truly interesting and soulful performance. However, Viggo Mortensen (A Dangerous Method), Max Von Sydow (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close), Patton Oswalt (Young Adult), Armie Hammer (J. Edgar), Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Ides of March), and even Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) are all potential nominees as well.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Octavia Spencer, The Help
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Vanessa Redgrave, Coriolanus
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
The ladies of The Help (Spencer and Chastain) should both score nominations, the former for her scene-stealing role, the latter as reward for appearing in practically every other movie this year (seriously, Jessica, you've earned a vacation!). This isn't particularly surprising, especially since this category has for three straight years produced two nominees from a single film. Woodley and McTeer have earned several nods, including Golden Globes, which will certainly help them maintain their momentum. Redgrave, unfortunately, is on shaky ground, particularly because her film has been sorely underseen, and she missed nominations from both SAG and the Globes. The Academy could still throw her a nomination, but if not, SAG nominees Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) or Berenice Bejo (The Artist) could steal a spot in the lineup.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Moneyball; screenplay by Steven Zallian & Aaron Sorkin (based on the nonfiction book by Michael Lewis)
The Descendants; screenplay by Nat Faxon, Alexander Payne & Jim Rash (based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings)
The Help; screenplay by Tate Taylor (based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett)
Hugo; screenplay by John Logan (based on the graphic novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick)
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; screenplay by Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughn (based on the novel by John le Carre)
Moneyball and The Descendants are the only sure things here. Otherwise, it could go any number of ways. The Help continues to hold steady as a Best Picture nominee, and it seems likely to score a screenplay nomination as well. Hugo, too, seems likely to capitalize on its love-in to earn a spot here. And Tinker seems like the kind of twisty, complicated film that would be recognized for its screenplay (and the last le Carre adaptation, The Constant Gardener, also was nominated here). However, The Ides of March, War Horse, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo could also make their way into the lineup.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Midnight in Paris; written by Woody Allen
The Artist; written by Michel Hazanavicius
50/50; written by Will Reiser
Bridesmaids; written by Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumulo
Margin Call; written by JC Chandor
Excitingly, the Original Screenplay category is pretty competitive this year. The Artist and Midnight in Paris are sure-things at this point, and either of them are likely to win this year. The other three spots are more difficult to gauge. Bridesmaids was a big hit and a critical favorite, and this is the one category where it has the best shot at a nomination. 50/50 has claimed a surprising number of critics prizes, and it seems to have broken ahead as a likely nominee as well (though it has its detractors). Margin Call is the unexpected indie hit of the season, and it seems primed for a nomination for first-timer Chandor. However, Young Adult, The Tree of Life, Shame, Win Win, Take Shelter, Rampart, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Beginners, and A Separation are all contenders as well, and anything could happen.