In the early hours of Thursday, Jan. 10, Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone will take a stage to announce the nominees for the 85th Academy Awards. Most years, the process is the cap to a long season with the same three titles dominating every category, the final choices rarely surprises.
This year is a bit different.
Sure, there are frontrunners, but more so than in the last decade, most categories are anyone's to win — or even pop into at the last minute with a surprise nomination. With the amount of Best Picture nominees in flux, no clear leader to any acting pack, and a bevy of technical awards that could go to any of the prestigious films to roll out over the year, the 2012 Oscar nomination line-up is one big question mark.
To test our powers of prediction, we weighed the odds and ran down every category with our picks for who may walk away with a nomination at the end of tomorrow. If they do, we'll still be up for one of the toughest Oscar pool years in a long, long time….
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
Who Could Break In? In 2009, the Academy opened up the Best Picture race from five to 10 nominees. In 2011, they changed the rules again to allow the potential number of nominees to change based on the vote (with a minimum of five and a maximum of 10). So we're going with nine movies from 2012 for Best Picture. What could sneak in? Thanks to the BAFTAs, it seems more possible that Skyfall could be James Bond's first time in the Best Picture ring. There's also the French drama Amour, which could transcend the Foreign Film confines to nab the 10th slot.
Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook
Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty
Marion Cotillard – Rust and Bone
Helen Mirren – Hitchcock
Emmanuelle Riva – Amour
Who Could Break In? Naomi Watts was a longtime favorite for her physically demanding work in The Impossible, but quiet buzz has us swapping her out for Hitchcock's Mirren. Foreign language favorites Cotillard and Riva also look like solid picks, but raves for Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild could bump the young actress into the top five.
Denzel Washington – Flight
John Hawkes – The Sessions
Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln
Hugh Jackman– Les Misérables
Bradley Cooper – Silver Linings Playbook
Who Could Break In? This is one of the only categories that looks locked, but voters may have erased Joaquin Phoenix's anti-Oscar rant from memory long enough to move him into Hawkes or Washington's slots. The dark horse is Jack Black, who has been garnering more and more love in the awards season push for his performance in Bernie.
Best Supporting Actress
Helen Hunt – The Sessions
Sally Field – Lincoln
Anne Hathaway – Les Misérables
Maggie Smith – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Nicole Kidman – The Paperboy
Who Could Break In? Best Exotic Marigold Hotel could take a second slot in this race, with Dame Judi Dench bouncing Kidman from the ring (or even replacing her costar Smith). Amy Adams also looks like a major contender, but the favorite from The Master has lost traction since the movie debuted in September.
Best Supporting Actor
Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Master
Leonardo Dicaprio – Django Unchained
Tommy Lee Jones – Lincoln
Alan Arkin – Argo
Javier Bardem – Skyfall
Who Could Break In? Robert De Niro is still a major player for the Supporting Actor category, but he's more of a legend worth nodding to than a stand out in Silver Linings Playbook. With unexpected love from both the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs going to Javier Bardem for his villainy in Skyfall, he stands a good chance of taking the fifth spot. Or maybe the voters will realize the greatness of Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike….
Ben Affleck – Argo
Kathryn Bigelow – Zero Dark Thirty
Steven Spielberg – Lincoln
Ang Lee – Life of Pi
Quentin Tarantino – Django Unchained
Who Could Break In? Tom Hooper (Les Misérables) earned the fifth slot in the Director's Guild award nominations earlier in the race, but the stylish magic of Tarantino may outnumber him when it comes to the Oscars. Close-ups and canted angles versus zooms and whip pans to bloodshed — which does the Academy favor?
Best Original Screenplay
Quentin Tarantino – Django Unchained
Rian Johnson – Looper
Paul Thomas Anderson – The Master
Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola – Moonrise Kingdom
Mark Boal - Zero Dark Thirty
Who Could Break In? The Writer's Guild honored Flight writer John Gatins for his work on the alcoholism drama, but with Tarantino (who is not a WGA member and was ineligible for their nom) in the mix, his weaker work looks to be ousted. Writer/Director Michael Haneke's elegant work on Amour could also be honored if the Academy feels bad for not stepping up and giving it a Best Picture nomination.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Chris Terrio – Argo
Stephen Chbosky – Perks of Being a Wallflower
Tony Kushner – Lincoln
David Magee – Life of Pi
David O. Russell – Silver Linings Playbook
Who Could Break In? If too few members of the Academy caught Chbosky's touching translation of his own novel, love for Beasts of the Southern Wild may be strong enough to bump it into this category (it was based on a short play called "Juicy and Delicious"). Enough Les Misérables support could also bump the musical into the category, replacing either Perks or The Master.
Best Animated Feature
The Rabbi's Cat
Who Could Break In? Sorry, Rise of the Guardians. Although you're a technical marvel, your holiday magic just didn't impact enough people this holiday season to make you an Oscar contender. We'll go with the relatively unknown (but highly-praised by those who have seen it) Rabbi's Cat.
Best Documentary Feature
How to Survive a Plague
The Invisible War
Mea Maxima Culpa
Searching for Sugarman
Who Could Break In? Jafar Panahi's astounding self-portrait This Is Not a Film is a whirlwind of emotion — that's also shot mostly on an iPhone. The low-tech feel puts it under the flashy documentaries above, but one hopes the Academy could see beyond the cinematography.
Best Foreign Language Film
A Royal Affair
Beyond the Hills
Who Could Break In? Amour is the one to beat, but watch out for Norawy's Kon-Tiki, which could rise all the way to the top if voters feel split over giving Amour Best Picture and Best Foreign Language love.
All the glamorous Catherine Zeta-Jones has to do is tap her heels three times and, just like that, she's returning to her humble homeland of Wales to do the independent film Coming Out. Under the direction of another Welshwoman, Sara Sugarman, Zeta-Jones will produce and star in the film about a Welsh rugby team whose coach unexpectedly dies. Their only hope is to rely on the deceased coach's gay son to "choreograph them to victory." But don't think Zeta-Jones is bowing out of the limelight forever. Oh, no, she wants that Oscar. So, Zeta-Jones also will star with her equally famous husband Michael Douglas in Smoke and Mirrors. The period drama follows the efforts of a French 19th century illusionist, along with his female sidekick, to expose a sorcerer who is inciting anti-colonial revolution. Production will start mid-fall.
Roberts' Atlantic crossing
Julia Roberts, following the leads of Renee Zellweger (Bridget Jones's Diary) and Gwyneth Paltrow (Sliding Doors), will most likely have to take some serious dialect lessons to perfect a British accent for a new untitled film (the one she had in Mary Reilly doesn't count). She will take on the real-life role of a Yorkshire woman whose murder led police on one of their biggest manhunts, followed by one of the most controversial miscarriages of justice in the United Kingdom. Roberts will play Wendy Sewell, whose gravitation towards elicit sex gained her the nickname "The Bakewell Tart," London's The Observer reports. Sewell was murdered in 1973. Maintaining his innocence, 17-year-old Tim Downing was convicted of killing Sewell. Local newspaper editor Don Hale spent six years trying to clear the young man's name. Interesting. Let's see what the Oscar-winning actress dishes up.
Hallstrom and DiCaprio play "Catch"
Speaking of more true stories, director Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat) is in final negotiations to direct DreamWorks' Catch Me If You Can, with Leonardo DiCaprio, who certainly has taken the heat off himself in the last few years, attached to star. This is based on the life of Frank Abagnale Jr., the only teen to ever make the FBI's 10 most wanted list for impersonating several hundred different people and writing bad checks between 1964 and 1966. Abagnale Jr. passed himself off as a Pan Am copilot, a chief resident pediatrician and an assistant attorney general. He had written $6 million in bad checks in all 50 states and 26 foreign countries by the time he was caught. That's one busy bee. And with Hallstrom and DiCaprio together again, after their other quirky but compelling film What's Eating Gilbert Grape (DiCaprio was nominated for an Oscar), Catch might one to watch out for.
Allen looking at the stars … again
Hey, why mess with a good thing? Tim Allen is no dummy. After his success in 1999's comedy hit Galaxy Quest, Allen is in talks to star in Paramount Pictures' comedy StarChild, about another romp with aliens--Roswell aliens, to be exact. A socially challenged CIA agent is assigned the task of getting a young Roswell alien back home before interplanetary war erupts on Earth. Peter Segal (Nutty Professor II: The Klumps) will direct. Think about this one carefully, Tim.
"I know nuuuth-ting!"
But we do. Looks like the brainy fellows at Revolution Studios have decided to bring the wacky and popular '60s and '70s TV sitcom Hogan Heroes to the big screen. We'll get to see all the shenanigans of Hogan (maybe Tim Allen should think about this one instead) and his oddball band of World War II POWs, as they run an underground Allied base of operations at the camp while pulling a fast one on the incompetent Col. Klink and his sidekick, Sgt. Schultz (Chris Farley would have been great). And why not? The studios haven't completely tapped out the arsenal of old TV shows as possible movie material. Ironically, the original series' star, Bob Crane, is having his own life brought to the big screen by director Paul Schrader. The film, Auto-Focus, highlights the sordid details of Crane's life after Heroes that ultimately led to his brutal murder in 1978.
Court TV makes movies
Court TV, which owes its popularity to the sensational trials of O.J. Simpson and the Menendez brothers, has decided on its first original movie. It is a project on the aftermath of the 1963 bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama, during which four black girls were killed. The case made headlines recently when an Alabama jury convicted Thomas Blanton of the crime. Blanton is the second man brought to justice in this case after the 1977 conviction of Robert Chambliss. Tentatively titled A Bombing in Birmingham, production will start in the late summer for a 2002 airing. Not sure, though, if anyone can outdo Spike Lee's extraordinary Oscar-nominated documentary on the same subject, 4 Little Girls. That's a hard act to follow.
The power of three
Indie gal-pals Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey and Fairuza Balk will star in Enter Fleeing for writer/director Rebecca Miller. Based on Miller's collection of short stories, Personal Velocity, the film tells the tale of three women-Greta (Posey), Delia (Sedgwick) and Paula (Balk)-who each struggle to flee from the men who confine their personal freedom. Sounds like the ultimate chick flick--an empowering chick flick, the best kind. Shooting begins this week in New York.
Rap Queen large and in charge
Rap singer/actress/talk show host Queen Latifah is in negotiations to star and executive produce the comedy In the Houze for Disney and Hyde Park Entertainment. A man takes to the Internet to find a date but ends up embarking on an online relationship with a convict (Latifah) who makes up several stories about herself. When she's finally released, she seeks out the guy and wreaks havoc on his upper-middle-class life. This will mark the versatile Latifah's first starring role in a film, having played mostly supporting characters in films like The Bone Collector and Living Out Loud.