My first, and last, crack of the Oscar prognostication whip this season - the nominee announcement is always my favourite part of this whole process, while most of the winners already seem like a foregone conclusion. (I've noted my predictions for that with some stars. How glitz!) Where I am this season: most of the films in contention are okay, but just that. But I'm firmly behind the frontrunner, so now begins the worry that something is on its way to derail the train. Unless it's Anna Paquin looking for a cowboy hat, that will not be okay.
The Artist*, The Descendants, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, The Tree of Life, War Horse
Alphabetically arranged, but the first five are nevertheless the films that'd be your five if the rules hadn't changed, twice, since 2008. So go ahead and try to do the maths to work out how many more we'll get - I'm counting on the overwhelming sentimentality of War Horse and a passionate fanbase behind The Tree of Life. Moneyball, as good as it is, doesn't seem like a #1 choice for many, and that's what these movies need to be.
In my dreams: Margaret argues her way into the headlines.
Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris), Michael Hazanavicius (The Artist)*, Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life), Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive), Martin Scorsese (Hugo)
Almost certainly idiotic, but wouldn't the Directors branch, being made up of, well, directors, be more likely to acknowledge such vivid stylistic grasps as Refn's and Malick's were this year? Perhaps because to the overwhelming dislike for The Descendants among the blogging community, I'm risking a hunch that the film won't score as well as expected, and this is the most obvious nomination that'd be yanked in that case.
Plus, that line-up just looks better, doesn't it?
In my dreams: I just put two of them up there, didn't I? If I get another: Lars von Trier.
George Clooney (The Descendents), Jean Dujardin (The Artist)*, Gary Oldman (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), Brad Pitt (Moneyball), Michael Shannon (Take Shelter)
Taking yet more risks on quality over tradition. But those two spots (beyond Clooney, Dujardin and Pitt) are up for grabs, and they like Shannon. As for Oldman - Dujardin aside, those other performances seem so tailored to a US audience that there's surely a push for the British bloc to be making here.
In my dreams: A Separation's sublime anchor Peyman Mooadi makes the papers.
Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), Viola Davis (The Help)*, Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), Tilda Swinton (We Need To Talk About Kevin), Michelle Williams (My Week With Marilyn)
The accepted line-up here. I just can't see this branch really pushing for any of the other contenders - Dunst is in too divisive a film, Theron's playing a bitch (no Thatcher jokes please), and Mara has hardly set the awards circuit alight. Saying that, she's the most likely to swoop if Albert Nobbs is just too rubbish to reward.
In my dreams: best of 2011 and 2005 Anna Paquin marches stridently into the fold.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Albert Brooks (Drive), Kenneth Branagh (My Week With Marilyn), Ben Kingsley (Hugo), Brad Pitt (The Tree of Life), Christopher Plummer (Beginners)*
Yet another acting category ripe for surprises beyond an agreed three. If they like Hugo - and even if they didn't - Kingsley seems like such an obvious nominee as soon as you see the film, and I was surprised he hasn't had more attention. And Pitt's another one for my surprising, probably misguided faith in the Academy's outre taste. (Hey, they are inviting more young faces into the fold.)
In my dreams: Tom Hardy's dark reveries from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy make an impact.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Bérénice Bejo (The Artist), Jessica Chastain (The Help), Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids), Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs), Octavia Spencer (The Help)*
From what I hear, if you're going to nominate Close, you'll be jotting down McTeer's name at the same time. Woodley's the other woman in this race (barring a miracle for Carey Mulligan or Vanessa Redgrave), but I've already mentioned my hunch against The Descendants, although I imagine that'll be less virulent amongst the Actors. Still, she's on the edge. If Chastain somehow splits her vote and falls out, my wrath will be like nothing ever seen.
In my dreams: the haunting, scarred sister in Shame, Carey Mulligan, gets another moment in the spotlight.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
The Descendants (Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon & Jim Rash)*, The Help (Tate Taylor), The Ides of March (George Clooney & Grant Heslov), Moneyball (Aaron Sorkin & Steven Zaillian), Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Bridget O'Connor & Peter Strong)
Hugo just doesn't seem like a writers' film - the enterprise is too juvenile and the MacGuffin is so poorly constructed. So I've put the denser political "thriller" The Ides of March in its place. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo seems informed as much by its cinematic predecessor as the source text, while War Horse might find an odd strength from being so episodic, but I imagine it's a film for the technicals. Those are your potential spoilers, though.
In my dreams: Hossein Amini gets his five minutes for shaping Drive into such a menacing thriller.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
The Artist (Michael Hazanavicius), Bridesmaids (Annie Mumulo & Kristin Wiig), Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen)*, A Separation (Asghar Farhadi), Young Adult (Diablo Cody)
A tough call, this category - a bunch of strong, distinctive contenders which are fighting out behind weaker but somehow locked-in leaders (Midnight in Paris, and, though I love it, The Artist). So, once again, I'm predicting a nice outcome - A Separation is masterfully constructed without ever subordinating character, while this is the most likely place for comedy to actually show up.
In my dreams: Andrew Haigh's political but intimate and witty script for Weekend puts its feet up as a nominee.