And yet, people do it. I use the term “people” to refer to that small handful of folks like myself for whom the Oscars are like Christmas; meaning the Golden Globes are like Thanksgiving — basically the same thing, but ultimately meaningless and less rewarding. So predicting the Oscars is like warming up for the holiday season — getting a jump on shopping, putting the lights and tree up, and already exhausting the holiday playlist on iTunes before most people have started caring yet.
Still, here are my best estimations of which nominees we’ll see nominated in the major categories, roughly in the order of best chance to iffiest:
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Albert Brooks, Drive
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Andy Serkis, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes
Most Likely Upsets: Probably the weakest of the acting categories this year, with plenty of room for spoilers. Christopher Plummer’s wonderful performance as a gay man with a terminal illness in Beginners is a given, as is Brooks’ smug villain in Drive. Moneyball‘s steam of late likely means good news for Jonah Hill, and as a seasoned vet, I’m thinking Nolte will find himself here thanks to a showy performance as an off-the-wagon alcoholic in Warrior. Kenneth Branagh has a good chance for playing Laurence Olivier in My Week With Marilyn, but the movie doesn’t focus on him all that much — it may be too slight of a role (and, frankly, a bit dull), upstaged by Michelle Williams. Young Adult‘s consolation prize could be a Patton Oswalt nomination, or the buzz-less Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close‘s could be Max Von Sydow. And the much-adored Hugo could be represented by Ben Kingsley, as he is playing a famous figure. It’s wide-open. But given the lack of truly riveting options I’ll go with the long shot and wager that the Academy may make history by honoring Andy Serkis’ motion-capture performance as a chimpanzee in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes. In a year of so much nostalgia, maybe here is where a few will look forward.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Octavia Spencer, The Help
Jessica Chastain, Take Shelter
Berenice Bejo, The Artist
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants
Most Likely Upsets: Octavia Spencer is a given for The Help — it’s such a Best Supporting Actress-y role. Jessica Chastain will almost certainly be here, too — but for which movie? Quite likely, also The Help, but I hope Take Shelter gets some more love. Berenice Bejo almost seems like a lead in The Artist, but given how crowded Best Actress is, she’ll more likely find herself here. The hilarious Melissa McCarthy will probably represent the Bridesmaids girls as a way of acknowledging that much-liked comedy, and considering all the love for The Descendants, I’m guessing newbie Shailene Woodley takes slot five, since Best Supporting Actress is the most fresh-face-friendly of the catgories. Not a lot of possible upset here, though Janet McTeer in Albert Nobbs could slip in, if enough people saw it. Shame‘s Carey Mulligan is a highly unlikely long shot, too.
George Clooney, The Descendants
Brad Pitt, Moneyball
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Michael Fassbender, Shame
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Most Likely Upsets: Leonardo DiCaprio might carry the lonely responsibility of carrying J. Edgar‘s Oscar torch, and he was good in the movie. But has it been forgotten by now? Typically there’s at least one seasoned vet here, and the closest thing to that would be Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy‘s Gary Oldman — but the movie was divisive. Jean Dujardin has probably taken the “foreign newcomer” slot that might otherwise go to A Better Life‘s Demian Bichir, and while are some are ardent lovers of Ryan Gosling in Drive, there also some strong haters, and the movie was pretty “adult” for the Academy — edgy voters may well have already picked Fassbender’s full-frontal nudity over Gosling’s head-hammerer. The Academy might instead go with a movie that almost everyone who saw it liked, and an actor that is well esteemed — Michael Shannon. However, it’s quite possible that the “Michael in an indie” place will be filled by Fassbender. I’m calling it for the never-nominated Oldman.
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Viola Davis, The Help
Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn
Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Rooney Mara, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Most Likely Upsets: This year’s most competitive category, with at least three strong performances that will be left out of this race no matter what. Meryl and Viola are shoo-ins, and Williams probably is too, based on showy performances and/or prestigious material. Meanwhile, Close does the kind of woman-goes-ugly transformation (passing as a man) that the Academy also loves so dearly, so even though hardly anyone’s seen Albert Nobbs yet, expect to see her there. That’s bad news for Tilda Swinton, who seemed like a lock before We Need To Talk About Kevin‘s snail-paced release schedule translated to We Apparently Don’t Need To Talk About Tilda Swinton Anymore. Similarly, Charlize Theron’s bitterly funny turn in Young Adult would definitely find herself here in a weaker year for leading ladies, but it’s probably not in the cards this time around. That leaves room for one ingenue — either The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo‘s Rooney Mara or Martha Marcy May Marlene‘s Elizabeth Olsen, both fantastic in dark, edgy performances that mix tough exteriors and vulnerability. I give the edge to Mara, since she’s playing a beloved fictional character in a story more people are familiar with, and she’s the best thing about the movie. But this year, you never know.
Martin Scorsese, Hugo
Woody Allen, Midnight In Paris
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Terrence Malick, The Tree Of Life
Most Likely Upsets: Tough call. Scorsese, Allen, Hazanavicus, and Payne are almost certainly in given the strength of their other wins recently, leaving one slot up for grabs. War Horse‘s buzz has cooled enough that Steven Spielberg is probably out of the running. The Help‘s Tate Taylor is too new — he’ll get a screenplay nomination instead. Same for Moneyball. That leaves a strong likelihood that The Tree Of Life‘s esteemed Terrence Malick will be nominated — if the Academy doesn’t instead try to make up for last year’s Best Director upset and nominate David Fincher again instead.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Midnight In Paris
Most Likely Upsets: Either A Separation, Young Adult, or Win Win has a strong chance of replacing Beginners, but I’m betting one of them is too foreign, another too little-seen, and the last, an edgy female-driven female-written comedy that has been upstaged by Bridesmaids.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Most Likely Upset: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy — but there are a number of people out there who don’t think it was a wholly successful adaptation, myself included. The general public’s familiarity with Lisbeth Salander seems more likely, even if the movie did hold onto a couple of the book’s weaknesses.
Midnight In Paris
Most Likely Upsets: The tricky thing is, no one knows exactly how many movies will be nominated this year. Somewhere between five and ten. This is far superior to the mandatory 10 of the past couple years, leading to lame-duck Best Picture nominees like The Blind Side and A Serious Man. This year, a film needs to be ranked as #1 by 5% of Academy voters to earn a slot here. It seems rather unlikely that The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Moneyball, or War Horse will really be that many people’s very favorite film of 2011, doesn’t it? Second, fourth, or ninth favorite, maybe. But #1? I’ve chosen five, all of which seem pretty well definite by this point. I’m somewhat doubting that a sixth or seventh film will also be included, but if so, I expect something that’s more love-it-or-hate-it like The Tree Of Life or Drive to make the cut, or possibly Bridesmaids.