Well, it's that most wonderful time of the year again. No, not Christmas, the war against which we are fully waging. We mean Oscar season! Some early awards have been given out, so it's time to start the prediction game.
Likely Nominees: Because this category was expanded to ten nominees last year, it's easier than ever to predict what movies are locks. Expect to see favorites The Social Network and The King's Speech on the list come January, along with requisite blockbuster Inception, and appreciated indies Black Swan, 127 Hours, and Winter's Bone.
Longer Shots: Not many people have seen the Coen Brothers' True Grit yet, but everyone's guessing it will be good, so that could be up there. Everyone loved Toy Story 3, but that did come out an awfully long time ago. Same goes for The Kids Are All Right, which is most likely to get its recognition in the Best Actress category. David O. Russell's The Fighter has both the well-polished grit and the soaring uplift that make Academy voters drool, so that could end up with a nod.
Longest Shots: Rabbit Hole seems to have better chances in acting categories, but you never know. And the much-lauded depress-o-rama Blue Valentine could sneak in on the Precious ticket.
Likely Nominees: The British dude who did The King's Speech that nobody knows, Tom Hooper, is a definite. As is current favorite David Fincher for The Social Network. I'd also put Darren Aronofsky up for a lock in this category, as his Black Swan is so largely a marvel of technique and visual ingenuity.
Longer Shots: The Academy likes Danny Boyle, and people liked 127 Hours, but might it be too soon for him after his Slumdog win? Christopher Nolan has never been nominated for his big-budget acumen, and his Inception was certainly his most elaborately realized movie to date, so he could end up there as well. Jolly old Englishman Mike Leigh is a perennial favorite of the Academy's in the writing category, but he's been nominated as a director once before too, and his Another Year is said to be among his most gently heartbreaking pictures. He'd be a sentimental pick for sure.
Longest Shots: This is where the category really opens up. You have Lisa Cholodenko for The Kids Are All Right, though she seems more likely to get the writing nod. There's Debra Granik for Winter's Bone, who breathed tremendous and looming life into a small-on-paper film, and there's even Ben Affleck, whose The Town recently won a National Board of Review award for Best Ensemble and who is a much-beloved and rooted-for figure in the Hollywood machine. Joel & Ethan Coen could score with True Grit, as could David O. Russell for The Fighter, but those films still remain a bit mysterious and unseen at this point.
Likely Nominees: This is perhaps the year's most exciting category. There are so many great performance competing, but only one can win. The war will definitely be between Jennifer Lawrence for her mumble-mouthed determination in Winter's Bone, Annette Bening for her red wine-swilling doctor in The Kids Are All Right, and Natalie Portman for her crazytown high-wire act in Black Swan.
Longer Shots: Nicole Kidman is said to be quite good in Rabbit Hole, so she could help round out the five. Both Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are submitting themselves in the Best Actress category, so Moore could slip in next to her costar (or they could split each other's votes and both end up with nothing). Another Year's Lesley Manville has earned raves for her turn as a lonely aging party girl, though she may be too much of a supporting character to get the full leading lady engine behind her. (Though, she did win the NBR award for Best Actress, so maybe it doesn't matter.)
Longest Shots: Michelle Williams could get recognized for Blue Valentine, but all this cunnilingus-related NC-17 drama could overshadow her performance and turn voters off. Sally Hawkins does her usual, likable Sally Hawkins thing in the could-be-too-British labor drama Made in Dagenham, so she's a contender. And then there's my personal favorite, Tilda Swinton in I Am Love, who took a startlingly big bite of a melodrama sandwich but managed to swallow it down with haunting grace.
Likely Nominees: This is basically Colin Firth's thing to lose this year, as people are stuttering all over themselves about The King's Speech. As for his competition... Though he's lost some steam of late (The Social Network was released a little too early), I predict that everyone will want to rally around lovable nerd Jesse Eisenberg and give him a pat on the head for his creepy embodiment of Mark Zuckerberg's Kane-like ambition. Hollywood oddity James Franco endeared himself to critics in 127 Hours, the first non-schlocky dramatic lead role he's had in a long while.
Longer Shots: Ryan Gosling could suffer the same fate as his Blue Valentine costar Williams, but his is the juicier role of the pair, so he might have a better shot. The Academy seems to like European actors these days, so Javier Bardem is a definite contender for Biutiful. Nobody doesn't like Jeff Bridges, but he just won for grizzled last year, so True Grit might be too much of a repeat performance.
Longest Shots: Mark Wahlberg is liked in the industry, and his The Fighter is a rare big serious showcase for him, but his costar Christian Bale is getting more buzz. Robert Duvall could win the Jeff Bridges Memorial Grizzle Nomination for his turn in the little-seen Get Low.
Best Supporting Actress
Likely Nominees: People have been itching to give Helena Bonham Carter an Oscar for years, and her role in The King's Speech seems like their best opportunity to do it. The overwhelming success of Black Swan, critically and so-far commercially, means that Barbara Hershey is likely to get a "Hey, where've you been??" nomination for doing crazy stage momma so well. Two-time winner Dianne Wiest has a plum role in Rabbit's Hole that's a good bet for a nod.
Longer Shots: The mesmerizingly scary Jacki Weaver just won a NBR award for her creepster work in the Australian crime drama Animal Kingdom, but might two crazy mothers be too much in one category? Both Melissa Leo and Amy Adams, with three nominations between them, would be easy picks for The Fighter, as would two-time nominee Miranda Richardson for Made in Dagenham.
Longest Shots: Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld could make a splash as a gusty frontier girl in True Grit, Dale Dickey does terrifying hillbilly lady in Winter's Bone (she's something of Weaver's American counterpart), and though it's been somewhat quiet on the awards buzz front so far, Somewhere is a Sophia Coppola movie and it does star the tiny ethereal earth-angel Elle Fanning, so she might squeak in there.
Best Supporting Actor
Likely Nominees: Some folks are saying that Christian Bale's showy Lowell brawler in The Fighter is already the one to beat this year, but Geoffrey Rush is in this year's favorite movie, The King's Speech, so they could be neck and neck. Everyone liked rumply slacker Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right, everyone likes Mark Ruffalo in general, so he's a good bet as well. Though, this is mostly Bale and Rush's game.
Longer Shots: The boys from The Social Network are all jockeying against each other in this category, though right now it seems like the adorable Andrew Garfield has a better shot at getting the nomination for playing one role than Armie Hammer has for playing two (admittedly similar) characters. Justin Timberlake, it seems at this point, was just a dream some us (mostly Mr. Timberlake) had. Matt Damon is in True Grit, and Matt Damon is usually good in everything, so he also could be thrown in as filler.
Longest Shots: Let's actually put Armie Hammer down here, as there's nothing that says two guys can't be nominated for the same movie, especially in a supporting category. That Conviction movie came and went (sorry, Hilary!) but Sam Rockwell got good notices for it, so you never know, he might end up in here too. But, again, this really is just between Rush and Bale (who won the NBR award) at this point.