Saturday, February 23, 2013

Final 2012 Oscar Predictions: Fly-By-Night Edition

Seriously, you guys.
You guys, seriously.

I don't think I'm exaggerating or overreacting when I say that this has easily been the most unpredictable, tumultuous, bizarrely satisfying Oscar season in the ten years that I've been following them (....ohmygod I am getting way too old). The process leading up to nominations was exciting, the nominations themselves were both hugely surprising and (even more surprisingly) largely well-deserved. And the competition for some races, even the big ones, has raged; there's an invigorating lack of obvious front-runners in so many categories.
Basically what I'm trying to say is that I'm probably going to get most of these wrong, and I'm going to love it. So take these with a grain of salt. Don't put too much money on anything I say. Pretty much I'm going to be throwing darts and hoping for the best, and I wouldn't have it any other way. So let's get to it!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Best of 2012, part 5: My Dream Oscar Ballot/Discussions About the Future


Alright, the list madness finally comes to an end. Today's really more of a wrap-up than an actual post. Just in case reading hours and hours of lists isn't your thing, I'm going to list all my picks here. No commentary, just alphabetical nominees with winners in bold. Stick around for the end and you'll be rewarded with a video! Oh happy day! And if you're around after that, we'll have a little discussion about the future of this blog.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Best of 2012, Part 4: Craft Categories

Well, it's the last big 'best of' post for another year, so I suppose we all ought to savor this together. Today we're going to look at all of the craft categories, which is to say all of the awesome elements of film-making which most audience members tend to ignore. So let's shower these movies and these people with love! Someone ought to, after all.
Before we get started, I suppose I ought to define some categories:
Art Direction: Production design: creating, designing, and building the world in which the movie takes place. Generally associated with set-building, but also stretches to conceptual aspects
Costume Design: ...The design of the costumes.Visual Effects: Special Effects. CGI, models, etc.Makeup: ...makeup.Film Editing: Editing the movie: cutting in some places, lengthening in others. Generally responsible for the rhythm of a film, as well as keeping continuity and making sense of the plot.Cinematography: In layman's terms, how pretty the movie is. Screen composition, lighting, camera techniques, etc.Original Score: Music composed for the film itself.Sound Mixing: Blending the four film sound elements (dialogue, sound effects, ambient noise, music) to create a coherent overall mix.Sound Effects Editing: creating the sound elements and sound effects heard in the film.Original Song: Songs written specifically for the film.

Now that we've got all that straight...


Monday, February 18, 2013

Best of 2012, Part 3: Acting

Once more into the breach, dear friends...(as an aside, I don't think a year goes by in which I don't reference Henry V while blogging. Weird.) Today's post is a doozy, so I'm just going to throw myself into it. Today we're talking about acting; arguably the easiest element of cinema for the joe-average moviegoer to appreciate and evaluate. So I'm gonna get around to appreciating.
Note-I'll try to include youtube clips where I can, but too many of these movies haven't made it to DVD yet, so clips are kind of scarce.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Best of 2012, Part 2: Directing and Screenplays

Hello again! I've no idea how (or even if) any of you made it through yesterday's embarrassingly large post, but if did make it through unscathed, then you're a stronger person than I. In deference to your clearly superhuman abilities, I'll try to keep this post a little shorter. Today, we'll look at the categories I like to be the most judgmental about, because they're the categories I plan to be not successful in professionally: directing and screenplays! So let's get to it.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Best of 2012, Part 1: Top 20, Zen Awards

I know, I know, this is so ridiculously late this year that all "best of" lists have lost their relevance, because that's the movie culture we live in these days--we follow every insane detail of production for a full year before a movie comes out, and then after opening weekend no one talks about that movie again. Well, I say the hell with that. Let's think about some movies that are (gasp!) maybe a few months. Even older. Shoot, if I wrote this blog on a regular basis we'd spend most all of our time talking about movies from decades ago, because that's just how we roll here.
(As an aside, the less noble, more realistic version of why this is late is because I've been waiting all year to see Michael Haneke's Amour, and it only opened in town yesterday. So stay tuned to see if it was worth the wait.)

Now, I'm not going to pretend that there's really any suspense as to what is going to take #1 this year. Anyone who's talked to me about movies within the past 6 months has probably already had an earful about my pick for this year's best (and yes, it's exactly what you think it is). That doesn't mean, however, that there isn't a ridiculous amount of riches to be found in 2012's other cinematic offerings. Really, last year was a ball-crushingly fantastic year for movies. I'm settling on 20, but the order is probably somewhat arbitrary; I've been changing things around all week, and I'm still not sure I'm totally satisfied with things. So I'll rattle off my top 20, and then we'll dive into my annual silly awards.

Check them out after the jump!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Writer's Dilemma

Today, for some reason, I feel like going crazy and temporarily dispensing with lists/predictions/whatever else (though don't you worry, this time next week this space will be silly with lists).
Today, we're going to talk about me, and we're going to like it.
When I'm not trying to register infinitesimal movements of the Oscar-Buzz needle, or drowning in a flood of well-written academia, I do try to write for myself. Granted, this doesn't happen very often. Generally, where I am in my life requires me to write at least two papers a week, not always in English (Wenn ich deutsche Fans habe, hallo! Bitte schreib einen Kommentar, damit ich mein Deutsch ├╝ben kann!). So I frequently find myself writing lengthy essays on postmodern identity crises in European road-trip movies, or Barbarella as a feminist treatise on the male gaze, which, as it turns out, tends to drain me of my creative desire. So even if I have an idea I feel like expressing, generally it gets lost in a dreamy haze of MLA citations and "therefore, we can infer"s.
And there's another problem--My muse is fickle as hell. I don't know how to describe it. Though the word 'muse' feels unbelievably pretentious, I don't know what else to name that strange part of my warped little noggin which sporadically generates creative output. Sometimes I think I can only write when I'm feeling nauseous, exhausted, and emotionally turbulent. Other times, I've no idea. Really, there's no method or madness to the manic fits which let me fish something out of the wacky stew of disparate impulses that passes for cognitive thought these days.

The point: combined with my schedule and my arbitrary-as-hell creative process, I almost never write anything, and when I do, I very rarely think it's anything worth reading.

The counterpoint: I've been writing like crazy for the past few weeks. Like, 100 pages worth of crazy. I've finished a first draft of a screenplay for the first time since high school, which is both wonderful and kind of embarrassing. And what's more? It might actually be good. It's certainly not good yet, but I feel like I've got the foundation for something that might not  suck. Who'd have thought?

A problem: Now, I understand that everything any writer produces is implicitly personal. We are, after all, only human, and can only really relate the experiences we've actually had. And sure, maybe you dress them up with car chases and sex scenes, but even the most ridiculous movie is founded on the basic human engines that motivate everyday life. So I don't have a problem that what I've written feels personal to me. Everything that I write should feel personal. If it doesn't, I'm clearly being derivative, or unadventurous, or bland.

But where's the line between the kind of personal which every writer uses, and the kind of personal which might be pushing it a little? I have to admit that what I've written is in no small part based on my experiences, on real people. Hell, I haven't even bother to change names yet (though this will of course happen before this ever sees the light of day). Granted, the 'people' in my script are composites of a few people, or have been tweaked, or idealized, or warped in some way until they don't resemble their real life counterparts so much as a bizarro-world doppelganger of my own invention. But still, isn't it a bit strange? I'm not the first person to do it, but I can't help but feel odd about it. I also have to admit that a few sequences of dialogue are lifted almost verbatim out of my life, and a few scenes (one in particular) are drawn directly from my life. And this all feels strange to me. And somehow wrong. Maybe because it's too personal--like I've exposed too much for it to feel like anything other than a vanity project now. Maybe because I'm writing, in part, about real people, who might find it strange to experience being seen through someone else's eyes. Even if the reality of these characters is that they don't actually exist, that they're just shades pulled out of some half-experienced memory that have been manipulated past easy recognition. It's still strange. Unethical, maybe? I honestly have no idea.

Here's another problem: what I've written really could be good, and I very strongly believe that it has that potential simply because it came from such a personal place. What better can I write than my own feelings about things I've actually experienced? I don't know that I'm capable of writing a good war movie. I've never been to war, I've never felt those emotions, I'll never be able to really confer any actual honesty on anything I try to make in that setting. What I can do honestly are the things I've perceived. And really, aren't the most universal emotions conjured through the most specifically personal works of art? Though I hate using the word 'art' in connection to anything I try to do, don't all artists create things under the assumption that what they've felt and seen are universal? Sometimes I think the point of art in general is to bring a singular perspective to the emotions and perceptions we've all had before, and by making someone examine their own emotions through the lens of another person's life, you can create something of meaning or value. So maybe by going for broke and tossing my own life into a word document, I'm hoping that maybe I can say something that puts words to something everyone has felt, but might not be able to describe.

Or maybe I'm just being really, really pretentious.

So here's my question, and I'd really, really love it if you engaged with me here: Is it ethical/acceptable/right for someone to use their own life so blatantly to create a piece of fiction? As writers, are we capable of doing anything else? Or is it just a form of cheating? Am I short-changing my own creative impulses by yoking them to something so aggressively tangible and pedestrian? And is it understandable to base my characters on people in my life, or is it just creepy as hell? Seriously. I'm asking. I want to know what you think. Because I've written something that just might have the potential to become something good, but I might end up sitting on it, because it feels too strange to explicitly tether my reality to my creativity.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Oscar Nominations: Ah Hells Yes, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying That the Academy Might Not Love Beasts of the Southern Wild

Ok, I'm just gonna preface this by saying that this year is wacky as all get-out. It's been a great year for movies, and whenever a ton of different films are loved, it makes predicting crazy difficult. But right off the bat I need to commend the academy for not going with the most boring choices across the board. Sure, they certainly made a couple snooze-y picks, but I feel like that's been overshadowed by what they did right. So, without further ado:
(I'm gonna put an asterisk next to the ones I predicted right, so y'all can see how I did.)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Oscar Predictions, Part 4: Final Predictions

Ok, last time. In less than 12 hours, the Academy will be announcing their nominations, which means in less than 12 hours all this guesswork will have been totally silly and useless. Yay! That's the way I like it. So here's the deal: I'm just going to offer up my final predictions in order of likelihood, sans commentary. Since posting my predictions I've changed a few things: I did indeed take Beasts of the Southern Wild out of Best Picture (turns out I didn't predict it for any other category, and no way it's only nomination is the big one), changed my Best Director alternate to Michael Haneke for Amour, moved Rachel Weisz into my top 5 for Best Actress, changed Visual Effects to include Snow White and the Huntsman, and got rid of The Avengers in Sound Mixing in favor of Lincoln. I know, lots of changes. It's a really tough year for predictions.
Note: I know that I haven't really committed any opinions on what I actually think deserves to be nominated, but I'll be putting up my 'best of 2012" list sometime in February. It's just too hard for someone who doesn't live in New York or LA to catch up with all of the movies worth seeing in time to make a timely year-end list. But know that if I could guarantee any nomination tomorrow, it would be Beasts of the Southern Wild for, well, anything, and if I could prevent any nomination, it would be Tom Hooper's director nod for Les Mis (though if that movie gets nominated for Cinematography I'll jump off a bridge, Javert-style).

See them all after the jump...

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Oscar Predictions, Part 3: Craft Categories

Ok, last big prediction salvo before Oscar's High Holy Day. Today I'll tackle the craft categories. There's ten of them, and the all of them can be fairly wacky to predict and almost impossible to analyze, so I'll probably keep my commentary fairly brief. Let's get started, shall we?

Predictions after the jump (oh man, I know how to make jumps, watch our world)

Monday, January 7, 2013

Oscar Predictions, Part 2: Acting and Screenplays

I figure that my version of Oscar blogging is just like Chris Evans wearing bright red, knee-high go-go boots: you didn't know you needed it, but once you got it, you couldn't imagine life without it. It's a burden being me. Ok, snark aside (at least some of it), let's jump into the rest of the major categories today.

Best Actor
This category is kind of wacky this year, in that only one contender is a sure thing, and under him we've got five performances brawling like an 80s boxing movie for the remaining four slots. So out with the obvious: Daniel Day-Lewis makes it (and probably wins) for his take on everyone's favorite president in Lincoln (Ed. note: my favorite president is William Henry Harrison, because he's useless and silly, but I digress.). So who's left?
-Bradley Cooper-Silver Linings Playbook: I know, I know. On the one hand, Academy Award Nominee Bradley Cooper? On the other hand, he's surprisingly fantastic and Silver Linings is that rare thing: a critically successful romantic comedy which only works as a duo. Stranger things have happened (see: Academy Award Nominee Eddie Murphy, Academy Award Winner Cher, Academy Award Winner Jamie Foxx, etc., etc.).
-John Hawkes-The Sessions: I'll never understand why people like this film or this performance, but I can't deny it checks just about every Academy-friendly box: Real life person impersonation, inspirational, endearing disability, former nominee, and so forth. He's probably in.
Hugh Jackman-Les Miserables: If Les Mis is a big (or even mediocre) hit with the Academy, then Wolverine might need to find a tux that accommodates both super-human angst and spontaneous rhyme schemes. Never underestimate the Academy's general distaste for emotionally vulnerable singing leads, however. Then again, never underestimate the Academy's love for a performance that wears its heart on its sleeve, and Les Mis has so. many. emotions.
Joaquin Phoenix-The Master: If only. Phoenix is brilliant and raw and totally crazy, and those adjectives only sometimes work for the Academy. He publicly went on record saying that he thinks awards are stupid, so the Academy might just let him sit this one out.
Denzel Washington-Flight: On the one hand, Washington isn't really stretching himself for this one. On the other hand, we so rarely see straightforward adult-oriented dramas in the theaters, the Academy might reward this film just for existing and not being embarrassing.
(While I said there were only 5 other possibilities, I'd be remiss not to mention Jean-Louis Trintignant in Amour, who could very well be a surprise nominee come Thursday.)
My predictions, in order of likelihood:
Daniel Day-Lewis: Lincoln
John Hawkes-The Sessions
Denzel Washington-Flight
Hugh Jackman-Les Miserables
Bradley Cooper-Silver Linings Playbook
Alternates: Joaquin Phoenix-The Master, Jean-Louis Trintignant-Amour

Best Actress
This category's probably going to kill me. Here's the thing: I feel pretty confident calling four slots. The first two are done deals: Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain are absolutely in for their work in Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty, respectively, and I imagine these two will continue dueling for the win right up to Oscar night. The next two slots aren't quite as set in stone, but I feel confident nonetheless. Though she missed the Screen Actors Guild nomination, I think enough voters will respond to Emmanuelle Riva's work in Amour. Similarly, I think Naomi Watt's determined mom in The Impossible has drawn enough eyes to slide in past other, more hyped candidates. This leaves the last spot, wherein I am truly and utterly screwed. In my head, it's an incredibly tight race between two fantastic performances: Quvenzhane Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild and Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone. Wallis is clearly a star who dominates her film, but the fact that she was six when filming will surely turn off plenty of older voters. Cotillard is also wonderful, but I'm skeptical about the Academy nominating two foreign-language performances in the same category (a feat which hasn't occurred since the 1970s). When the race is this tight, sometimes a surprise, lower-profile nominee can sneak in. If that's the case, watch out for Helen Mirren in Hitchcock (though I don't see that film showing up anywhere), or Rachel Weisz in The Deep Blue Sea (which was probably too small a film to make a big impact.)
My predictions, in order of likelihood:
Jennifer Lawrence-Silver Linings Playbook
Jessica Chastain-Zero Dark Thirty
Naomi Watts-The Impossible
Emmanuelle Riva-Amour
Marion Cotillard-Rust and Bone
Alternates: Quvenzhane Wallis-Beasts of the Southern Wild, Helen Mirren-Hitchcock

Best Supporting Actor
Like Best Actress, I feel confident in calling four out of five slots here. Again, like Best Actress, the first two possibilities are more set in stone than the second two. First things first: Tommy Lee Jones's work in Lincoln  is comfortably situated at the top of the dogpile, while Robert De Niro's role in Silver Linings Playbook sits slightly below. Two other performers--Alan Arkin in Argo and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in The Master--bring up the rear. Though neither nomination is by any means guaranteed, I'd be somewhat surprised to see either fall out. This leaves one slot open, and (as far as I'm concerned) only two options with which to fill it.
Option 1: A Django boy. Tarantino's latest has plenty of awards-grabbing performances that have been making a mad dash toward the Oscar finish line. Though I'd absolutely love to see Samuel L. Jackson make it in for his blackface-inspired grotesquerie, he's not too likely. Dueling banjos Christoph Waltz and Leonardo Dicaprio, however, both stand a very solid chance at a nod. I'd say Waltz has a slight edge, in that his role is bigger (which is important), and his character is likable (which is very important). Note: while I admit that it's possible that two of these men make it into the category, I wouldn't bet on it.
Option 2: Wackiness ensues and Skyfall lands an acting nomination. Though it's never happened for a James Bond movie, Javier Bardem's poorly haired aesthete with breathtaking mommy issues gives the franchise its best chance  in 50 years to break into a major race. I could very easily see this happening, and I almost feel a bit foolish for not predicting it, but I'm just not ready to believe that the Academy loves James Bond the way the Internet does.
Outside of these options, I don't see anything else happening. Had you asked me in the beginning of December, I'd have told you that Matthew McConaughey had a shot for his nutty work in Magic Mike, but now that seems like a fever dream that's far-fetched, at best. Dittyo Eddie Redmayne in Les Miserables, who could surprise, but probably won't.
My predictions, in order of likelihood:
Tommy Lee Jones-Lincoln
Robert De Niro-Silver Linings Playbook
Alan Arkin-Argo
Phillip Seymour Hoffman-The Master
Christoph Waltz-Django Unchained
Alternates: Javier Bardem-Skyfall, Leonardo Dicaprio-Django Unchained

Supporting Actress
Alright, three things we know for sure: Anne Hathaway in Les Mis, Sally Field in Lincoln, and Helen Hunt in The Sessions are all looking gold. Past that? As I see it, there are two easy choices fighting two difficult choices. The easy choices: Amy Adams in The Master and Maggie Smith in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. While it's admittedly somewhat disingenuous to call Amy Adams' Lady MacBeth-esque handjob-dispenser an 'easy choice,' she's still a supportive wife (super popular here) in a critically regarded prestige pic from a well-known director, which all count in her favor. Maggie Smith, on the other hand, is the epitome of voting for someone you like, regardless of role or quality. If she gets in, it's because Academy voters are annoyed that they don't get to vote for Downton Abbey. The difficult choices: Anne Dowd in Compliance and Nicole Kidman in The Paperboy. Dowd may be fantastic in her role, but she's in a tiny indie with no budget, and is financing her own Oscar campaign--no cheap feat. Kidman, on the other hand, is delirious trash incarnate in a giddily sleazy film which certainly won't play well to older voters. Still, the wacky brilliance of her work shouldn't be ignored. All that being said, I just can't bring myself to predict either of the difficult choices. Easy work carries the day this year.
My predictions, in order of likelihood:
Anne Hathaway-Les Miserables
Sally Field-Lincoln
Helen Hunt-The Sessions
Amy Adams-The Master
Maggie Smith-The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Alternates: Nicole Kidman-The Paperboy, Anne Dowd-Compliance

That's it for acting. Next, we've got the categories I intend to fail at during the course of my professional career: screenplays!

Best Original Screenplay
Like Best Actor, what this category has is a bad case of 6 competitors for 5 positions. Of those six, only Zero Dark Thirty and Moonrise Kingdom are safe. Then we've got Best Picture hopefuls Django Unchained and Amour. Tarantino's film is a very obviously *written,* in that even casual film-goers will notice the script pyrotechnics exploding all around them. This might guarantee its spot, but then again, Kill Bill and Jackie Brown had the same thing going for them, yet failed to land. Amour could also miss securing a berth, if only because it's a little-seen foreign film. Still, if any branch of the Academy is adventurous, it's the  Writers' Branch, which may just give Amour a leg up. Speaking of adventurous brings us to the two (assumed) non-Picture nominee possibilities: The Master and Looper. The Master is hardly the year's most well-received film; it's awfully divisive, but might have a large enough passionate fanbase to slide in. Looper, on the other hand, is the kind of film which I figured would have no shot at major category consideration, but this little sci-fi thriller keeps showing up at precursor award after precursor award. Apparently voting bodies just love Looper's screenplay. Really, I see these six as the only feasible options, but I suppose films like Flight, The Intouchables, Magic Mike, and Middle of Nowhere might still manage a nomination in this traditionally surprising category.
My predictions, in order of likelihood:
Zero Dark Thirty
Moonrise Kingdom
Django Unchained
Amour
The Master
Alternates: Looper, Flight

Best Adapted Screenplay
Here's a tougher category, which is often stacked to the top with Best Picture heavyweight hopefuls. On that score, check out Lincoln, Argo, and Silver Linings Playbook, which will all find a place here. For the final two spots, it's a battle royale between easy-choice Best Picture hopefuls and the scrappy Davids to their Goliath. On the Goliath front: Life of Pi and The Sessions. I'm not sure how to feel about Pi's chances here: almost every review/comment I've read or heard about this film find room to complain about the film's script/framing device, which many feel as unwieldy and subtle as a bag of hammers. That being said, the degree of difficulty required to bring Yann Martel's allegedly unfilmable novel to the screen must count for something. The Sessions, a film for which I harbor no particular love, could slide in here, but might be perceived as overly reliant on voice-over narration, or more of an actors' piece than a writing achievement. On the little-engine-that-could side of things, we've got Beasts of the Southern Wild and The Perks of Being A Wallflower: both fantastic films, both very deserving, and both perhaps too small to make an impression. Perks might have the edge here: it's shown up repeatedly at precursor awards, and earns cool points for being adapted for the screen by the author of the book. Plus, it's talkier than Beasts, which this branch will respond to. These are your seven real possibilities. I suppose arguments could be made for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Les Mis, but I don't think Best Exotic will be embraced to this extent, nor do I think the writers will ever nominate a screenplay which is composed entirely of songs.
My predictions, in order of likelihood:
Lincoln
Argo
Silver Linings Playbook
Life of Pi
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Alternates: Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Sessions


Well, that's it for today (again). Come back tomorrow as I wrap up all the craft categories! Anything you're hoping for?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Oscar Predictions, Part 1: Picture/Director

I'm long enough removed from my semi-regular blogging days that sitting down to do something like this feels totally bizarre. However, I'm going to continue for two reasons: 1) Tradition, dammit. I've been writing Oscar predictions online for 8 years now (ohmygod I'm getting older, aren't I?). 2) I saw this blog's page views for the first time today, I'm apparently somewhat popular in Belgium. Like, 2,000 views popular. Which is utterly mind-blowing to me. Which is so completely fantastical that I'm not entirely sure it's not just some silly software error. Anyway, for  the sake of my probably-fictional Belgian following, I'll persevere.
So Oscar nominations are this Thursday, the 10th, aka Christmas morning for silly people like myself. Savvy readers will notice that I'm starting my usual 5-day series a little late, so I'm afraid a couple of posts will have to be mashed together for me to wrap everything up by Wednesday night. Today we'll do Picture, Director, and the miscellaneous categories that no one will follow. Tomorrow we'll dive into acting and screenplays, Tuesday will be craft categories, And I'll sum everything up with my final predictions on Wednesday. Obviously, as always, I reserve the right to change any prediction, switch any order, or just be as fickle as I want up to midnight the night before the Oscars. An interesting factor this year: the nominations are 2 weeks earlier than usual, which means the usual horrific bombardment of precursor film awards haven't all happened yet. Practically speaking, this means that predicting will be harder, because these precursors essentially function as copycats-cum-barometers forecasting the Academy's tastes. So I'll do my best, but no guarantees.

Sweet kettle of corn, I've already kicked Brevity's teeth in, haven't I? Bear with me, I only do this twice a year.

Best Picture
Remember the Academy's rule change: there will be anywhere from 5 to 10 nominees, depending on how many movies manage to secure 5% of all the #1 votes on Academy ballots. Which makes this category kind of ridiculous, from a predictions standpoint. First things first:
Group 1: These movies are getting nominated, barring sudden and unexpected Apocalypse:
Argo
Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
The group title pretty much sums it up, right? I'd be completely shocked if any of these movies fell out. So that's 6 slots taken, which leaves room for four more potential nominees,which brings us to:
Group 2: Oh man, I don't even know, just throw a dart or something:
Amour
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Moonrise Kingdom
Here's where it gets tough, in that each of these four have incredibly compelling arguments for inclusion, as well as some inescapable arguments against. Amour is a critically beloved heartbreaker from a respected auteur whose work has never before been so accessible, but is not too widely seen and might be too grim/foreign for the traditionally timid academy. Beasts of the Southern Wild is just as beloved and equally artistically adventurous, but it's a tiny, tiny movie. Seriously, this film was made in the woods starring a six-year-old and the baker from across the street. Don't count on the Academy remembering that this film's the single most deserving option on the whole damn list. Django Unchained: director Quentin Tarantino's got an awfully complicated love-hate thing going with the Academy, and I've no idea where this one will fall. The precursors/critics seem to suggest the love-side winning out, but who's to say? Finally, we have Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, which may feel too slight for voters to include it in the top 10, but man does this film have passion behind it, and that's really all you need to succeed under the current rules.
Finally, because I can't make things too easy:
Group 3: These movies can probably sneak up on ninjas
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
The Master
Skyfall
Though I don't have them in the top 10, these three films easily have the passionate fanbases and precursor support necessary to steal a spot from any of the movies from Group 2. Do I plan on that happening? Not at all. Could it happen? So much, yes.
So, all that said, the conclusion:
My predictions, in order of likelihood:
Lincoln
Argo
Les Miserables
Zero Dark Thirty
Silver Linings Playbook
Life of Pi
Moonrise Kingdom
Django Unchained
Amour
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Alternates: The Master, Skyfall
That's right y'all, 10 nominees. I'm probably being totally crazy and will probably chicken out and drop one from the list by Wednesday (sadly, Beasts will be the one to go), but for now let's all just roll with it.

Best Director
Since there are only five nominees, this category's a bit simpler. To begin with, there are three mortal locks: Ben Affleck for Argo, Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty, and Steven Spielberg for Lincoln. These three are in for sure. Next, we've got five directors wrestling for two slots:
-Michael Haneke, Amour: I love, love, love the idea of my beloved Haneke finally scoring with the Academy, and this film has certainly been his best chance to date. That being said, I'm not sure Amour has the steam to pull a slot from the other, more high-profile films competing.
-Tom Hooper, Les Miserables: Similarly, I would love, love, love to see Tom Hooper develop a fatal allergy to cameras and film-making in general. Given Hooper's Golden Globe snub in this category, I might not be the only one. Plenty of people have complained about Tom Hooper's (mis?)direction of Les Mis, but it could also be a big-enough juggernaut to sweep him along for the ride.
-Ang Lee, Life of Pi: Pi's been struggling to find a foothold lately, generally failing to find the widespread support it was assumed to have. Still, this film is definitely viewed as a director's achievement, and Lee might slide in purely on degree of difficulty.
-David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook: Russell could certainly be a default choice, if voters feel like honoring a good film without stepping up for a particularly daring or interesting artistic statement. I'm hoping voters will go for something more impressive, but one never knows.
-Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained: Again, Django could be loved or hated; it could get nothing, or it could hit double digits. So I've included Tarantino here just to hedge my bets.
-Other remote possibilities: Really, the only  threat I see on the horizon is Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master, which is a film which has just not taken on with most awards bodies. Stranger things have happened, though.
My predictions, in order of likelihood:
Steven Spielberg-Lincoln
Kathryn Bigelow-Zero Dark Thirty
Ben Affleck-Argo
Ang Lee-Life of Pi
Tom Hooper-Les Miserables
Alternates: David O. Russell-Silver Linings Playbook, Quentin Tarantino-Django Unchained

Ok. Now I'm going to do some category dumping (and lose 9/10 of my readers) and predict the categories that most people won't care about: namely Animated, Foreign Language, and Documentary films.

Animated Film
With the increase of quality big-budget fare as well as the Academy's recent embrace of foreign/indie animation, this category is becoming awfully tricky to predict. The key is to strike the right balance between financial success, artistic integrity, and out-of-left-field weirdness. So let's start with what we do know: big studio successes Brave, Wreck-it Ralph, and Frankenweenie are most likely in. Brave may not have the regular Pixar stranglehold on the win, but it's solid enough for a nomination, while the latter two have been sweeping up the lion's share of critics prizes. So what else then? On the commercial side, we've got a few choices. ParaNorman was well-received, but might have been too much of a box-office flop to score here. Ditto Rise of the Guardians, which was advertised as a much bigger deal than it turned out to be. Other big-budget films (The Lorax? Madagascar 3?) were just too disliked to make an impression on the race. Conversely, the indie/foreign side of the equation is packed to bursting. Films that could hop in: From Up on Poppy Hill, a non-Miyazaki Studio Ghibli effort, A Liar's Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman, a biopic (obviously), The Rabbi's Cat, which is apparently quite witty, Le Tableau/The Painting, whose allegedly gorgeous animation could strike a chord with voters, and Zarafa, which is really just a series of letters which I have been assured do represent an actual movie. Whatever you say, other bloggers. I'm handicapped here, in that I've hardly heard of most of these littler movies, let alone seen them, which makes it hard to evaluate their respective assets.
My predictions, in order of likelihood:
Brave
Wreck-it Ralph
Frankenweenie
ParaNorman
Le Tableau/The Painting
Alternates: Rise of the Guardians, The Rabbi's Cat

Foreign Language Film
Speaking of films I've never seen....It's hard to predict this category, in that most of these will never open anywhere near where I live. Oh well. The Academy has already released a nine-film shortlist of eligible submissions:
Amour-Austria
Beyond the Hills-Romania
The Deep-Iceland
The Intouchables-France
Kon-Tiki-Norway
No-Chile
A Royal Affair-Denmark
Sister-Switzerland
War Witch-Canada
Ever since Cannes in May, The Intouchables and Amour have been fighting for foreign-language prizes, so I expect they're both in, but for very different reasons (Amour because it's stark and artistic and respected, Intouchables because it makes everyone smile a lot). If any of these films has been stealing the previous two's thunder, it's A Royal Affair so count Denmark's entry in as well. What of the other two slots? Beyond the Hills' inclusion on this list is most likely an apology to director Cristian Mungiu, whose 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days infamously failed to be nominated in this category. Don't expect this one to go any farther. The Deep and Kon-Tiki are both Scandinavian entries dealing with survival in very cold water; one of them might make it, but I highly doubt both of them will. Kon-Tiki is very big and obvious, which this branch loves, and  is apparently Norway's most expensive film to date. It's probably in. Which leaves one spot for three artistically interesting films: No, War Witch, and Sister. No's TV-esque aesthetic might turn voters off, and War Witch might be too grim/brutal for voters (who may have spent all their grim-tolerance on Amour), which leaves one film left to sneak in and grab a spot.
My predictions, in order of likelihood:
The Intouchables-France
Amour-Austria
A Royal Affair-Denmark
Kon-Tiki-Norway
Sister-Switzerland
Alternates: No-Chile, War Witch-Canada

Documentary Feature
Here's the category that, annually, I care the least about, if only because it's very, very hard for someone who doesn't live in New York City or LA to see any of the eligible films. So I won't spend much time analyzing. Here's what I do know: The Gatekeepers is both acclaimed and timely, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God is about molestation, which this group loves to nominate, and Searching for Sugar Man is apparently a frontrunner, even though it's a music documentary, which this group normally hates. Watch out for surprise critics darling How to Survive a Plague, crowd-hit Chasing Ice, and (as a longshot), Jafar Panahi's house-arrest feat This is Not a Film.
My predictions, in order of likelihood:
The Gatekeepers
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God:
Searching for Sugar Man
The Invisible War
How to Survive a Plague
Alternates: Chasing Ice, This is Not a Film

Well, that wraps it up for today. Tune in tomorrow (which really isn't very far away) as a dig into the rest of the major categories: acting and screenplays!