The Oscar race has officially commenced now that cinematic year 2012 is over. It's been a surprisingly good year, as evidenced in our Top 10 Movies of 2012, but with so many solid films out there for award consideration... who has the edge on those coveted nominations? The Academy is in a mad dash of voting right now as the nominations will be announced at the crack of dawn on January 10.
As Movie Fanatic did last year as awards seasons commenced, we will be taking a weekly look at the Academy Awards with our Oscar Watch column, beginning today with a broad view of who is even in the game for the big five awards.
With the Academy's new system that could allow up to 10 films to be nominated, it's gotten harder than ever to pin down a list of those that one can expect to see get a nomination. But, Movie Fanatic has our opinions.
Leaders: Argo, The Impossible, Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln, Life of Pi, Beasts of the Southern Wild
On the bubble: Cloud Atlas, Silver Linings Playbook, Les Miserables, Django Unchained, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Long Shots: Skyfall, Moonrise Kingdom, The Master
The six we have as leaders are locks. Whether they are about true stories where Hollywood helps save the day (Argo), the real-life happenings of our greatest president in his finest hour (Lincoln), true stories where families triumph (The Impossible) or true stories that chronicle the capture and killing of America's worst enemy (Zero Dark Thirty), the Academy adores true tales that bring to life sacrifice and celebrate the human spirit. Oscar also adores survival stories based on best-selling books (Life of Pi) and independent movies that rocked the world (Beasts of the Southern Wild).
Hollywood loves a good epic -- and although it split the public -- Cloud Atlas may still score if for nothing else than its vast scope. The other three on the bubble could easily find their way to a Best Picture nod if the field is allowed to expand beyond six. Silver Linings Playbook has a lot of acting buzz around it, so it may have to settle for nods for Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro. Les Miserables is right up the Academy's alley, but it has split critics and may have to settle for acting, costume and music nominations. And the Academy loves Quentin Tarantino, but will they embrace his slavery revenge tale? It's hard to say.
As for those long shots, we believe that Skyfall and Moonrise Kingdom are worthy, but it just depends how much room is in the category. And as for The Master, it is a spectacle, but hollow at that.
The acting categories are a little more cut and dry than Best Picture. It was an astounding year for performances by actors in a lead role, but few will be able to stop the speeding train that is Daniel Day Lewis' performance in Lincoln. The race was over before it began, when we first saw and heard Lewis as Lincoln in that first Lincoln trailer.
Leaders: Daniel Day Lewis for Lincoln, John Hawkes for The Sessions, Denzel Washington for Flight, Hugh Jackman for Les Miserables
On the bubble: Bradley Cooper for Silver Linings Playbook, Joaquin Phoenix for The Master, Jamie Foxx for Django Unchained
Long Shots: Bill Murray for Hyde Park on Hudson, Richard Gere for Arbitrage, Daniel Craig for Skyfall, Matt Damon for Promised Land, Anthony Hopkins for Hitchcock, Jake Gyllenhaal for End of Watch
With those four leaders taking 80-percent of the nomination spots, the fight for the final nomination is tough. Look for Cooper to score his first nomination for his very un-Bradley Cooper performance in Silver Linings Playbook.
As great as a year 2012 was for actors, the landscape was a little weaker for actresses. Recent years have seen a plethora of female roles that warrant attention. This time out, it's just a bit quieter.
Leaders: Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook, Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty, Naomi Watts for The Impossible, Marion Cotillard for Rust and Bone, Quvenzhane Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild
On the bubble: Helen Mirren for Hitchcock, Emmanuelle Riva for Amour, Keira Knightley for Anna Karenina
Long Shots: Mary Elizabeth Winstead for Smashed, Meryl Streep for Hope Springs
Although Meryl Streep was one who scored a nod when the Golden Globe nominations were announced, don't look for her to walk the red carpet at the Dolby Theatre this February. So, consider those five leaders locks and the "on the bubble" actresses will just have to wait for another year.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
This may be the most competitive category of the year as the Best Supporting Actor out there could be any one of almost 20 performances! Tommy Lee Jones could score with his great work and the wave of love for Lincoln. And Leonardo DiCaprio being nominated for his role as the villain in Django Unchained could be a way for the Academy to reward Tarantino's movie without nominating it for Best Picture. So... how does it break down?
Leaders: Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln, Robert De Niro for Silver Linings Playbook, Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master, Alan Arkin for Argo, Leonardo DiCaprio for Django Unchained
On the bubble: Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained, Javier Bardem for Skyfall, Jason Clarke for Zero Dark Thirty, Michael Pena for End of Watch, William H. Macy for The Sessions, John Goodman for Argo
Longshots: Matthew McConaughey for Magic Mike, Dwight Henry for Beasts of the Southern Wild, Samuel L. Jackson for Django Unchained, Jude Law for Anna Karenina, Hal Holbrook for Promised Land, Albert Brooks for This Is 40, Bryan Cranston for Argo, James Gandolfini for Killing Them Softly
The big question here is how many nominations the Academy will bestow on Django Unchained in the Supporting Actor category. Look for DiCaprio to be a lock, and even emerge as the front-runner. Sure, Jones could be seen as that, but he already has a trophy and DiCaprio does not. Both Waltz and Jackson deserve them, but the field may simply be too crowded. Bardem too deserves recognition for Skyfall, but don't look for it to happen because Oscar is not the biggest fan of genre films. De Niro gave his most un-De Niro performance in a decade, so he too is a lock and Hollywood adores Arkin (he already has a trophy) -- look for him to get one as well.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
As relatively quiet as the Best Actress category is this year, the Best Supporting Actress lot is huge! Not quite as large as Best Supporting Actor, but still... it was a good year for supporting actresses. The award is almost already decided as it will most certainly go to Anne Hathaway for Les Miserables. Helen Hunt has been getting serious buzz since The Sessions premiered and that will likely result in a nod. As we stated in our The Master review, Amy Adams was honestly the best thing about that movie! So, count her in. And since the support for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel should be huge, and most likely won't result in large scale nominations, look for Dame Maggie Smith to score one for her role in that film.
Leaders: Anne Hathaway for Les Miserables, Helen Hunt for The Sessions, Amy Adams for The Master, Sally Field for Lincoln
On the bubble: Maggie Smith for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Jackie Weaver for Silver Linings Playbook, Judi Dench for Skyfall, Kerry Washington for Django Unchained
Longshots: Nicole Kidman for The Paperboy, Ann Dowd for Compliance, Samantha Barks for Les Miserables, Judi Dench for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Jennifer Ehle for Zero Dark Thirty
If we were betting folks, which we aren't, we would put money down on those four leaders to score a nomination when they're announced next week. The big question is who will take that last spot. Since (SPOILER!) this is Dench's last turn as M in the Bond series, she may get a nomination for years of playing a great role... and one she closed out with a bang. But Dench might have to fight her The Best Marigold Hotel co-star, Smith, for that final spot as it will most likely go to her.