Oscar Nomination Predictions: 'The Master' Out, 'Les Miserables' In

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An awards-season junkie picks which films will be in contention after Thursday morning.

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Predicting the Academy Award nominations is a famously inexact science.

There are the contenders singled out by precursor awards groups like the Directors Guild, the Screen Actors Guild, and the Hollywood Foreign Press, all of which have varying degrees of overlap with those who vote for the Oscar nominees. (In the case of the Hollywood Foreign Press, which votes for the Golden Globes, that's no overlap at all—though they can reflect a certain amount of buzz a film is receiving.) There's gauging the rising and falling levels of enthusiasm and support a film is receiving—it was not long ago, for example, The Master was considered the frontrunner to win Best Picture, and now the film and its actors would find themselves lucky to be nominated at all. One should consider the makeup of the Academy, which, famously, skews old, white, and conservative, and how the nominees are selected. In the major categories, contenders must receive a certain percentage of number-one votes on ranked ballots.

So though there's no surefire rule for predicting the nominees, it's always fun to take a stab it. Especially for someone like me, who has followed the the award season thus far to an almost pathetically obsessive degree. So here's my best guess at the films and people that will be nominated Thursday morning (in the categories that the widest range of people likely care about).

Best Picture
Amour
Argo
Django Unchained
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

And maybe Beasts of the Southern Wild and Moonrise Kingdom

In a cruel development for Oscar predictors, the Academy's new rules allow between five and 10 nominees in this category, depending on how many films meet a benchmark of votes. I'm predicting that eight will make it, based on the films that seem to have the strongest support among voters this season. Should the category actually go to 10 this year, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Moonrise Kingdom will have the best shot to make it in, but they don't have nearly the enthusiasm the other contenders have. In fact, either The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel or Skyfall, which would be the first James Bond film to ever receive a Best Picture nod, have just about the same amount of awards buzz going for them right now as those two movies, and could sneak in in their places.

Best Director
Ben Affleck - Argo
Kathryn Bigelow - Zero Dark Thirty
Tom Hooper - Les Miserables
Ang Lee - Life of Pi
Steven Spielberg - Lincoln

David O. Russell deserves to get in for Silver Linings Playbook and one should never count out Quentin Tarantino, this year for Django Unchained. But it's hard to imagine them replacing anyone on this shortlist. Bigelow, Hooper, Lee, and Spielberg are all former winners doing some of the best work of their careers here, and there's no way Affleck, this year's Hollywood golden boy, doesn't get in. Hooper could miss out, with so many critics taking him to task for over-the-top closeups on actors' runny noses in Les Miz, but this is one movie that it seems awards groups and critics just don't agree on.

Best Actor
Bradley Cooper - Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis - Lincoln
John Hawkes - The Sessions
Hugh Jackman - Les Miserables
Denzel Washington - Flight

This category may be the one that's most set in stone. The only real spoiler could be Joaquin Phoenix for his performance in The Master, which has unjustly fallen off the radar thanks to general waning enthusiasm for the polarizing film and some unsavory quotes by the actor about awards season. Hawkes may be the most vulnerable should Phoenix surge into a fifth slot, but gauging by the precursor awards—especially the SAG nominations, which typically have the most overlap with the Oscars—the five above will be the final five.

Best Actress
Jessica Chastain - Zero Dark Thirty
Marion Cotillard - Rust and Bone
Jennifer Lawrence - Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuele Riva - Amour
Naomi Watts - The Impossible

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Kevin Fallon is a reporter for the Daily Beast. He's a former entertainment editor at TheWeek.com and former writer and producer for The Atlantic's entertainment channel.

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