2013 Oscar nominations predictions: From Best Picture to Best Animated Feature

oscar-nominations-2013-predictions-lincoln-zero-dark-thirty-les-miserables.jpgWhen it comes to predicting Oscar nominations, the only thing we know for sure is that there will be surprises. The amount of awards leading up to Hollywood's biggest honors both clarify and confuse what movies and which actors are likely to land an Oscar nod.

The industry's guild awards usually make the best indicators but Golden Globes, critics awards and the British Academy (BAFTA) picks provide their own clues -- sometimes misleading.

The following predictions represent what we think will happen in nine top categories when Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone announce the 2013 Oscar nominees in less than 24 hours. But we're also hoping for surprises. That's part of the fun.

BEST PICTURE

Predictions:
"Argo"; "Beasts of the Southern Wild"; "Django Unchained"; "Les Miserables"; "Life of Pi"; "Lincoln"; "Moonrise Kingdom"; "Silver Linings Playbook"; "Zero Dark Thirty"

Alternate picks: "Amour"; "Skyfall"

The buzz: Last year's switch to a loose number of nominees (anything between five to ten movies can make the Best Picture cut) has made exact predictions more difficult (just the way the Academy likes it). But consider "Argo," "Les Mis," "Pi," "Lincoln," "Silver" and "Zero" locked in. "Django" got a late start in award season by being the last major movie to screen for voters, but has since blossomed into a big box office hit and should be safe.

"Beasts" and "Moonrise" are the indie wild cards, hoping to crack the field thanks to passionate fan bases. Foreign language dazzler "Amour" could pop up if enough voters saw it, and 007 fans are hoping for an unprecedented (and unlikely) Best Pic slot for James Bond in "Skyfall." The question of what might be this year's sentimental surprise (a la "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" last year) has some thinking riveting tsunami survival story "The Impossible" or French language sap-fest "The Intouchables" -- but they're both outside the box enough to qualify as surprises, if they make it.

Should (but won't) be nominated: The very deserving "The Impossible" has a very slim shot, but Rian Johnson's sci-fi stunner "Looper" has absolutely no chance despite being one of the year's most creative and unique visions. In a year with no shortage of fanboy-friendly blockbusters, "Looper" was a reminder that solid storytelling trumps big budgets anytime.

BEST ACTOR

Predictions:
Bradley Cooper, "Silver Linings Playbook"; Daniel Day-Lewis, "Lincoln"; John Hawkes, "The Sessions"; Hugh Jackman, "Les Miserables"; Denzel Washington, "Flight"

Alternate picks: Joaquin Phoenix, "The Master"; Ben Affleck, "Argo"

The buzz: One of the year's most competitive fields, the competition seems to have boiled down to the five SAG nominees. The actors guild left out early favorite Phoenix, and he's unlikely to pop back in for Oscar. Other one-time hopefuls -- Anthony Hopkins ("Hitchcock"), Bill Murray ("Hyde Park on Hudson"), Richard Gere ("Arbitrage") -- have seen their chances all but evaporate.

Should (but won't) be nominated: Critics have been lavishing "Amour" with well-deserved awards this season, but lead actor Jean-Louis Trintignant has largely been left out of the spotlight. Blame a desire to spread the wealth and an abundance of very strong, high profile work from the likes of Day-Lewis and Phoenix. Still, Trintignant deserves to top them all thanks to a performance that's remarkably real and utterly heartbreaking.

BEST ACTRESS

Predictions:
Jessica Chastain, "Zero Dark Thirty"; Marion Cotillard, "Rust and Bone"; Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook"; Quvenzhané Wallis, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"; Naomi Watts, "The Impossible"

Alternate picks: Emmanuelle Riva, "Amour"; Helen Mirren, "Hitchcock"

The buzz: This one's a tough call beyond inevitable noms for Chastain (the likely winner) and Lawrence. Cotillard and Watts are in good standing with recognition from both SAG and the Globes -- but Riva is considered a strong threat if enough Oscar voters saw her film. Globe nominee Mirren also made the competitive SAG cut, but 9-year-old wonder Wallis was ineligible there on a technicality. 13-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes is currently the youngest ever best actress nominee, and it could bode well that her superficially similar turn in "Whale Rider" was viewed as an upset pick in 2004.

Should (but won't) be nominated: With the caveat that Chastain, Lawrence, Riva, Wallis and Watts would make a perfect field of nominees, Michelle Williams at least deserved more consideration for her work as a young wife wrestling with the temptation of an extramarital affair in "Take This Waltz."

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Predictions:
Alan Arkin, "Argo"; Robert De Niro, "Silver Linings Playbook"; Leonardo DiCaprio, "Django Unchained"; Philip Seymour Hoffman, "The Master"; Tommy Lee Jones, "Lincoln"

Alternate picks: Javier Bardem, "Skyfall"; Christoph Waltz, "Django Unchained"; Matthew McConaughey, "Magic Mike"; Dwight Henry, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

The buzz: The most crowded acting category of the year. There will be a lot of first rate work left out -- Ewan McGregor ("The Impossible"), Jason Clarke ("Zero Dark Thirty"), Michael Pena ("End of Watch") and Christopher Walken ("Seven Psychopaths") are barely even in the conversation. Among the many questions Oscar will answer: Do Golden Globe snubs hurt Bond villain Bardem or re-energized veteran De Niro? Can either of the Globes' "Django" nominees make the cut, or do they cancel each other out? Could McConaughey pop up despite only being acknowledged by critics groups so far? And is the brilliant but SAG-ineligible Henry a surprise spoiler?

Should (but won't) be nominated: Seriously, this category is ridiculous this year. Even a list of 10 would leave out someone worthy, but Samuel L. Jackson as "Django Unchained's" destestable schemer Stephen and Ezra Miller as "The Perks of Being a Wallflower's" vulnerable extrovert Patrick deserve to make the top five.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Predictions:
Sally Field, "Lincoln"; Anne Hathaway, "Les Miserables"; Helen Hunt, "The Sessions"; Nicole Kidman, "The Paperboy"; Maggie Smith, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"

Alternate picks: Amy Adams, "The Master"; Ann Dowd, "Compliance"; Judi Dench, "Skyfall"; Samantha Barks, "Les Miserables"

The buzz: It would be quite an accomplishment if Kidman actually gets an Oscar nomination for a critically derided pulp thriller, but her chances look good after SAG and Globe recognition. Possibly standing in her way: Globe nominee Adams (looking for her fourth nomination in this category since 2006), character actress Dowd (who put up her own money to campaign for a powerful but difficult to watch indie film), Bond boss Dench, and newcomer Barks (who delivers the best performance in "Les Mis"). It's possible one of these contenders also knocks out Smith, who scored at SAG but missed with the Globes (and perhaps more tellingly was left out at BAFTA).

Should (but won't) be nominated: If Dowd cracks the field, she'd deserve to win. But it's tough for indie actresses in low grossing movies to get noticed, as also evidenced by Brit Marling, whose captivating turn as a cult leader in "Sound of My Voice" was a major league performance in a minor league movie.

BEST DIRECTOR

Predictions:
Ben Affleck, "Argo"; Kathryn Bigelow, "Zero Dark Thirty"; Tom Hooper, "Les Miserables"; Ang Lee, "Life of Pi"; Steven Spielberg, "Lincoln"

Alternate picks: David O. Russell, "Silver Linings Playbook"; Quentin Tarantino, "Django Unchained"; Michael Haneke, "Amour"

The buzz: If the Oscar nominees match the Directors Guild picks -- Affleck, Bigelow, Hooper, Lee and Spielberg -- expect a surge of support for first-time nominee Affleck over four previous winners. But even if one of the other likely contenders -- previous nominee Russell, two-time previous nominee Tarantino, or would-be-first-timer Haneke -- knock someone out, Affleck still feels like the favorite.

Should (but won't) be nominated: The year's most impressive debut came from "Beasts of the Southern Wild" director Benh Zeitlin. But an Oscar nomination for your first film can be a lot to live up to. Seeing Zeitlin back in the running in the future would be even better than a nom this year.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Predictions:
"Argo"; "Beasts of the Southern Wild"; "Life of Pi"; "Lincoln"; "Silver Linings Playbook"

Alternate picks: "Les Miserables"; "The Perks of Being a Wallflower"

The buzz: The writers guild wisely included "Perks," but "Beasts" and "Les Mis" weren't eligible there (the WGA has the strictest eligibility rules of all, giving them less overlap with Oscar). With "Argo," "Pi," "Lincoln" and "Silver" basically locked in, there's really only one open spot.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Predictions:
"Amour"; "Django Unchained"; "Flight"; "Moonrise Kingdom"; "Zero Dark Thirty"

Alternate picks: "The Master"; "Looper"

The buzz: With "Amour" and "Django" not in the running, the WGA went with "The Master" and the very deserving "Looper." But the divisive art film and genre mind-bender could come up short with Oscar voters.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Predictions:
"Brave"; "Frankenweenie"; "The Painting"; "ParaNorman"; "Wreck-It Ralph"

Alternate picks: "Rise of the Guardians"; "The Rabbi's Cat"; "From Up on Poppy Hill"

The buzz: In a bit of an odd year for animation it seems like three of the year's best -- "Frankenweenie," "ParaNorman" and "Ralph" -- should be safe. Disney is the major player here, having distributed three likely nominees (including Pixar's "Brave," which for once isn't expected to bring Pixar a win). Foreign production "The Painting" could continue the category's inclination to include indies and edge out DreamWorks' big budget disappointment "Guardians." "Poppy Hill" from Japan's Studio Ghibli would be a worthy selection, but appears to be an underdog.
Photo/Video credit: Disney / Sony / Universal