Predicting the Oscar Nominees

Start your engines, it’s awards season time! The nominations for the Golden Globes, the Screen Actor’s Guild, and all of the other guilds have already been released, the Golden Globes are this Sunday, and the Oscar nominations come out tomorrow. What will they be? I’m so glad you asked

In each category below, everything is listed in order of how likely I think a nomination is, and the films in bold are what I think actually will be nominated. And thanks to Grantland, whose format I stole for this piece.

I’m weighing in on 45 potential nominations, with the goal of getting at least 40 of them right.


The Locks


Zero Dark Thirty



The Near Locks

Silver Linings Playbook

Les Miserables

Life of Pi


At Least One of These

The Master

Moonrise Kingdom


Beasts of the Southern Wild


Other (Unlikely) Possibilities

Django Unchained

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Sessions

The Impossible



The Dark Knight Rises


This is the toughest category to pick, because we don’t even know how many nominees we’re getting. Starting last year, the voting changed, so now we can get anywhere from five to ten nominees, purely dependent on how the voting gets spread out. The crux is this: for a movie to get nominated, at least five percent of the ballots have to list it number one. There are close to 6,000 people in the Academy, so that means a minimum of around 300 Academy members have to think a movie was the best of the year for a nomination to occur. And that’s the key here—it doesn’t matter if every single person in the Academy thought something was in the year’s ten best, it only matters if 300 or so people thought it was the very best.

Consensus agreement suggests this was a very strong year for movies, and a lot of people assume that means we’ll get the full ten nominees. But the math doesn’t necessarily support that theory. Because there’s so much agreement about what this year’s very best films were (Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, & Argo), that’s likely to take a huge amount of the first place votes. If each of those films gets somewhere in the range of 15-25% of the first place votes, then that already leaves precious little space for the rest of the field.

Silver Linings Playbook, Les Miserables, and Life of Pi all feel pretty safely in, but after that, just about anything could happen. And one possibility is definitely that the nominations stop there. Some people are predicting that films widely liked by either younger Academy members (Django Unchained) or older Academy members (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) have a great chance to be nominated. But remember, the key isn’t how widely liked a movie is, it’s how passionately liked a movie is. Can you imagine 300 Academy members choosing either of those as the best film of the year? Perhaps you can, but I’ll be over here, respectfully disagreeing with you.

And that leaves the “art” films that gain small, yet passionate (there’s that important word again), followings. For many prognosticators, The Master has fallen out of the race and appears to be a peaked-too-early also-ran. But I think it’s just the kind of movie that will succeed in the Academy’s new voting system. Between it’s memorably amazing acting and cinematography, and its high-brow artiness, it’s easy to picture this being the type of film that a small group rallies around and puts at the top of the ballot (just like Tree of Life last year). But The Master is just one of four films that could benefit from this voting possibility, and that means they could all become victim to vote splitting. But my guess is Moonrise Kingdom comes through, while Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild fall just short.

And as for the rest of the crowd pleasers, blame the system. Until the voting policies change again, the days of movies like The Full Monty, Seabiscuit, and The Blind Side sneaking into the Best Picture race are over.



The Locks

Steven Spielberg – Lincoln

Kathryn Bigelow – Zero Dark Thirty

Ben Affleck – Argo    


The Near-Lock

Ang Lee – Life of Pi


Probably Someone From This Group

Paul Thomas Anderson – The Master

Michael Haneke – Amour


Probably Not Someone From This Group

David O. Russell – Silver Linings Playbook

Tom Hooper – Les Miserables

Quentin Tarantino – Django Unchained

Robert Zemeckis – Flight


We basically know what four of the nominees will be here, but predicting the fifth is a bit tricky. The Golden Globes nominated Tarantino, while the Director’s Guild chose Hooper. But the Oscars have a longstanding tradition of awarding the fifth slot to a “visionary” director who tends to get unfairly ignored elsewhere (what I like to call the Terrence Malick Memorial Nomination). This year, there are two obvious choices for that slot, Anderson and Haneke. It’s basically a 50/50 toss-up, but I’m giving the edge to Anderson, just because his career is a little more user-friendly than Haneke, whose films often stretch viewer patience to the limits. But it should be noted that Amour is regarded as the most accessible film of Haneke’s career, while The Master is undoubtedly the most inaccessible of Anderson’s, so Haneke taking this slot definitely wouldn’t be a shock.



The Lock

Daniel Day Lewis – Lincoln


The Near Locks

John Hawkes – The Sessions

Denzel Washington – Flight


Pick Two

Hugh Jackman – Les Miserables

Joaquin Phoenix – The Master

Bradley Cooper – Silver Linings Playbook


Better Luck Next Year

Richard Gere – Arbitrage

Anthony Hopkins – Hitchcock

Bill Murray – Hyde Park Hudson

Jack Black – Bernie


This is an immensely difficult category for me to analyze objectively, because I thought Phoenix’s performance wasn’t just the best of the year, but among the five or ten best acting performances I’ve ever seen. And because of this I find it unfathomable that he wouldn’t make the field of five, despite any evidence to the contrary, and regardless of how many comments he makes about not caring. So I’m going with my gut, and predicting he’ll find himself a nomination, because I desperately want to believe that quality of that magnitude matters more than the politics of how this all works.

Now having said that, the safe bet is that Jackman and Cooper will be the final two nominees. But I think both are vulnerable, Jackman because a lot of people disliked Les Miserables, and Cooper because some see his performance as slight and lacking depth. Because of Jackman’s impeccable singing, I’d give him the edge. And Richard Gere is looming as a potential spoiler. He already received a Golden Globe nomination for Arbitrage, and he’s been campaigning hard. Plus he’s never gotten an Oscar nomination, which some voters may see as an oversight that’s due to be corrected.



The Locks

Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook

Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty


Someone Has To Get Left Out

Naomi Watts – The Impossible

Helen Mirren – Hitchcock

Emmanuelle Riva – Amour

Marion Cotilard – Rust and Bone


Unlikely (But You Never Know)

Judi Dench – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Rachel Weisz – The Deep Blue Sea

Quvenzhané Wallis – Beasts of the Southern Wild

Maggie Smith – Quartet


This is already seen as such a two-(wo)man race that the other five nominees feel virtually inconsequential. And yet, arguing over the inconsequential is what I’m here for! I think Watts is basically a sure thing for her physically demanding performance, and Mirren should get in on name-recognition alone. So it’s down to Riva and Cotillard for the last slot, and both are in French subtitled films that many voters will have to talk themselves into watching. But Amour is light-hearted and beautiful, while Rust and Bone is heavy and depressing. That may be the deciding factor between which screener makes it to the DVD player and which screener stays on the coffee table. Plus Riva, at 85 years old, would be the oldest Best Actress nominee in history, and voters love a good narrative to latch on to.

While I wouldn’t rule out Dench and Weisz—two beloved actresses who consistently churn out great work—I am ruling out Wallis. I know other people are predicting she’ll make the cut, but, as Mark Harris wrote on Grantland last summer, what she does isn’t even really acting. She’s six years old, so it’s not like she’s really considering the different ways to approach a scene. And Wallis even said as much when asked about her performance. She just said that was just her up on the screen. While this certainly doesn’t take away from how good she is, it’s also distinctly non-Oscar worthy.



The Locks

Tommy Lee Jones – Lincoln

Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Master


The Near Lock

Alan Arkin – Argo


Pick Two

Javier Bardem – Skyfall

Leonardo DiCaprio – Django Unchained

Christoph Waltz – Django Unchained

Robert De Niro – Silver Linings Playbook


Sorry Guys

Matthew McConaughey – Magic Mike

Ewan McGregor – The Impossible

Samuel L. Jackson – Django Unchained


This is a fascinating category, because of the seven legitimate contenders for a nomination, six have already won Oscars, and five of them have already won in this category. Because of this, I really like DiCaprio’s chances for a nomination, as voters might see him as the only breath of fresh air in a category filled with people who probably don’t need any more accolades.

Out of the four actors vying for the final two slots, I think De Niro is the closest thing to a longshot, because it could be argued that this is his first role in over a decade that wasn’t simple check cashing. And it might be hard for voters to talk themselves into rewarding that. I’m also operating on the assumption that Bardem is pretty close to a lock. He didn’t get a Golden Globe nomination, but he’s on SAG’s list, and voters who loved Skyfall (and apparently, they are legion) will probably feel like this is the best chance to reward that film. Plus, after 22 other Bond movies, coming up with a totally refreshing and totally creepy villain ain’t no easy task. And there’s recent history of this award going to the year’s best villain, which happened three years in a row from 2007-2009.

The real question here will be whether DiCaprio and Waltz split each other’s votes, and even if Samuel L. Jackson siphons some away from both of them. But DiCaprio is playing both a supporting role and a villain for the first time in his adult career, and that should gain not just the curiosity of the voters, but also their attention.



The Winner Lock

Anne Hathaway  - Les Miserables


The Near Locks

Sally Field – Lincoln

Amy Adams – The Master



Helen Hunt – The Sessions

Maggie Smith – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel


The Spoiler

Nicole Kidman – The Paperboy


Possible Surprises

Ann Dowd – Compliance

Jacki Weaver – Silver Linings Playbook

Samantha Barks – Les Miserables

Kerry Washington – Django Unchained


This feels like kind of a boring category because Hathaway appears to have it in the bag, but whether or not Kidman can sneak into the field will be one of the most interesting elements of the nominations. And that’s because The Paperboy is a legitimately awful movie. To be fair, Kidman is quite good as its southern-fried sexpot, and there are (fleeting) stretches where she almost makes the movie tolerable. But getting voters to watch their screener copy given the savage reviews heaped upon the movie is no easy task, while Hunt and Smith (Kidman’s most vulnerable competitors) are both in happy feel-good movies that voters will likely love watching. And that’s why I think Kidman will sit this one out despite getting nominated by both the Golden Globes and the Screen Actor’s Guild.



The Winner Lock

Mark Boal - Zero Dark Thirty


The Near Lock

Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola - Moonrise Kingdom


Anything Could Happen

Rian Johnson - Looper    

Quentin Tarantino - Django Unchained    

Paul Thomas Anderson - The Master

Michael Haneke - Amour

John Gatins - Flight


Zero Dark Thirty is the only sure thing here, and I can imagine virtually any scenario for the other four nominees. But ultimately I think Flight will fall short because it’s seen as more of an achievement for Denzel Washington and the special effects team, and I think Amour is more likely to get honored in other categories. Plus Tarantino and Anderson are such mainstays of this category that it’s hard to picture either of them getting left out.



The Locks

Tony Kushner - Lincoln

Chris Terrio - Argo    

David O. Russell - Silver Linings Playbook


The Near Lock

David Magee - Life of Pi


One of These

Stephen Chbosky - The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Ben Lewin - The Sessions

Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin - Beasts of the Southern Wild


We’re really only debating the last slot here. While Beasts of the Southern Wild is probably the most loved film of the likely possibilities, and I happen to think The Sessions is the most deserving, the consensus seems to be that Wallflower will claim the last slot. Stephen Chbosky adapted his own novel for the screenplay, which is probably nerve-racking, and this is likely the only category for voters to recognize the film.


Daniel Joyaux is a film and pop culture critic living in Ann Arbor. You can read more of his work at and follow him on Twitter @thirdmanmovies.



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