It's about this time of year, as the critics start announcing their awards fast and furiously (or in the case of yesterday's New York Film Critics Circle Awards — which took more than 4 hours to announce — very, very slowly), that the Oscar race morphs from more questions to more answers.
Everything has now screened and reaction is generally clear (though Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" is still something of a final question mark as it has only been a few days since it first screened and reaction has been rather muted thanks to an embargo). Next week's Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and Critics Choice nominations will surely offer a few pushes and pulls of buzz for various possible nominees, but there are definitely a handful of things that are very evident at this point — enough that I'm willing to offer 10 hard statements about the Oscar nominations and/or winners. Even though I'm just as willing to bet only 8 of them will end up becoming true…
1. Anne Hathaway is winning best supporting actress. Hathaway is officially this year's Javier Bardem/Jennifer Hudson/Christian Bale/Mo'Nique/etc. The one that just can't lose (though tell that to 1996's version of this, Lauren Bacall). With a wide-open supporting actress race that features clear nominees that just didn't seem like possible winners (could they really give Hathaway's closest competition, Sally Field, a third Oscar after making Meryl Streep sit through a million nominations to get hers?), most people were calling Hathaway before "Les Miserables" even screened. And when it did, there was near-unanimous confirmation. Even those who didn't like the film couldn't help but be impressed by the tour-de-force long-take performance that is Hathaway belting out "I Dreamed a Dream." Like Jennifer Hudson before her, Hathaway is a lock to win because of one song.
2. "Argo," "Les Miserables," "Lincoln," "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Zero Dark Thirty" are all getting nominated for best picture. If there were still only five nominees, it would be likely these would be the five. And now that there are 5-10, it seems all but certain. But what films join them is still a fun mystery ("Life of Pi" is definitely next in line, but after that it's much more unclear… "Amour"? "Beasts of the Southern Wild"?).
3. "Les Miserables" and "Lincoln" are heading for double-digit nomination counts. With multiple performances likely to get nominations in addition to strong candidates across the artistic and technical categories, it would be a big disappointment if 19th century-set "Les Mis" and "Lincoln" — arguably the frontrunners for best picture, though "Zero Dark Thirty" is hot on their trails — don't end up with 10 or more Oscar nominations each.
4. Five of these 15 films are getting nominated for best documentary. A cheat prediction since it's already official, this is the one thing you can count on 100% here. Yesterday, the Academy set the 15-film shortlist for the best documentary feature category. Though the ever-controversial list left off "The Queen of Versailles," "The Central Park Five," "Samsara" and "West of Memphis," the fifteen films that were included are pretty much all worthy titles (the list probably drew less collective outrage than any of its predecessors), and truly any of them could make the cut in what is one of the most challenging categories to predict.
5. Kathryn Bigelow will become the first woman to receive two best director nominations. Reviews have been absolutely glowing for Kathryn Bigelow's dense, tense follow-up to her Oscar-winning "The Hurt Locker" (personally, it's a very likely bet for my #1 film of the year), and its one-two punch of best picture and best director wins from the New York Film Critics Circle pretty much confirmed it as a formidable opponent in this year's race. Bigelow will definitely be going up for Oscar #2, and it's not out of the question that she wins again.
6. Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence will battle it out for best actress. For a bit there, it seemed like Jennifer Lawrence was as sure a bet for the best actress trophy as Anne Hathaway is for best supporting actress now. But along came Jessica Chastain. Up until mid-November, people weren't even sure if she had a lead or supporting role in "Zero Dark Thirty." As soon as the film started screening, the former was confirmed and Chastain wasn't just touted as a possible nominee, but also a possible winner. Lawrence retains the same status, but it's difficult to see anyone else winning. Unless they split the vote to the advantage of… Emmanuelle Riva (how great would that be?).
7. A Disney film is winning best animated feature. Unlike many years in the past, a Disney/Pixar film has not locked this year's animated feature Oscar. There's a definite race, but it's essentially between one Disney/Pixar movie ("Brave") and two other Disney films ("Frankenweenie" and "Wreck-It-Ralph"). Perhaps one of those G-KIDS movies can come from behind and shock, but it's a very good certainty that Disney is taking home Oscar again this year… we just don't know for which film.
8. The winner of best director will have already won before. I suppose Ben Affleck winning best director for "Argo" is a tiny possibilty, but it's extremely likely the race will boil down to Steven Spielberg, Tom Hooper and Kathryn Bigelow. Spielberg has two Oscars already (for "Schindler's List" and "Saving Private Ryan"), but hasn't won since 1999. Hooper and Bigelow, meanwhile, represent two of the last three winners in the category. Too soon for a repeat? Or is Spielberg headed for a threepeat?
9. Robert DeNiro, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Tommy Lee Jones will be nominated for best supporting actor Oscars. But can any of them win? The best supporting actor race is probably the most crowded and impressive of all the Oscar races, with a good 10 or 12 actors still in genuine contention (whereas all the other acting races have basically been narrowed to 6 or 7). DeNiro, Hoffman and Jones are the certainties, but they don't quite feel like winners. Can Leonardo DiCaprio or Samuel L. Jackson swoop in with "Django?" Is Matthew McConaughey gonna ride that NYFCC win to unexpected frontrunner status? Who knows. Which is what makes this category the most fun to keep your eye on.
10. Daniel Day-Lewis will win a third Oscar for "Lincoln." By comparison, the best actor race seems pretty much set in stone. Five of these six men will fill the slots: Day-Lewis, Denzel Washington, Joaquin Phoenix, John Hawkes, Bradley Cooper and Hugh Jackman. And while this is the least confident "statement" of these ten, I'm betting that Day-Lewis will take home his third best actor Oscar, making him the first person ever to do so (Jack Nicholson has three Oscars, but one was for a supporting role).
So… what do you think?