Gravity, Bullock, Clooney

All the major fall festivals have come and gone, and the Oscar prognosticators have come out in full force. And while there's still two months until the nominations are announced, it's finally fair game. Yes, there are a few major films that could still shake things up significantly (two, really: Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" and David O. Russell's "American Hustle"), the vast majority of the films that will be nominated have been seen by many, either at festivals or in theatrical release. And it's quite likely we've already seen our best picture winner, too. The last time a film won best picture that hadn't had its world premiere somewhere by the end of October was way back in 2004 with "Million Dollar Baby."

So let's take a look at some of Oscar's major races to see where things stand before the onslaught of precursor awards begin (in two weeks time there will be announcements basically every day for an entire month). Notably, the version of this article last year got 15/20 acting nominees and four out of six of the winners in the top categories, so this could end up somewhat close to where we're heading. Or just as easily, not. And for full predictions in every Oscar category (save, for now, the short films), click here.

"12 Years a Slave."
Fox Searchlight "12 Years a Slave."

Best Picture:
If it is indeed true that we've already seen the film that will win the best picture, it's likely to be among these two: Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave" and Alfonso Cuarón's "Gravity." Each have been met with pretty overwhelming critical responses (save some minimal backlash in both regards) and impressive box office numbers (though clearly more so for "Gravity," a bonafide blockbuster approaching a $250 million domestic gross).

Unless December's two question marks -- the aforementioned "Wall Street" and "Hustle" -- each hit it out of the park, the race seems between these two.

Beyond that, it's still somewhat murky. Until we see those two films (which in terms of press screenings, could be before November's over), this category seems like the least clear of them all, especially because of that sliding scale of nominees rule. As everyone's probably aware by now (this is year three of the rule), depending on how many number one votes each film receives on voters' ballots, anywhere from five to 10 nominees could wind up in the category, making it very difficult to predict. Currently, my totally uneducated guess is that it's going to be nine, just as it was the previous two years.

So there's "Gravity" and "12 Years a Slave." And then say "American Hustle" and "Wolf of Wall Street" both meet expectations and join them. That leaves one-to-six spots for the competitive likes of J.C. Chandor's "All Is Lost," John Wells' "August: Osage County," Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine," Paul Greengrass's "Captain Phillips," Jean-Marc Vallée's "Dallas Buyers Club," Spike Jonze's "Her," Joel & Ethan Coen's "Inside Llewyn Davis," Lee Daniels' "Lee Daniels' The Butler," Alexander Payne's "Nebraska" and John Lee Hancock's "Saving Mr. Banks."  10 films, and at maximum six of them get in. Here's my best guess for now...

Predicted Nominees (in alphabetical order):
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Inside Llewyn Davis
Saving Mr. Banks
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

If There's a 10th Nominee: Blue Jasmine

The Spoiler Nominee: Lee Daniels' The Butler

Totally Unwarranted Winner Prediction: 12 Years a Slave

Best Director:
Imagine how crowded the aforementioned best picture race just sounded, and make it so there's definitely only five nominees. Add in the fact that the director's branch tends to go their own way, rewarding more challenging work than the general Academy (hence last year's Michael Haneke and Benh Zeitlin over Ben Affleck), and the best director's race seems incredibly crowded.  Alfonso Cuarón and Steve McQueen -- neither of them ever nominated in this category -- are locks that would prove Affleckian-sized snubs if they didn't make the cut.

Paul Greengrass, Joel & Ethan Coen, Spike Jonze and Alexander Payne seem like the impressive bunch battling it out for those last three slots at this point. But then of course there's David O. Russell and Martin Scorsese. Russell has been nominated for both his previous two films, while Scorsese has received nods for three of his last four films. Hard men to bet against...

Predicted Nominees (in alphabetical order):
Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
David O. Russell, American Hustle

Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street

The Spoiler Nominee: Alexander Payne, Nebraska

Totally Unwarranted Winner Prediction: Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave