Gravity, Bullock, Clooney

In just under 48 hours, months and months of speculation will finally come to a close when the 86th Academy Award nominations are announced. Though various precursors (BAFTA, the Globes, the guild awards, the critics groups, etc) have narrowed things down considerably, the Academy's recent tendencies to go their own way here and there hopefully will offer us a few welcome surprises come Thursday morning.

One thing that is fairly certain is the three films that are set to lead the nominations overall: Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave," Alfonso Cuarón's "Gravity" and David O. Russell's "American Hustle." They have rarely failed to manage impressive support from pretty much all of the precursors, and if any of them miss out on best picture or best director (or have overall nomination counts under 8), it would be a big shock. Which films join them in the best picture race will be a lot more interesting. Alexander Payne's "Nebraska," Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" and Paul Greengrass's "Captain Phillips" are looking pretty solid in that regard, but then it gets a lot more hazy. We don't know how many nominations there will be, after all, though the remaining 0-4 slots seem to be a battle among 6 films: Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine," Joel & Ethan Coen's "Inside Llewyn Davis," Spike Jonze's "Her," John Lee Hancock's "Saving Mr. Banks," Jean-Marc Vallee's "Dallas Buyers Club" and Stephen Frears' "Philomena."  For the sake of mixing things up, we're betting there will only be 8 nominees this year (there were 9 the previous two years), with "Her" and "Philomena" joining the aforementioned six nearly sure things.

The acting races should be equally interesting.  Best actor, in particular, is probably more stacked than its been in a decade, with Robert Redford, Chiwetel Ejiofer, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bruce Dern, Oscar Isaac, Forest Whitaker, Christian Bale and Joaquin Phoenix all offering performances that in any other year would arguably be certainties for nominations. But this year, it's gonna be tough.  As for best actress, it's considerably less competitive with six women aiming for five slots. But that still makes things interesting. Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Judi Dench and Emma Thompson certainly seem like sure things, though who joins them -- Amy Adams or Meryl Streep -- will be a mystery to the last minute.

American Hustle

The past month of non-stop precursors have certainly made their stamps on the race and have given us some clear suggestions in all of the acting races. If an actor doesn't end up with at least one nomination from the Globes, BAFTA, SAG or the Critics Choice, there's a very slim chance they'll end up with an Oscar nomination. Though ask Jacki Weaver how she feels about that slim chance. She's the only one that beat it last year when she ended up with an Oscar nomination for "Silver Linings Playbook." Or, Marion Cotillard, for that matter, who was nominated for all four and then didn't end up making it to Oscar's shortlist. The year before, there was also one actor (Max von Sydow) made the cut without a SAG, Globe, BAFTA or Critics Choice nod, while Tilda Swinton did not despite getting all of them. If that trend continues this year, I'd bet -- for what it's worth -- that Jonah Hill ("The Wolf of Wall Street") is the one who makes it in without any of those precursors. His film broke very late in the game, and he's been campaigning aggressively ever since. He's also pretty fantastic in "Wolf."

So then who falls out? The following folks managed nods from all 4 organizations: Bruce Dern, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tom Hanks, Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Judi Dench, Emma Thompson, Barkhad Abdi, Daniel Bruhl, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and Lupita Nyong'o. The predictions below suggest Daniel Bruhl as the sole Oscar exclusion from that group. More over, they also suggest "12 Years a Slave" would lead the nomination count with 12, while "American Hustle" takes 10 and "Captain Phillips" and "Gravity" each take 9.  Take a read through and feel free to add your own predictions in the comments section.  You can also find more extensive commentary on each individual category, click here.

12 Years A Slave

Best Picture:
Predicted Nominees (in alphabetical order):
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

If There's a 9th Nominee: Dallas Buyers Club
If There's a 10th Nominee: Saving Mr. Banks
The Spoiler Nominee: Inside Llewyn Davis
Pretty Please: Before Midnight
Winner Prediction: 12 Years a Slave

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

The Spoiler Nominee: Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street
Pretty Please: Joel & Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis
Winner Prediction: Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity

Blue Jasmine

Best Actress:

Predicted Nominees (in alphabetical order):
Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench
, Philomena
Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks

The Spoiler Nominee: Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
Pretty Please: Adèle Exarchopoulos, Blue is the Warmest Color
Winner Prediction: Cate Blanchett,

Blue Jasmine

Best Actor:
Predicted Nominees (in alphabetical order):
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

The Spoiler Nominee: Robert Redford, All Is Lost (or Christian Bale, American Hustle -- this is gonna be tight)
Pretty Please: Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
Winner Prediction: Bruce Dern, Nebraska