With less than 48 hours to go before the gloriously early (two weeks earlier than last year!) Academy Award nominations, it's time to take a stab at final predictions for the culmination of one the quickest, strongest and most unpredictable awards seasons in years. 

Category-by-category, the below predictions offer what are perhaps my least confident Oscar nominations ever (but that's what makes them so much fun). After back to back races that felt remarkably dull and predictable, there's an energy and an excitement leading into Thursday morning's announcement that has breathed life into Oscar prognositication for many pundits. Here's hoping I'm wrong in all the best ways.

READ MORE: For Your Consideration: If I Had An Oscar Ballot...

The following predictions would have Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" leading the way with 12 nominations, with "Django Unchained" (11 noms), "Les Miserables" (eight noms), "Zero Dark Thirty," "Skyfall" and "Life of Pi" (seven each) just behind. It doesn't quite seem right ("Django" seems way too high, and "Argo" way to low with just five), but we'll find out soon enough how right or wrong I am. Until then, enjoy my best shot:

Warner Bros. "Argo"
Best Picture:
Coming off of one of the most dismal batch of best picture nominees in some time (maybe ever?), Thursday morning could offer quite the opposite. There's an embarrassment of riches in this years race, which has basically come down to 12 films gunning for the 5-10 slots.

Just six weeks ago or so, there were really only four films that seemed more-or-less sure bets for a best picture nomination: "Argo," "Life of Pi," "Lincoln" and "Silver Linings Playbook."  At that point, there were still three major question marks in December releases "Django Unchained," "Les Miserables," and "Zero Dark Thirty." But somehow all three managed to live up their hype (more or less -- "Les Mis" didn't exact win over critics but lots of other folks apparently love it, while "Django" and "Zero" faced plenty of controversy, but I can't see that hurting them much here), giving this race a firm seven contenders that all have strong box office, passionate fans and a precursor tally that includes PGA noms and both Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award best picture noms. Any one of them not making the cut would be a surprise.

But what happens after? Will there only be seven? Since there were nine with last year's dismal slate, there should be at least nine this time around, right? Well, no. There could only be five for all we know. But my total guess is that there will indeed be a full 10, offering us one of the most diverse, (mostly) deserving best picture slates in some time. And that "Amour," "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and "Moonrise Kingdom" -- each with the sort of passionate fanbase that gives #1 ballot rankings -- will join the "assumed seven." However, you could easily make the same argument for "Skyfall" or "The Master," which is why the final category announced Thursday morning is going to be so much fun to watch.

The predicted nominees (in alphabetical order):
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Moonrise Kingdom
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

The spoilers (in order of spoil-potential):
The Master

The shoulda been a contender (but never gonna happen):
Holy Motors

Best Director:
Here's where the best picture race arguably becomes a five nominee-show, and it's quite the showdown. Ben Affleck, Kathryn Bigelow and Steven Spielberg are locks, but beyond them there's room for surprise. The directors branch of the Academy is known for their higher-end tastes, which could spell trouble for recent DGA nominee Tom Hooper. He could be replaced by Michael Haneke, Paul Thomas Anderson or Quentin Tarantino, with one of them (my guess is QT) joining Ang Lee (not a lock, but looking good) as the fourth and fifth nominees.

The predicted nominees (in alphabetical order):
Ben Affleck, Argo
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained

The spoilers (in order of spoil-potential):
Michael Haneke, Amour
Tom Hooper, Les Miserables
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master

The shoulda-been-a-contender (but never gonna happen):
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Continue to the next page for acting picks....