Zero Dark Thirty

Release Date: December 19th
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Jennifer Ehle, Kyle Chandler, James Gandolfini, Edgar Ramirez

The Deal: The most mysterious of the films left to be seen, Kathryn Bigelow follows up her Oscar winning "Hurt Locker" with "Zero Dark Thirty," a take on the special operations forces mission to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. Written by "Locker" scribe Mark Boal, very little is known about the specifics of the film. Up until recently, we didn't even know James Gandolfini was even in the film, and only last week was it confirmed that Jessica Chastain is indeed the lead (which could very well shake up the best actress race).

Prediction: Could Bigelow and Boal strike again? We should keep in mind that Bigelow's pre-"Hurt Locker" track record isn't exactly perfect ("K-19: The Widowmaker," anyone?). While it's truly anybody's guess at this point, we're predicting the film ends up being pretty divisive, nabbing a few tech nods and a best actress bid for Jessica Chastain.

Les Miserables

Release Date: December 25th
Distributor: Universal
Director: Tom Hooper
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Samantha Barks, Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen

The Deal: Some say -- sight unseen -- that it's the frontrunner, and it's easy to see why: An epic musical based one of Broadway's most beloved, the film has an huge cast in Jackman, Crowe and Hathaway and is directed by "The King's Speech" helmer Tom Hooper, who the Academy embraced just two years ago. Universal recently bumped the film back a week to a Christmas Day release, so -- like most of the films on this list -- they better start screening as soon as possible to get the film seen. This year more than ever (with the Oscar noms out on January 10th), the earlier is most definitely the better.

Prediction: The Academy hasn't fully embraced a musical since 2001's "Chicago" ("Dreamgirls" may have won best supporting actress, but it was snubbed for best picture), but this one certainly seems like the most promising in a good long while. Winning the big prize seems like a stretch (two in a row for Tom Hooper, and three straight years of non-US productions winning?), but a bunch of major nominations should be pretty much expected, with Hathaway seemingly poised to lead the best supporting actress race if she pulls off the baity role of Fantine (musicals fare very well in that category, see Jennifer Hudson and Catherine Zeta-Jones).