Thursday morning, Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone will get up about seven hours earlier than they usually do to announce the nominees for the 85th Academy Awards. This will be stupid and pointless and watched by millions of idiots, myself giddily among them. The Oscars are dumb, but as far as awards shows go, they're actually the best, by a pretty wide margin, unless you think Jon Cryer is better than Alec Baldwin, Louis CK, or Larry David, unless you think the best album of 2010 came from Taylor Swift. The Oscars may award pedestrian or mainstream tastes, but they don't skew too far that way. If the Oscars were anything like the Grammys, your Best Picture nominees last year would have included the Transformers, Twilight and Hangover sequels.
Even if you find the Oscars pointless, they remain undeniably fun. They nod pleasantly at the illusion of something really being the "best." And they do so without the dreariness and obvious illogic of Baseball Hall of Fame voting.
Anyway, to play along, let's make some predictions in the eight major categories. Obviously, these are not the nominees I hope to see, but the nominees I expect to see.
Best Original Screenplay
Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master
Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom
Mark Boal, Zero Dark Thirty
Michael Haneke, Amour
Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
This is one of the easiest categories to predict, with five clear leaders. (The next contenders, maybe Rian Johnson for Looper and John Gatins for Flight, are rather far back.) For all the critic love for The Master, this might be the only nomination Anderson gets this year.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Tony Kushner, Lincoln
David Magee, Life of Pi
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Chris Terrio, Argo
Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar, Beasts of the Southern Wild
The only real possibility to crack this group is the gaggle of people who "wrote" Les Miserables, in case that film ends up taking every nomination. I suppose Best Exotic Marigold Hotel could sneak in, but that would be so boring I'm getting sleepy just typing this. The most annoying nomination is Life of Pi, because the screenplay is what keeps getting in the way of that movie.
Best Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin, Argo
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
There has been a late push for Samuel L. Jackson from Django, and Leonardo DiCaprio has been nominated three times before, but I'll stick with Waltz: The guy was born to recite Tarantino dialogue. The charms of De Niro's Silver Linings performance continue to elude me, but he'll sneak in. I'm still a bit baffled Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike—an Oscar-friendly, out-of-nowhere great-story bid if I've ever seen one—has faded from the top five, but I still hold out hope. Chaps don't get a fella what they used to. Also: No villains in this group. That's always a shame. Maybe Javier Bardem has a chance for Skyfall.
Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, The Master
Ann Dowd, Compliance
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Adams, Field, Hathaway and Hunt are locks—and Hathaway winning this award is the biggest lock on the board—but that fifth spot is tricky. Maggie Smith has the Downton Abbey goodwill for Exotic Marigold Hotel. Nicole Kidman is bizarrely getting support for The Paperboy, a film I suspect she's secretly ashamed of. There was less of a push for Jacki Weaver in Silver Linings Playbook than I would have thought. Because there's no way I'm putting Kidman in here—let's not forget what goes on in that movie—I'm going with the dark horse in Dowd, who financed her own campaign and was outstanding in a movie I otherwise kind of hated.
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
A tough little category, with only Lawrence (your most likely winner) and Chastain no-brainers. Naomi Watts may ride in on the goodwill for The Impossible, though she probably just deserves the Best Screaming Actress award for that one. If the nine-year-old Wallis is nominated, she'd be the second-youngest nominee ever, though that comes with a big caveat: She was only six when Beasts was filmed. She's 76 years younger than potential fellow nominee Riva.
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight
Day-Lewis is light-years ahead of everybody else here, but it's an intriguing category nonetheless. Phoenix would be an easy call except he's on record as hating the Oscars, and all awards. (Though that he's accepting his LAFCA award this weekend, presented by our own Tim Grierson, is a sign to many that he's more willing to play ball.) John Hawkes from The Sessions is a possibility, as is Jean Louis Trintignant for Amour.
Ben Affleck, Argo
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
Spielberg, Affleck and Bigelow, the directors of the three films most likely to win Best Picture, are easy calls. The rest is sort of guesswork. Lee, for the safe, audience-friendly Life of Pi, seems a reliable call for the fourth spot. The fifth has all sorts of contenders, from Michael Haneke for Amour to past winner Tom Hooper for Les Miserables to David O. Russell for the actor-happy Silver Linings Playbook. But I still think there's such moment for Django right now—neverminding its rather astounding financial success—that the Academy will reward Tarantino pulling yet another rabbit out of his hat.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
As always, the five-minimum, 10-maximum Best Picture slots confuses everybody, particularly with a packed field like this year. Argo, Django, Les Miz, Pi, Lincoln, Linings and Zero are easy calls. So there are three spots open, and perhaps none of them will be filled. Completely guessing, I'm thinking Beasts gets the critics' fave spot that The Master is going for, Amour punches the elderly Academy where it hurts and Moonrise Kingdom and Skyfall don't make the cut.
Whew. There are actually 16 other categories. Sheesh. And hey, if that wasn't enough for ya, how about some predictions for 2014? Why not?
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.