Academy Awards Nominations Predix: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep, Viola Davis, ‘The Artist,’ ‘The Descendants’ — and Leo?

Tomorrow at the crack of dawn (5:30 a.m. PT/8:30 a.m. ET), the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will announce the nominations for this year's Oscars. Afterward, there will be a lot of talented people packing up their party clothes and dodging phone calls. By brunch tomorrow, the field will have narrowed considerably. When I scan our list of nominations, I figure we're probably good for four out of five, maybe even a little better. But there wouldn't be that fun game of snubs and surprises if we didn't get a few wrong. We'll get back to you on that early tomorrow, around 6:30 a.m. PT/9:30 a.m. ET.


Best Motion Picture

Nominees:

"The Artist"

"The Descendants"

"The Help"

"Hugo"

"Midnight in Paris"

"Moneyball"

"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"

"Bridesmaids"

"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"

"The Tree of Life"

Why? Following the Producers Guild of America's vote this past Saturday, "The Artist" stepped into first place. The real question remains: How many films will get nominated? Five? Ten? Something in between?

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Best Performance by an Actress

Nominees:

Meryl Streep ("The Iron Lady")

Viola Davis ("The Help")

Michelle Williams ("My Week With Marilyn")

Tilda Swinton ("We Need to Talk About Kevin")

Rooney Mara ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo")

Why? Streep won the Golden Globe for drama; Williams won it for comedy. Davis is definitely in the running, but will new girl on the block Mara push out one of her older sisters (like Glenn Close, who cross-dressed for "Albert Nobbs")?
Best Performance by an Actor

Nominees:

George Clooney ("The Descendants")

Jean Dujardin ("The Artist")

Brad Pitt ("Moneyball")

Michael Fassbender ("Shame")

Leonardo DiCaprio ("J. Edgar")

Why? Clooney won the Globe and a bevy of other awards, but Frenchman Dujardin will be riding the wave of "The Artist" amour. Pitt is also a no-brainer, but then it gets iffy: Can Leo really be nominated for "J. Edgar" when it's not getting any love in any other category? Could Gary Oldman or Woody Harrelson creep in and push aside Fassbender, who was so good in so many movies?

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Nominees:

Octavia Spencer ("The Help")

Jessica Chastain ("The Help")

Melissa McCarthy ("Bridesmaids")

Berenice Bejo ("The Artist")

Shailene Woodley ("The Descendants")

Why? "The Help" actresses don't help each other by both being nominated, but they are definitely in the final five. McCarthy should be nominated -- but will her comic performance really be appreciated? Then come Bejo and Woodley, both excellent, both first-time contenders, and both riding on the coattails of the best-pic front-runners.

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Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Nominees:

Christopher Plummer ("Beginners")

Albert Brooks ("Drive")

Kenneth Branagh ("My Week With Marilyn")

Nick Nolte ("Warrior")
Jonah Hill ("Moneyball")

Why? It's Plummer with the lifetime achievement, Brooks for crossing from angry comedian to angry villain, and Branagh because he's, well, Branagh as Olivier. And then what? Hmm. Nolte does a slam-up job as a born-again alkie [JCW1] in a movie few people saw, and Hill pulled a Norbit and released "The Sitter" just as the awards streak for "Moneyball" seemed to slow. We'd love to see a left-field candidate pop up: Andy Serkis for "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," or Alan Rickman, to acknowledge his work for the Harry Potter series.

Best Director -- Motion Picture

Nominees:

Michel Hazanavicius ("The Artist")

Alexander Payne ("The Descendants")

Martin Scorsese ("Hugo")

David Fincher ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo")

Terrence Malick ("The Tree of Life")

Why? Hazanavicius and Payne are both riding front-runners. Scorsese won the Golden Globe for "Hugo" -- thankfully he didn't cast Leo in that movie! Fincher lost out last year for "The Social Network," so that may help him this year with "Dragon Tattoo." And, then, well, Malick and "The Tree of Life" haven't gotten any awards love so far, but that film is certainly daringly directed and will stand the test of time.

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Best Screenplay -- Original

Nominees

"Midnight in Paris"

"The Artist"

"Bridesmaids"

"Beginners"

"Young Adult"

Why? This is Allen's category to lose -- although he may pop up in director, too. Then come "The Artist," "Bridesmaids," and a nod to Diablo Cody for her dark-horse "Young Adult." It's a relatively weak category, so if "Beginners" doesn't make it, it could go to the cancer laugher "50/50" or the hardly seen indie "Win Win."

Best Screenplay -- Adapted

Nominees

"The Descendants"

"The Help"

"Moneyball"

"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"

"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"

Why? Adapted is the more muscular, competitive screenplay category. "The Help," "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," and "Moneyball" all have best-selling source material, while "The Descendants" capitalizes on its awards momentum.

Stay tuned: Tomorrow morning, January 24, we'll comment on snubs and surprises following the AMPAS announcement of the official nominees. And we'll be covering the awards season right up through Sunday, February 26, when the 84th Academy Awards ceremony will be held at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles, and broadcast live on ABC at 4pm PT/7pm ET.

See the trailer from 'The Artist':