Oscar buzz is building following back-to-back announcements of this year's winners of the New York Film Critics Circle and National Board of Review.
While the critics don't always predict the ultimate winners of the Academy Awards, they can help shape who the contenders will be.
On Tuesday, the New York film critics awarded best film to "American Hustle," giving Jennifer Lawrence, one of the stars of David O. Russell's fictionalized Abscam tale, the prize for best supporting actress. Wednesday, the National Board of Review gave Spike Jonze's science fiction romance, "Her," the top prize and named him best director.
"I think most people keep waiting for '12 Years a Slave' and 'Gravity' to turn up," Steve Pond, awards editor for TheWrap, told ABC News. "It's hard to imagine in the end they won't be very much in the mix. But it's not a year where it seems clear what movie is going to win, like 'The King's Speech' or 'The Artist' looked early on in past years."
"There's no question, it's been a really strong year, and a varied year, with great big movies like 'Gravity' and small ones like 'Fruitvale Station,'" Pond added. "It seems to be a very deep year where the Academy could use all 10 of its best picture slots.
More critics will weigh in with their lists in the coming days, including the Los Angeles film critics on Dec. 8. But Pond suggested looking at the guild nominations, including the Screen Actors Guild's on Dec. 11, for the best barometer of which way the Academy will vote.
Until then, click through to see our predictions for early contenders for an Oscar nomination.
'12 Years a Slave'
The National Board of Review did include the adaptation of kidnapped slave Solomon Northup's memoir on its list of the year's top 10 films, and the New York film critics gave director Steve McQueen the best director honor. Pond added that the film's star, British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, is one of the few locks for a best actor nomination.
Lately Hollywood legend Robert Redford has been behind the camera, directing. But he returns to his leading man status in the survival film "All Is Lost" in which he is the sole cast member. The New York critics named him best actor, but the National Board of Review went with Bruce Dern in "Nebraska." Pond said the best actor race this year is the biggest dogfight with "too many great male performances" in one year, though he expects to see Dern and Redford joining Ejiofor. Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christian Bale and Forest Whitaker will be among those battling for the final two slots.
The Academy and the public love Sandra Bullock, especially in her latest role as an astronaut stranded in space in "Gravity." Up to now, Pond said, the race for best actress has shaped up to be between Bullock and Cate Blanchett for her role as a wealthy socialite whose life falls apart in "Blue Jasmine." Blanchett was the New York critics choice, but the Board of Review went for Emma Thompson as the "Mary Poppins" author in "Saving Mr. Banks." Pond predicted that Judi Dench and Meryl Streep would round out the competition in this category.
Streep in the best actress category means we won't see the much-anticipated showdown between Oprah and Meryl. With the return of early favorite "The Butler" to theaters, Oprah Winfrey is sure to score a nomination for best supporting actress. Lupita Nyong'o, who played a tormented slave in "12 Years a Slave," will "unquestionably" join her there, Pond said, as well as Jennifer Lawrence, who "steals 'American Hustle.'" "Fruitvale" star Octavia Spencer, a previous winner, and "August: Osage County" co-stars Julia Roberts and Margo Martindale could be among those vying for the last two spots.
Michael Fassbender, as a brutal slave owner in "12 Years a Slave," appeared to have the momentum for a best supporting actor nomination until Jared Leto came along as the HIV-positive transsexual Rayon in "Dallas Buyers Club." Pond said Leto is "clearly the frontrunner," though Fassbender is a likely shoo-in for a nomination. Jonah Hill is also getting notice for his supporting role in the just released "The Wolf of Wall Street." Don't be surprised to see Tom Hanks for "Saving Mr. Banks" or Bradley Cooper for "American Hustle" as well.