Gulp. It's time. Time to actually lay my cards down on the table, stop the hedging and the "some believe" and "in my opinion" and actually make some damn Oscar predictions. I have to admit from the very top that I know it's dumb to attempt to predict Oscar nominees in any year, and that goes double for this year. This is an unusually open race even at this point, and no matter how confident you might be about the four or five movies likely to get the most nominations, actually soothsaying the lineup of each individual category is lunacy. It's never going to work.

So with that grain of salt in mind… here are my final predictions for the Oscar nominations, which will be announced this Thursday morning, bright and early at 8:30 a.m. EST. The major categories, with some explanation behind my choices, are included on this page, with the rest of the field included on the following two. I don't recommend placing any bets based on my thoughts. This is all for fun and games, and potential bragging rights if I somehow get this right.

If you want to see how I came to these conclusions and catch up on what the Oscar race has been like so far this year, read all the old Oscar Eye columns here.

Django Unchained
Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Moonrise Kingdom

As you can see, I'm predicting a Best Picture field of seven, though with the option of between five and ten nominees, there's no real way of knowing what the final count will be. If the category winds up including more than that-- and there are some who think we could have a full lineup of 10 Best Picture nominees-- I'd expect Moonrise Kingdom, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Amour, in that order. But last week's Producers Guild nomination for Skyfall gives plenty of reason to believe it could be in there. Seven seem guaranteed. Filling in the rest seems like a total shot in the dark.

Ben Affleck, Argo
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Tom Hooper, Les Miserables
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln

Michael Haneke, Amour
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained

It's the "degree of difficulty" factor that inspires me to include Ang Lee over the remaining three alternates-- plus yesterday's nomination from the Directors Guild, which seals the deal. Life of Pi is a massive project that many directors considered and abandoned, and it seems that the directors in the Academy will be willing to acknowledge that over the considerable work from Haneke, Tarantino and Russell. All three, however, are viable contenders for Lee's spot-- while Affleck, Bigelow, Hooper and Spielberg will all make it in barring some extraordinary shakeup, Lee could easily miss out in favor of one of those three

Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight

John Hawkes, The Sessions
Jean-Louis Trintignant, Amour

It might be pure stubbornness that has me including Joaquin Phoenix in the top 5. Most everyone will say he's on the bubble, and a lot of Oscar pundits have gone in for John Hawkes instead. But I think that the people who love The Master really love it, and even the people who don't love the movie know how tremendous Phoenix's performance is. And I think-- or maybe I just hope-- that it's enough to get him the nomination he very, very richly deserves.

Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Helen Mirren, Hitchcock
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
Rachel Weisz, The Deep Blue Sea

Beyond Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence no one has seemed locked into this category, and that's still the case-- any three of those alternates could pop up suddenly, though I'm skeptical that it would be all three. In the end I'm going with the group that has looked the strongest all along, and that includes Wallis, who wasn't eligible for a SAG nomination and who missed out on a Golden Globe, but who has such a strong story and appeal to voters that I think she makes it in anyway.

Alan Arkin, Argo
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike

Javier Bardem, Skyfall
Robert DeNiro, Silver Linings Playbook
Eddie Redmayne, Les Miserables
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

There's an enormous potential for surprises in this category, and I've decided to just go ahead and pick one of the biggest. I want Matthew McConaughey to be nominated in this category desperately, I think he can do it, and dammit, someone needs to predict this happening. Is it very likely for one those alternates-- most likely DeNiro-- to make it in instead? Sure. But you've gotta be bold at some point, and McConaughey's nomination is the one I want to see more than absolutely anything else on Thursday morning.

Judi Dench, Skyfall
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Maggie Smith, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Amy Adams, The Master
Ann Dowd, Compliance
Nicole Kidman, The Paperboy

Despite Nicole Kidman's huge groundswell, netting a Globe and SAG award nomination, and the potential strength of The Master, I think the relative chaos in this category favors the two easy choices-- Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. Both are in well-liked and popular movies, both are exceedingly well-liked and popular actresses, and without much passion behind the remaining picks, they seem like easy placeholders behind the three that are locked down (Hunt, Hathaway and Field). While in Supporting Actor I'm putting money on the wild bets I hope pay off, here it seems better to just go with the safest choices that now seem inevitable.

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