If you're ready to embrace the spirit of the new year and leave the movies of 2011 behind, too bad-- we are in the thick of awards-giving season, and with the Golden Globe awards happening next Sunday and the Oscar nominations coming January 24, it it still very much time to consider the best of 2011, especially since there's not much good out there for 2012 yet anyway. December was all about sifting thorugh the critic's awards, figuring out which films were becoming the critical darlings and figuring out how that might translate into more awards-- you can read my column on that here. Now, in January, we've got a ton of industry guilds picking their nominees, along with the Golden Globes, which are voted on by an anonymous cabal of random journalists, but are publicly celebrated enough to affect the Oscar race anyway. To figure out what they all mean. let's take it group by group.

The critics. There are approximately a gazillion critic groups handing out awards and nominations, and while there hasn't been a steamroller of support for a single film (the way there was for The Hurt Locker and The Social Network in the last two years), one movie emerged strongest of the bunch: The Artist. I watched it happen myself in my own critic's groups, as people threw out votes for a huge variety of films in every category, but inevitably The Artist would rise to the top, not necessarily the top choice among a lot of people, but popular enough to win out in the end. The Artist was named best picture by the New York Film Critics Circle, The Boston Film Critics, the San Diego Film Critics, and my own group, the New York Film Critics Online; the only film to get even close to that much support was The Descendants, which won the top prize from the Los Angeles critics and the Houston critics. And even though The Tree of LIfe is the statistical winner among critic's top 10 lists overall-- you can read a lot of analysis of that here-- The Artist had a lot of support on individual lists too. The critics like it, they really like it.

The Golden Globes. Announced back in December, the Globe nominations, as usual, largely reflected which celebrities the Hollywood Foreign Press wanted to show up to their awards ceremony. That probably explained the strong presence of The Ides of March, which even landed George Clooney the Best Director nomination he's almost guaranteed not to get anywhere else, or the inclusion of Carnage so that both Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet could get nominations as Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical. But the Globes also stuck their necks out for smaller films and performances that seemed like longshots, like Tilda Swinton in We Need To Talk About Kevin, or the actresses of Albert Nobbs, Glenn Close and Janet McTeer, who had struggled to get any critical attention. When you're a small film and the star-friendly Globes go for you, you might really have a shot. By far the most baffling thing about the Globes was the exclusion of Melissa McCarthy as Best Supporting Actress, even though Kristen Wiig was nominated as lead actress and Bridesmaids got the expected nod for Best Comedy or Musical. I'm still not sure how to explain that one.

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards. Often considered to be the strongest Oscar precursor, given that so many of the Oscar voters are themselves actors, the SAG nominations-- which went out December 14 and can be read in full here-- similarly confirmed the strength of some smaller performances that seemed to be struggling. Both Glenn Close and Tilda Swinton showed up there too, indicating that they won't be bumped out of Best Actress by some young up and comer like Martha Marcy May Marlene's Elizabeth Olsen or The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo's Rooney Mara. Nick Nolte made it in for Warrior as Best Supporting Actor, keeping him alive in a category that's been dominated with wins from Christopher Plummer and Albert Brooks, leaving everything else very unclear. And by nominating both Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer for The Help, SAG seemed to cement that film's double-dip status in that category-- though making it utterly unclear who might win. Same goes for nominating Melissa McCarthy, and even the entire cast of Bridesmaids for Best Ensemble-- I still think that means squat for the movie's Best Picture chances, but McCarthy seems like a very likely nominee. The real wild card of the nominations was Jonah Hill for Moneyball, who also scored a Golden Globe nomination; could Jonah Hill really be nominated for an Oscar? It's at least very possible, if not necessarily likely.

The Producers Guild of America (PGA) Awards. A few years ago, when the Oscars made the switch to 10 Best Picture nominees, the Producers Guild followed suit. Now that the Oscar nominees will be between 5 and 10 on a sliding scale based on how many #1 vote each film gets, the PGAs have held strong, meaning they nominated 10 films even though 10 Best Picture nominees seem unlikely. So does it mean anything that Bridesmaids and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and The Ides of March made their way in here? It's at least interesting to see them as the potential outsiders trying to crowd their way into Best Picture, especially given some of the films absent from this list-- The Tree of Life namely, but also Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, which now seems to be officially out of contention for Best Picture. But the PGA list otherwise seemed like what most people have been predicting as the Oscar pool. The only question now is which will make the final cut.

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) Awards. A whole slew of big contender films weren't eligible for these for various reasons-- In Contention has a good list-- so don't make too much of the fact that Oscar heavies like The Artist, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, My Week With Marilyn or Beginners are absent here. But the Original Screenplay category is still refreshing, and it seems likely we'll see something like Tom McCarthy's Win Win or Diablo Cody's Young Adult slip in here where they might not get attention elsewhere (sorry, Charlize Theron-- I was really rooting for you as Best Actress). But with 10 films to choose from and ability to go a little weird, the screenplay nominees don't often reflect Best Picture note for note, and the WGA nominees definitely don't either.

The Directors Guild of America (DGA Awards. These nominations don't go out until Monday, but given how closely the DGA lineup usually aligns with the Oscar Best Director lineup, there probably won't be a ton of surprises here-- Martin Scorsese, Alexander Payne and MIchel Hazanavicius should all be locked in place with nominations, with Bennett Miller, Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen, David Fincher, Terrence Malick and even The Help's Tate Taylor competing for the remaining two slots. How this lines up should give us an even better sense of what the big Best Picture frontrunners are.

With that out of the way, it's on to the charts, where we're once again pruning and locking down the real contenders. Oscar nominations are just a few weeks away, so it's time to start committing and letting go of some long-shot hopefuls. Sad but true!

oscar winner prediction

I've done a lot of cleaning up at the bottom of this category, trying to leave in only the films that seem legitimately possible of popping into the Best Picture category as surprises. But it's really just the top two categories you need to keep an eye on, with a nod to the third tier, where any of those films could pop in and knock something out. Only the top three still feel like locks, though Moneyball would probably be a smart pick for a fourth.


The Artist
The Descendants
The Help

Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
War Horse

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Ides of March
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
J. Edgar
My Week WIth Marilyn
Young Adult

oscar winner prediction

Somehow I can't bring myself to put Scorsese down as a lock, even though he's shown up everywhere imaginable for honors-- maybe it's the box office performance of Hugo that stops me. Similarly I can't put Bennett Miller in there, even though Moneyball remains a very, very solid Best Picture nominee. So the top two categories here remain the same, beyond bumping up Tate Taylor, who if he gets a DGA nomination on Monday will suddenly be very possible as a spoiler here. He directed one of the year's most popular movies; why shouldn't he be considered?

Michel Hazanvicius, The Artist
Alexander Payne, The Descendants

Woody Allen, Midnight In Paris
David Fincher, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life
Bennett Miller, Moneyball
Martin Scorsese, Hugo
Steven Spielberg, War Horse Tate Taylor, The Help

Tomas Alfredson, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
George Clooney, The Ides of March
Clint Eastwood, J. Edgar

Stephen Daldry, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Steve McQueen, Shame
Mike Mills, Beginners
Jason Reitman, Young Adult

oscar winner prediction
With Moneyball holding firm, Brad Pitt now seems a lock for his masterful star turn, which gives us three. Beyond them it really does seem to be a drag-out between the remaining three for the last two spots, though of course, there's still room for a surprise like Demian Bichir to show up, like he did at SAG. With so many top-heavy great performances though, this category seems to have settled among those top 6.


George Clooney, The Descendants
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar
Michael Fassbender, Shame
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Ryan Gosling, The Ides of March
Michael Shannon, Take Shelter

Demian Bichir, A Better Life
Woody Harrelson, Rampart

oscar winner prediction
Like Best Actor, this category has settled around a handful of heavyweights-- including, however improbably, Tilda Swinton. I'm still not giving up on the idea that either Olsen or Mara could pop in for an ingenue role, or that someone might finally recognize how flippin' great Theron is in Young Adult, but otherwise this looks to be one of the oldest Best Actress lineups in a long while, with Meryl Streep once again duking it out up top, this time against frontrunner Viola Davis. That should be a fun face-off to watch.


Viola Davis, The Help
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Rooney Mara, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Tilda Swinton, We Need To Talk About Kevin

Charlize Theron, Young Adult

Kirsten Dunst, Melancholia

oscar winner prediction
By the sheer, miraculous virtue of hanging in there, Albert Brooks has found himself a lock for his unlikely Best Supporting Actor campaign-- he and Christopher Plummer seem to be the only actors anyone has eyes for, though I still think Plummer will win it. The rest of the field is so shaky that it seems totally ripe for surprises, including Ezra Miller, who I include only because everyone seems to be seeing We Need to Talk About Kevin for Swinton's performance, so why not include him too? There are a lot of good choices here, so it will be hard for me to finally settle on 5 predictions-- I like pretty much any of the combinations presented here.


Albert Brooks, Drive
Christopher Plummer, Beginners

Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
Armie Hammer, J. Edgar
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Ben Kingsley, Hugo

Nick Nolte, Warrior
Patton Oswalt, Young Adult
Brad Pitt, The Tree of Life

Robert Forster, The Descendants
Ezra Miller, We Need To Talk About Kevin

oscar winner prediction
Shailene Woodley didn't get a SAG nomination, but I still stand by her as a lock given the overall love for The Descendants. And Jessica Chastain is almost one too, however improbable it seems that she and Spencer will both compete. And now that The Artist continues its love-fest across the board, Berenice Bejo is suddenly a very real contender, despite being surrounded by such stronger performances. It's hard to know how that combination of people will make up the final three slots in the category, though if anyone is going to go, it's probably, sadly, Melissa McCarthy. Here's hoping she can continue riding her incredible wave of buzz to make it in after all.

Octavia Spencer, The Help
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants

Berenice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help/Tree of Life/Take Shelter
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs

Carey Mulligan, Shame
Vanessa Redgrave, Coriolanus

Charlotte Gainsbourg, Melancholia

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