We don't know how many Best Picture Oscar nominees there will be. We don't know how many Academy members voted, and how many gave up because they were were too confused by the new online voting or too strapped for time given the new, accelerated schedule.
But come Thursday morning at 5:38 and 30 seconds, we'll get some answers. And before we do – before Oscar host Seth MacFarlane and actress Emma Stone get up very early and announce the nominations for the 85th Academy Awards — TheWrap will take a stab at predicting what names will be read when the noms are unveiled.
Despite the chorus of pundits who once predicted a "Les Miserables" cakewalk or the ones who said "the race is over" after seeing" Lincoln," this year's race is more open and unsettled than any year in recent memory. At this point, I could make a case for five or six different movies to win — and I could also tell you the reasons why all of them will have trouble actually walking away with the gold.
So I won't try to pick a winner at this point. (OK, if you put a gun to my head I'd say "Lincoln.") Instead, I'll just sniff the prevailing winds in a confusing year.
For starters, it's important to keep in mind that the preferential system is used to count votes for Oscar nominations: Only the No. 1 choice on each voter's ballot counts, unless that film is eliminated from contention or unless it has far more votes than it needs to guarantee a nomination.
Only then will the accountants look at a voter's second, third, fourth or fifth choice — so it's vitally important to get those first-place votes, and it’s better to be first on 300 ballots than second on 3,000.
"Zero Dark Thirty"
"Silver Linings Playbook"
"Life of Pi"
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" (pictured)
That's eight nominees, not 10. In this open year, I'm afraid that a lot of films are going to fall into the no-man's land where they get more than one percent of the vote but less than five percent. If that happens, a large number of ballots won't be redistributed, and the chances for other movies to pick up extra votes and land those last few slots will be limited.
The first six films on the list, to my mind, are the heart of this year's Oscar race. I think the scrappy little indie movie "Beasts of the Southern Wild" will have enough passionate supporters to land a spot, and likewise "Django Unchained" has picked up enough momentum amid its controversy to secure a slot.
If the number of nominees goes to nine, which it might, I think Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" gets in; the film is maybe more widely liked than "Beasts," but without the passion vote that gives that fellow indie an edge. Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" has been fading with the guilds, but the passion vote could give it a surprise comeback with the Academy.
And if Michael Haneke's "Amour" is seen by enough Academy voters — or if the ones who see it are the ones who've figured out how to vote online — it could conceivably be a rare foreign-language entry to enter the big race.
A remote possibility: James Bond crashing the party with "Skyfall."
Steven Spielberg, "Lincoln"
Kathryn Bigelow, "Zero Dark Thirty"
Ben Affleck, "Argo"
David O. Russell, "Silver Linings Playbook" (pictured)
Tom Hooper, "Les Miserables"
If the top six films are "Lincoln," "Zero Dark Thirty," "Argo," "Les Miz," "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Life of Pi," that means the five spots should be taken from a pool consisting of Spielberg, Bigelow, Affleck, Hooper, Russell and Ang Lee. Conventional wisdom suggests that Russell is the most vulnerable of the group — and you could score one for conventional wisdom with Tuesday's release of the DGA nominations, which left out Russell but included the other five.
Still, I think "SLP" is too loved for that to happen with the Academy's Directors Branch voters, occasionally a tough-minded group and typically one that goes with four of the DGA's picks, but not all five.
But who drops out? My guess is that Hooper gets in on degree-of-difficulty points, and Lee is passed over despite pulling off an adaptation that might have been even more daunting than "Les Miz."
I came close to predicting a second upset, with Michael Haneke scoring a nom for "Amour" over Hooper or Russell. And it might well happen, though that top six seems strong enough that I can't bring myself to go on record as saying that more than one of them will be snubbed.
By the way, don't completely rule out Quentin Tarantino or Paul Thomas Anderson.
Daniel Day-Lewis, "Lincoln" (pictured)
Denzel Washington, "Flight"
John Hawkes, "The Sessions"
Joaquin Phoenix, "The Master"
Bradley Cooper, "Silver Linings Playbook"
With a slew of critics' awards already in the bag, DD-L may be the closest thing these Oscars have to a sure winner. Washington seems fairly secure, Hawkes increasingly so, and a lack of enthusiasm for "The Master" shouldn't keep the Actors Branch from saluting Phoenix's achievement.
The most pressing question: Does Bradley Cooper get in for his rich comedic turn in "Silver Linings Playbook" – and if so, who does he bump out? I initially thought that Cooper would only get in at the expense of Hawkes, both richly deserving, but now I wonder if Phoenix or Hugh Jackman ("Les Miserables") might be vulnerable. So I'm guessing that Jackman is out, Cooper in … unless the never-nominated Richard Gere shows up for "Arbitrage," in which case all bets are off.
Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Jessica Chastain, "Zero Dark Thirty"
Marion Cotillard, "Rust and Bone"
Naomi Watts, "The Impossible"
Quvenzhane Wallis, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Two locks, a lot of question marks and one interesting stat: The girl who'd be the youngest Best Actress nominee ever, Wallis (nine now, six when she made "Beasts") could well lose her spot to the woman who'd be the oldest, Emmanuelle Riva from "Amour." (She'll turn 86 on the day of the Oscars.)
Another challenger within striking distance is Helen Mirren ("Hitchcock"); she's well-liked and universally respected, and her role (in a Hollywood-centric movie) includes a monologue that always brings an audience to spontaneous applause.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Tommy Lee Jones, "Lincoln"
Robert De Niro, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Philip Seymour Hoffman, "The Master"
Alan Arkin, "Argo"
Javier Bardem, "Skyfall" (pictured)
The first four seem secure to me. For the last slot, Matthew McConaughey once seemed to have momentum for his role in "Magic Mike," while the late arrival of "Django Unchained" brought with it three viable candidates. The most viable: Leonardo DiCaprio if voters want to go with the traditional sense of "supporting," or Christoph Waltz if they buy the Weinstein Company's suggestion that he's not a lead.
And if "Les Miz" is the awards juggernaut many think it will be, that could help Eddie Redmayne for his standout performance as Marius.
But I'm guessing that this is where voters in the Academy's largest branch will decide to salute Bardem, the indelible villain in the biggest James Bond movie ever.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Anne Hathaway, "Les Miserables" (pictured)
Sally Field, "Lincoln"
Helen Hunt, "The Sessions"
Amy Adams, "The Master"
Maggie Smith, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"
Critics' awards gave a boost to Ann Dowd in "Compliance," but did enough voters see it in this shortened season? The fourth and fifth slots are wide open, and it's hard to discount Jacki Weaver ("Silver Linings"), Samantha Barks ("Les Miz") or even Kelly Reilly ("Flight").
Meanwhile, I have to admit that a little voice in the back of my mind is telling me that Nicole Kidman might really have a chance for "The Paperboy," and that I'm going to be feeling foolish after mocking the Golden Globes voters for selecting her.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
"Silver Linings Playbook"
"Beasts of the Southern Wild"
"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" (pictured)
The always-idiosyncratic Writers Branch tends to come up with a couple of the Academy's most adventurous nominations, which in this case could mean the touching high-school story "Perks" over the higher-profile "Life of Pi." Or could a James Bond movie find a way in? "Skyfall" isn't out of the question, and neither are "The Sessions" and "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" and a few others.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
"Zero Dark Thirty"
While it has a shot for picture and director, I think this is where "Amour" will definitely break into the mainstream categories. (Its French-language cohort "The Intouchables" could turn the trick as well.) "Looper" has won a lot of critics' awards in this category, but it'd still be something of a shocker; "Flight," "Magic Mike," "Arbitrage" or "Middle of Nowhere" could surprise as well.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
"Wreck-It Ralph" (pictured)
"Rise of the Guardians"
In the past couple of years, the category has frequently produced wild-card choices, often from the small distributor GKIDS. That company has four films in the running this year, but none of them seem to have the sizzle that nominees "Chico and Rita" and "A Cat in Paris" did last year (though "The Painting" and "The Rabbi's Cat" could sneak in).
Instead, this feels like a studio-heavy lineup, and a Disney/Pixar heavy one, with the company potentially putting three films ("Frankenweenie," "Wreck-It Ralph" and "Brave") in the final five.
Still, the Short Films and Feature Animation Branch has been known to surprise people. One possible shocker: "A Liar's Autobiography," the freewheeling, anarchic and messy film about Monty Python's Graham Chapman.
BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM
"A Royal Affair"
"The Intouchables" (pictured)
Last weekend, the nine shortlisted films were viewed by two blue-ribbon committees of 30 AMPAS members, who then chose the final five. One film, "Amour," is a lock. And I think the other eight are all possible, and the other eight are all vulnerable.
One possible key is that the final committees tend to be more adventurous than the voters at large, which could spell trouble for the handsomely-mounted likes of "Kon-Tiki," "The Deep" and even "The Intouchables," all clear crowd-pleasers, and work to the benefit of tougher works like "War Witch," "Sister" or the forbidding "Beyond the Hills."
The big question: Would the 30 members really leave "The Intouchables" off the list, when it's so popular a film that it has a real chance of appealing to mainstream Academy voters and beating "Amour" in the final voting? I think they just might. Not only is it on the mainstream side for the majority of the phase-two voters, but the folks who run the Academy's foreign-language process are keenly aware of long-standing criticism that their voters are conservative and out-of-touch, and they know that a win for "The Intouchables" over "Amour" would be portrayed by the press in just that light.
Still, as tempted as I am to predict that outcome, in the end I think "The Intouchables" will squeak in and end up not only as a nominee, but as a serious rival for the Oscar.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
"Searching for Sugar Man"
"The Invisible War"
"This Is Not a Film"
"5 Broken Cameras"
If the nine-film foreign-language shortlist contains one lock and eight potential nominees, I'd say that the 15-film documentary shortlist contains one or two locks and 13 or 14 possibles.
"Sugar Man," the most entertaining of the docs in contention, should easily stand out from the dead-serious rest of the field. "The Gatekeepers" seems to be the serious film with the biggest buzz at the moment, largely because of the access the film has to former chiefs of Israeli intelligence.
Beyond that, I'm guessing that the emotional clout of "The Invisible War," and the fact that it has changed U.S. military policy, will place it in the finals. And the branch that was adventurous enough to nominate the unconventional "Pina" last year will go for the wry and bravely rudimentary "This is Not a Film." And that the final nominee will be a smaller film that wows the branch's voters – maybe the cinema verite look at an ER, "The Waiting Room," but more likely "5 Broken Cameras," for its startling look inside the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.