It says more about the Academy's taste than it does about the quality of the films in question when we can predict, with a high degree of confidence, who's going to be nominated in which categories before anyone has even seen many of the eligible movies. It's almost laughably easy even at this early stage to narrow the contending field in, say the Best Supportig Actor category, down to the kinds of actors, the kinds of performances, and the kinds of films that will catch the Academy's attention. (Which isn't to suggest that anyone I'll mention here didn't do a great job, either ... just that there are other great performances for the year beyond these.) So here're my predictions for the nominees:
Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech: A memorable character with an accent in a costume drama, performed by one of the greatest actors working today just in general? Catnip to the Academy.
Chris Cooper in The Company Men: In a contemporary tragedy in which the whole cast has a chance to shine by being sad, Cooper's quiet performance nevertheless stands out as deeply touching yet entirely unmanipulative.
Matt Damon in True Grit: Serial killers on horses? At least two of the three -- equines and murder -- seem to be at work here in Damon's appearance in the Coen brothers' latest, which surely establishes its arty cred.
Andrew Garfield in The Social Network: But also because he was so essential and so powerful in Never Let Me Go and Red Riding Trilogy. If the award were for a body of work in a single year, Garfield would be the winner by a long shot.
Sam Rockwell in Conviction: Prison is always a great place for an Oscar-nominated performance, and Rockwell give his all here. But it's a smallish part ... though Oscars have been awarded for smaller.
John Malkovich in Secretariat: He might be too clownish here -- the character is apparently somewhat exaggerated from the real-life horse trainer he's based on -- but Malkovich always makes chewing the scenery look like art.
Vincent Cassel in Black Swan: If the film isn't more horrific than the often squeamish Academy can take, he might have a shot.
Christian Bale in The Fighter: If the trailer is anything to judge by, Bale looks like absolute hell here -- way too thin and raggedy -- and the Academy always loves body modification for the dedication to the craft it demonstrates. Plus, you know, Bale is just a fantastic actor, so that helps, too.
LONG SHOTS (but only relatively speaking)
Kevin Kline in The Extra Man: It's a comedy, which Oscar tends to avoid honoring, but it's a dark, odd comedy, and Kline is such a kooky hoot.
Bob Hoskins in Made in Dagenham: Could be too small a role for the Academy to pay much attention to. As a plus, though, it's a small role with an accent.
Michael Nyqvist in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: The Swedish-language dialogue could be a mark against the film overall in the Academy's mind, even though Nyqvist is terrific.
Jack Nicholson in How Do You Know: Because he's Jack Nicholson.