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Is Best Supporting Actress far less wide open than we've been expecting? The precursors have really settled around four names: Anne Hathaway, Sally Field, Helen Hunt, and Nicole Kidman. No matter how strange the Kidman attention has been, it must be acknowledged that she's in a good spot. Meanwhile, SAG went with Maggie Smith, and the Golden Globes chose Amy Adams.
The bad news for fans of "The Master" is that, in the last ten years, when the Globes and SAG have disagreed, the Globes' choice has only gotten in when A) the SAG outlier has also gotten in* or B) when Meryl Streep was mistakenly submitted as a lead in 2002 for "Adaptation. Does this disagreement leave room for a wild-card outsider to crash the field, à la Maggie Gyllenhaal in 2009 or Shoreh Aghdashloo in 2003? Let's take a look...
Anne Hathaway, "Les Miserables"
Current Position: High-stepping it far in front of the pack.
Credits: A spotlight so bright it could blind half the attendees at the Kodak. She's the one thing that "Les Mis" fans and haters alike can agree on.
Demerits: I guess you could point toward her disastrous hosting gig a few years ago, but most of the blame for that one has settled on James Franco.
Historical Precedent: Jennifer Hudson in "Dreamgirls," if Jennifer Hudson in "Dreamgirls" could also act worth a damn.
In or Out? Are you kidding?
Sally Field, "Lincoln"
Current Position: Jogging all the way to Texas and back, but in second place.
Credits: Well-received performance by a twice-awarded actress in a featured role full of big, attention-grabby scenes. That's basically all the ingredients.
Demerits: There are some (ahem) who find the performance uneven and given to discordant fits of melodrama. But not nearly enough to make a difference.
Historical Precedent: Joan Allen in "Nixon" if you're feeling charitable. Renee Zellweger in "Cold Mountain" if you're not.
In or Out? Definitely in for a nomination. Not sure if she (or anyone) has the stuff to surpass Hathaway.
Helen Hunt, "The Sessions"
Current Position: Happy to be here. Really, really happy to be here.
Credits: She's been riding the buzz of a likeable, empathetic performance all the way from Sundance. It's been long enough since her post-Best Actress backlash that Hollywood is ready for a comeback.
Demerits: Fewer and fewer people are talking about the film now that the end-of-year heavyweights have come to bear. Independent-minded voters might put her down in the Lead Actress category and dilute her votes.
Historical Precedent: Marisa Tomei in "In the Bedroom." Tomei was never as reviled as Hunt became (in some critical circles, at least), but that win for "My Cousin Vinny" was quite the punchline until Tomei found herself nominated again.
In or Out? She's in and with one of the better stories among this year's Oscar nominees.
Nicole Kidman, "The Paperboy"
Current Position: Flashing her panties at the Academy voters, amazed that it seems to be working.
Credits: In a film as ugly, dumb, and unappealing as "The Paperboy," Kidman's performance comes the closest (give or take a Macy Gray) to a ray of sunshine. She's a big, Oscar-friendly star and she's been hitting the campaign trail for this one.
Demerits: The movie is going to turn a lot of people off. I'm guessing huge chunks of the voting body won't even watch it once. (Also, she's not THAT good in it; sorry, Kidman fans.)
Historical Precedent: If the gambit works, she's Diane Ladd in "Wild at Heart," probably the last time a performance this strange in a film this Oscar un-friendly got nominated. If it doesn't, she's Mila Kunis in "Black Swan."
In or Out? All precursor signs point to "in," and I'm probably only being stubborn by thinking she's out.
Amy Adams, "The Master"
Current Position: Judging the women in front of her in line VERY harshly.
Credits: She's a remarkably consistent Oscar favorite (three nominations in seven years), and she performs her role well.
Demerits: There's not much to the role, as written, and neither her character nor the film are anything to warm up to.
Historical Precedent: Penelope Cruz in "Nine." Not one person loved "Nine," but everybody just kinda loved Penelope on principle.
In or Out? The looser this category seems, the more I suspect that Adams will get in on her stellar reputation.
Maggie Smith, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"
Current Position: Giving less than half a fuck and very possibly about to be rewarded for it.
Credits: She's Maggie Smith, and at this point in history, we want to thank her for every performance she gives. Of all the actresses clamoring for the fifth slot, Smith has the SAG nomination.
Demerits: If you've actually seen "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (which you should; it's really quite charming), you know that Smith's role doesn't have that much to it. She's a grouchy old lady who learns to be slightly less grouchy.
Historical Precedent: Jessica Tandy in "Fried Green Tomatoes," except Tandy actually showed up to the award ceremonies where she was nominated.
In or Out? That SAG nomination certainly helps her case, but I can't remember the last time someone's TV fame was the prevailing reason behind a nomination.
Ann Dowd, "Compliance"
Current Position: Milling around the back of the pack, even though everybody else thinks she's the crossing guard or something.
Credits: Even among those people who find "Compliance" to be off-puttingly manipulative, Dowd's performance drew raves. She's got no real competition for the Adriana Barraza Memorial Acting Without Stardom slot.
Demerits: Not only does she have zero name recognition, but voters have almost no reason to nudge "Compliance" to the top of the screener pile.
Historical Precedent: Rosemary Harris for "Tom & Viv" in 1994 had the exact same precursor configuration (National Board of Review award for Best Supporting Actress + shut out at SAG and the Globes), but at least she had Miranda Richardson's Best Actress campaign to prop her up. I'd say Dowd is more like Jacki Weaver in "Animal Kingdom" in 2010, but Weaver at least had the Globe nomination to draw attention to her.
In or Out? It's going to be an uphill climb, and I wonder if this year's shorter voting window for nominations means that smaller, screener-dependent movies will suffer the most.
Judi Dench, "Skyfall"
Current Position: Pouring herself a scotch and being far too good for this sort of business.
Credits: She's Judi Dench, and she's a delight always. "Skyfall" was hugely popular, and the entire narrative thrust of the film was about Dench's M.
Demerits: The Oscars don't really go for Bond movies, nor action blockbusters in general.
Historical Precedent: Ruby Dee in "American Gangster" was another beloved older lady playing a mother figure to a popular screen presence.
In or Out? I don't think she's got quite enough to make it this year, though it'd be a lovely surprise if she did.
Samantha Barks, "Les Miserables"
Current Position: Oh ... you know. A little fall of rain can hardly hurt her now.
Credits: Aside from Anne Hathaway, Barks's performance of "On My Own" is the other thing everybody can agree on.
Demerits: Zero name recognition, intra-film competition (and how!), and the less-than-unanimous reception to the film means there's probably not room for multiple nominations in the same category.
Historical Precedent: Weirdly? Viola Davis in "Doubt." At least in terms of screen time versus her more high-profile co-star.
In or Out? Out. But I'm hoping the big next movie musical finds a place for her.
Salma Hayek, "Savages"
Current Position: Looking right the hell through you.
Credits: Um...she's the BEST?
Demerits: People seem to hate the movie. Nobody is really talking up the performance. Zero precursor awards.
Historical Precedent: None on record.
In or Out? Sigh. Out. What is wrong with you people?
*In 2010, Jacki Weaver (Globes choice) and Hailee Steinfeld (SAG choice) both got in, while Mila Kunis (Globe and SAG nominee) got left out. In 2008, Marisa Tomei (Globes) and Taraji P. Henson (SAG) both got in when Kate Winslet was bumped up to lead for "The Reader." In 2004, the Globes went with Natalie Portman and Meryl Streep, while SAG went with Sophie Okonedo and Cloris Leachman; Oscar split the difference and picked Portman and Okonedo.
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This year's Oscar predictions, Oscar Best Supporting Actress contenders and personal Oscar picks come from the eerily prescient mind of our Academy Awards expert, Joe Reid.