It seems like Anne Hathaway has had this category sewn up since those first notes of "I Dreamed a Dream" in that first "Les Miserables" trailer. But after a season's worth of picked-apart acceptance speeches and "Les Mis" fatigue, could the extra-long awards season mean voters started looking at other options? Let's see...
Anne Hathaway, "Les Miserables"
Oscar History: This is her second nomination, having previously been up for Best Actress in "Rachel Getting Married" (for which she should have won).
What's the Story if She Wins? Another example of how One Big Song can be enough. Jennifer Hudson sure won on that basis. Hathaway's "I Dreamed a Dream" scene appears to have won her the trophy all by itself. The other story is that - while she’s never been more beloved by the Hollywood community - she's the most hated she's ever been among the peanut gallery. It's not a matter of "when will the backlash hit" at this point, but rather "how long will the backlash last"?
Predicted Order of People She'll Thank: The Academy (for forgiving her for the 2010 hosting disaster), Tom Hooper, Hugh Jackman, her mom, the rest of her family, her fellow nominees, especially Helen Hunt (who she thought was such a trailblazer in "Twister"), her high-school drama teacher (or some other reason to bring up how she was a gawky teenager).
What Are the Odds? Very good. Very, very good. "Lock" is not a word that should be thrown around lightly, and Daniel Day-Lewis is hogging that status this year. There's a chance that Hathaway Fatigue will have reached the Oscar voters in time, but it's very unlikely.
Sally Field, "Lincoln"
Oscar History: Two nominations. Two wins ("Norma Rae" in 1979; "Places in the Heart" in 1980). A perfect record that is under serious threat this year.
What's the Story if She Wins? Not to succumb to cliché, but: They really, really, REALLY like her. Expect no fewer than six hundred iterations of that sentiment, in headlines and tweets and your own nightmares. It could also be huge news for "Lincoln," especially if Tommy Lee Jones also wins Supporting Actor. No film has won three acting awards since "Network" in 1976.
Predicted Order of People She'll Thank: The Academy, Spielberg, Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, her family, Anne Hathaway (for looking up to her), Helen Hunt (for doing the TV-to-movies thing like she did), Amy Adams (for playing a nun like she did), Jacki Weaver (for taking the Sally Field Role in "Silver Linings Playbook").
What Are the Odds? Certainly, any kind of alternative to Hathaway possibility has coalesced around Field. Her performance did not prove to be half as divisive as I expected it to be (I guess we're all just used to Sally being heavingly melodramatic half the time?), and every time Hathaway gets up on a stage and bubbles over with horrible, horrible youth, I imagine that a few more people check off Sally's name on their ballots.
Helen Hunt, "The Sessions"
Oscar History: One previous nomination, and win, for "As Good As It Gets."
What's the Story if She Wins? People in Hollywood are way more tight-lipped than you may have expected. NOBODY has talked about Helen Hunt or "The Sessions" since the nominations were announced. She's the epitome of "happy to be nominated."
Predicted Order of People She'll Thank: Ben Lewin, John Hawkes, Fox Searchlight, the real-life Cheryl Cohen-Greene and Mark O'Brien, her old friends at NBC, who are having a real hard time of it lately.
What Are the Odds? I really can't see it happening. Not with zero other nominations for "The Sessions." But Helen Hunt is relevant again! It's a brand new world.
Jacki Weaver, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Oscar History: This is her second nomination, previously nominated for "Animal Kingdom" in 2010.
What's the Story if She Wins? "Silver Linings" takeover! If Weaver scores the improbable upset early in the evening, I'd look out for "Silver Linings Playbook" to possibly upset in Adapted Screenplay, Director, and maybe Best Picture.
Predicted Order of People She'll Thank: David O. Russell, Harvey Weinstein, Robert DeNiro, Bradley Cooper, Chris Tucker, Jennifer Lawrence, the country of Australia, Louise MacDougal, the Philadelphia housewife who invented homemade and crabby-snacks in the 1970s.
What Are the Odds? Not likely, but -- and this happened in 2010 as well -- there's something about Weaver that makes you think that she could be the recipient of an avalanche of "just because we like her" votes at any time.
Amy Adams, "The Master"
Oscar History: This is her fourth nomination in eight years, all in the Supporting Actress category ("Junebug," "Doubt," "The Fighter").
What's the Story if She Wins? Fourth time's the charm, certainly. Maybe voters wanted to get ahead of the "When Is Amy Going to Win One" conversation that is bound to surface the next time she's nominated.
Predicted Order of People She'll Thank: Paul Thomas Anderson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, the Academy for not holding the "Julie" parts of "Julie & Julia" against her.
What Are the Odds? It's tough to say. The fact that all three principal cast members of "The Master" were nominated means the Academy responded to the film in SOME way, but the zero nominations elsewhere certainly suggests they weren't over the moon for it. Adams is a huge Academy favorite, but you get the sense that they know they'll end up nominating her again for something, so no urgency to award her now.