Since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences expanded the Best Picture category from five films to 10 in 2008 (and then to between five and 10 films in 2011), the Producers Guild Awards have been a fairly reliable barometer for predicting the final list. Over the last four years, there's an 80 percent correlation between the Producers Guild selections and Best Picture nominees. This year, "12 Years A Slave, " "American Hustle, " "Blue Jasmine, " "Captain Phillips, " "Dallas Buyers Club, " "Gravity, " "Her, " "Nebraska, " "Saving Mr. Banks, " "The Wolf of Wall Street" were nominated for Producers Guild Awards. That's a great list of worthy features, but two films jump out as vulnerable: "Her, " Spike Jonze's heartfelt love story about man and machine, and "Saving Mr. Banks, " John Lee Hancock's old-fashioned tearjerker about making movies. In the former's case, it almost feels too much like a movie that doesn't earn a Best Picture nomination; for the latter, it almost feels too much like a movie that does. With Harvey Weinstein's "Philomena" having made a late run at the same demographic that would seem susceptible to the charms of "Saving Mr. Banks, " that could be the one to miss.
Predicted nominees: "12 Years A Slave, " "American Hustle, " "Blue Jasmine, " "Captain Phillips, " "Dallas Buyers Club, " "Gravity, " "Her, " "Nebraska, " "Philomena, " "The Wolf of Wall Street"
Spoilers: "Inside Llewyn Davis, " "Fruitvale Station, " "Saving Mr. Banks"
After last year, when presumed Best Director favorites such as Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow were snubbed by the Academy Awards, who's to say what will happen in this crazy category? Let's try anyway: The most likely nominees are Alfonso Cuaron and Steve McQueen, two auteurs who have been written in as Oscar favorites since September. Also inching toward no-doubt status is two-time nominee David O. Russell, whose film, "American Hustle, " is among the trifecta of contenders to win Best Picture (along with Cuaron's "Gravity" and McQueen's "12 Years A Slave"). That leaves two slots for a surfeit of names: Martin Scorsese and Paul Greengrass (both of whom earned Directors Guild Award nominations for, respectively, "The Wolf of Wall Street" and "Captain Phillips"), Alexander Payne, Jean-Marc Vallee and Ryan Coogler. Despite last year's shenanigans, the DGA might have it right: Cuaron, Greengrass, McQueen, Russell, Scorsese. A five-for-five match between the Directors Guild and the Oscars hasn't happened in this category since the 2010 Academy Awards ceremony, but we'll go with it anyway.
Predicted nominees: Alfonso Cuaron ("Gravity"), Paul Greengrass ("Captain Phillips"), Steve McQueen ("12 Years A Slave"), David O. Russell ("American Hustle"), Martin Scorsese ("The Wolf of Wall Street")
Spoilers: Ryan Coogler ("Fruitvale Station"), Alexander Payne ("Nebraska"), Jean-Marc Vallee ("Dallas Buyers Club")
The year's most competitive category includes no less than 11 legitimate contenders for nomination (so if there's a shocking snub on Thursday morning, expect to see it here). That noted, there are some favorites: Bruce Dern, the 77-year-old star of "Nebraska" who has never won an Oscar, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, the heartbreaking backbone of "12 Years A Slave, " are running neck and neck on most pundits' lists. Matthew McConaughey, too, should be prepared to enjoy Oscar night as a nominee. Despite a snub from BAFTA, McConaughey's "Dallas Buyers Club" performance has been praised for months (and he won a Golden Globe for his troubles). Longevity is why Tom Hanks probably gets in too: Hanks' "Captain Phillips" role was hailed as his best in a decade. So, who gets the fifth nod among Christian Bale, Leonardo DiCaprio, Oscar Isaac, Michael B. Jordan, Joaquin Phoenix, Robert Redford and Forest Whitaker? We'll take DiCaprio, a recent Globes winner himself, since "The Wolf of Wall Street" represents the high-water mark of his career.
Predicted nominees: Bruce Dern ("Nebraska"), Leonardo DiCaprio ("The Wolf of Wall Street"), Chiwetel Ejiofor ("12 Years A Slave"), Tom Hanks ("Captain Phillips"), Matthew McConaughey ("Dallas Buyers Club")
Spoilers: Christian Bale ("American Hustle"), Oscar Isaac ("Inside Llewyn Davis"), Michael B. Jordan ("Fruitvale Station"), Joaquin Phoenix ("Her"), Robert Redford ("All Is Lost"), Forest Whitaker ("Lee Daniels' The Butler")
Best Actress has been Cate Blanchett's category to lose since last July, with three other actresses (Sandra Bullock, Judi Dench and Emma Thompson) becoming entrenched as likely nominees throughout last fall. It's the last spot that's a bit tricky. Meryl Streep was expected to be there for "August: Osage County, " but as that film's Oscar chances have waned, the door has opened for Amy Adams. (Indeed, she topped Streep in the Best Actress - Musical or Comedy category at the Golden Globes.) Adams, a four-time Oscar nominee, is fantastic in "American Hustle, " a film that has so much late-breaking momentum as a Best Picture candidate that it could carry Adams to a nomination even if she were merely adequate. It helps, too, that Adams is on an all-time run of performances, with not just "American Hustle, " but also subtle and varied character work in "Her, " "Man of Steel, " "The Master" and "The Fighter" fresh in voters' minds. Pencil her in, but be wary if only because Meryl Streep is still Meryl Streep. (Keep an eye, too, on "Blue is the Warmest Color" star Adele Exarchopoulos, who wowed Steven Spielberg at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and could act as an upset choice as well.)
Predicted nominees: Amy Adams ("American Hustle"), Cate Blanchett ("Blue Jasmine"), Sandra Bullock ("Gravity"), Judi Dench ("Philomena"), Emma Thompson ("Saving Mr. Banks")