There'll be anywhere between five and ten Best Picture nominees this year, depending on how many movies manage to get at least 5 percent of first-place votes*. That variable must be taken into consideration, whether you find that it increases the suspense (and therefore is a good thing) or decreases the chances of truly small movies getting a nomination (and therefore is a really, really bad thing).
This late in the game, only five movies are shoo-ins for a Best Picture nod: Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist (The Weinstein Company), Martin Scorsese's Hugo (Paramount), Alexander Payne's The Descendants (20th Century Fox), Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris (Sony Pictures Classics), and Tate Taylor's The Help (Walt Disney Studios).
Curiously, only three of the above have a strong chance of landing acting nominations: The Artist (Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo), The Descendants (George Clooney and possibly Shailene Woodley), and The Help (Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, likely Jessica Chastain, and possibly Emma Stone, Sissy Spacek, and/or Bryce Dallas Howard).
Even more curious is that – despite a SAG Award nomination for Best Cast – there's a Woody Allen movie in the running without a single likely Oscar nomination in the acting categories. (Midnight in Paris' Owen Wilson and Marion Cotillard are longshots.) To date, Allen has directed no less than 16 Oscar-nominated performances, including six winners (Diane Keaton for Annie Hall, Dianne Wiest for Hannah and Her Sisters and Bullets Over Broadway, Michael Caine for Hannah and Her Sisters, Mira Sorvino for Mighty Aphrodite, and Penélope Cruz for Vicky Cristina Barcelona).
Bennett Miller's Moneyball and David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are two very likely additions to the 2012 Best Picture list, though they have a problem: both are Scott Rudin co-productions/Columbia releases, which means vote-splitting could mean the difference between 5 percent (the movie is in) or, say, 4.8 percent (the movie is out). In the acting categories, Moneyball's Brad Pitt and possibly Jonah Hill should be respectively shortlisted in the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor categories; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's Rooney Mara is a possible Best Actress nominee.
Beyond the aforementioned seven films, things get really tricky. Strong front-runners before they opened (we're fully aware of the irony in that statement), Steven Spielberg's War Horse and Stephen Daldry's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close are now also-rans. Of the two, War Horse has by far the strongest chance of landing a nomination, especially if Disney, Amblin, and DreamWorks' executives and publicists (those who also happen to be Academy members, of course) have voted en masse for the Spielberg film as their no. 1 movie of 2011. Disney execs will probably have figured that The Help doesn't need their – bad pun intended – help at the Oscars, whereas War Horse needs all the assistance it can get.
* After some spreading around of “surplus” votes and “orphan” votes. The surplus is triggered after a movie is the top choice in more than 1/11th + 1 of the ballots (the minimum number of topmost votes required for a maximum of ten nominees). The surplus votes (now worth less than one full vote) are then redistributed to the second or third or fourth choice on each surplus ballot, depending on which movies haven't already been shortlisted as official nominees. Additionally, ballots topped by films that received less than 1 percent of the votes will also be redistributed.
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Bérénice Bejo/The Artist pic: The Weinstein Company.