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Originally published Sunday, January 6, 2013 at 5:30 AM

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‘Lincoln,’ ‘Argo,’ ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ poised for Oscar nominations

Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald handicaps the field of this year’s possible Oscar contenders.

Seattle Times movie critic

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Oscar nominations

5:30 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 10. Check local listings for broadcast details.

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Seems a little early for Oscar talk, doesn’t it? Rather than the usual late-January date, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will unveil its nominations slate this Thursday, at the ungodly hour of 5:30 a.m. What titles might we hear that morning, and what actors will pretend to be woken up by good news? Read on for major-category predictions, wild guesses and snowball-in-hell long shots.

Best picture

The Academy threw us a curveball in this category for the 2010 Oscars, announcing a change from five Best Picture nominees to 10 — then did it again in 2012, decreeing that there could be anywhere from five to 10 nominees on the ballot. (Last year, there were nine.) Under the new rule, each film needs to receive 5 percent of the first-place votes on the nominations ballot. So, guesswork is crucial here — how many titles will make the cut? I’m going to predict eight, just for the hell of it, but we’ll see.

Sure things: “Lincoln,” “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty” will be there, beyond the shadow of a doubt.

A decent shot: “Les Misérables” isn’t quite the slam-dunk it once seemed, but for sheer ambition it’s likely to find its way to the ballot; also probable are “Life of Pi,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Flight.” The Academy’s long been criticized for not including popular movies on its top list, and if it breaks that pattern this year, look for “The Dark Knight Rises,” “The Avengers,” “The Hobbit” and/or “Skyfall” among the best picture nominees. Likewise, if there’s room for an indie or two, the most likely would be “Beasts of the Southern Wild” or “Moonrise Kingdom.” “Anna Karenina,” “Hitchcock” and “Django Unchained” initially looked like Oscar contenders, but were met with tepid enthusiasm and may be crowded out here; “The Master” has passionate defenders but may be mystifying to many Academy voters.

Also with an outside chance: “Amour,” if the Academy makes a rare choice of a foreign-language film in this category, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” or “The Sessions” — though all are more likely to be nominated in acting categories.

Snowball in hell: Probably not enough voters saw “The Deep Blue Sea”; more’s the pity.

Best director

Sure things: You know Steven Spielberg will be named for “Lincoln,” without question; likewise Kathryn Bigelow for “Zero Dark Thirty,” and, ever-so-slightly behind them, Ben Affleck for “Argo.”

A decent shot: Were I a betting woman, I’d say the final two slots would be filled by Tom Hooper for “Les Misérables” and David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook.” And, if I were looking for a longshot, my money’d be on Robert Zemeckis for “Flight” or Wes Anderson for “Moonrise Kingdom.”

Snowball in hell: James Bond movies never get recognized in nontechnical or non-song categories — but shouldn’t Sam Mendes and “Skyfall” be an exception?

Best actor

Sure things: Like they should even bother pretending it’s a competition this year. Just hand the trophy to Daniel Day-Lewis now, for “Lincoln.” It would be, and surely will be, his fifth nomination in this category and third win — and richly deserved.

A decent shot: Well, there need to be four other guys on the ballot, so I’ll predict Denzel Washington for “Flight,” John Hawkes for “The Sessions,” Hugh Jackman for “Les Misérables,” and ... hmm, fifth slot’s a wild card. It might go to Bradley Cooper for “Silver Linings Playbook,” Anthony Hopkins for “Hitchcock,” Bill Murray for “Hyde Park on Hudson,” Jean-Louis Trintignant for “Amour” or Joaquin Phoenix in “The Master” — if Academy voters can ignore the latter’s stated lack of interest in awards.

Snowball in hell: I’d love to see Jack Black on this list, for “Bernie,” but I’m guessing he won’t be.

Best actress

Sure things: Jessica Chastain, who seemed to play a supporting role in every 2011 movie, finally got a lead in “Zero Dark Thirty” — and will undoubtedly get a nomination for her efforts. Also certain to be on the list is previous nominee Jennifer Lawrence, for “Silver Linings Playbook.”

A decent shot: Then things start to get interesting. Will this category demonstrate age diversity by recognizing both 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) and 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva (“Amour”)? Will there be room for perennial nominees Meryl Streep (“Hope Springs”) and Helen Mirren (“Hitchcock”), and shouldn’t the Academy just let them host? Did Joe Wright, who previously directed Keira Knightley to an Oscar nomination for “Atonement,” do it again for her with “Anna Karenina”? Is Laura Linney’s role in “Hyde Park on Hudson” showy enough to merit attention? Did enough viewers see Marion Cotillard in “Rust and Bone,” or Naomi Watts in “The Impossible,” both of which had very late releases — or Rachel Weisz in “Deep Blue Sea,” which came out only briefly last spring?

Snowball in hell: I don’t hear any buzz, alas, for Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who gave one of the year’s most remarkable performances as a young alcoholic in “Smashed.”

Best actor in a supporting role

Sure things: Alan Arkin won this category in 2006, for “Little Miss Sunshine,” and surely will be back in contention for “Argo.” Also a safe bet is another past winner: Tommy Lee Jones, for “Lincoln.”

A decent shot: This category’s always crowded, but expect the list to be filled out by some combination of the following: Javier Bardem in “Skyfall” (which would make the first acting nomination for a James Bond movie), Jude Law in “Anna Karenina,” Philip Seymour Hoffman in “The Master,” John Goodman for “Argo” or “Flight,” Eddie Redmayne in “Les Misérables,” Robert De Niro in “Silver Linings Playbook,” and Leonardo DiCaprio for “Django Unchained.”

Snowball in hell: There are easily half a dozen other “Lincoln” cast members that merit a spot here — Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Strathairn, John Hawkes, Hal Holbrook, Jackie Earle Haley, James Spader — but my guess is that, in the shadow of Jones, they’ll cancel each other out.

Best actress in a supporting role

Sure things: Three no-brainers here: Anne Hathaway for “Les Misérables” (the odds-on favorite to win), Sally Field for “Lincoln,” and Helen Hunt for “The Sessions.”

A decent shot: Though this category’s not as likely as supporting actor to reward veterans, two of them (both previous winners) could figure here: Judi Dench, for “Skyfall” or “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” and Maggie Smith, for “Quartet” or “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” Amy Adams, a frequent nominee, may well turn up again for “The Master”; and there’s quiet but persistent buzz for Ann Dowd in “Compliance.” Also possible: Jacki Weaver for “Silver Linings Playbook,” newcomer Samantha Barks in “Les Misérables,” or Jennifer Ehle for “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Snowball in hell: Probably too small a role, in a movie that quickly faded, but Scarlett Johansson’s depiction of Janet Leigh in “Hitchcock” was uncanny.

Campaigning for the awards will begin approximately one minute after the nominations announcement Thursday; winners will be announced in a ceremony on Sunday, Feb. 24. Ready or not, the award season begins ...

Moira Macdonald: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com or 206-464-2725.

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