On Sunday, The New York Film Critics Circle formally kicked off the Oscar Precursor Season with a somewhat surprising slate of awards.

Zero Dark Thirty took the top two prizes with wins for Best Picture and Best Director for Kathryn Bigelow. Lincoln dominated the acting awards with a Best Actor trophy Daniel Day-Lewis and Supporting Actress for Sally Field. Then they went way off the rails giving Rachel Weisz an award for a movie you never heard of and Matthew McConaughey an award for Magic Mike and Bernie. A crazy variety from the first group in.

The National Board of Review, the traditional first precursor before New York decided they wanted to be first, followed suit with another Zero Dark Thirty sweep, adding a win for Chastain in the lead role. The rest of their slate looked pretty typical with Bradley Cooper and Leonardo DiCaprio taking the male acting prizes, though there was a mild surprise with Ann Dowd’s win for Compliance. Two awards in and we’re already spread out with surprises and big contenders nabbing prizes.

It’s clear that after a few sparse Oscar Seasons, we finally have a dynamite slate that’s deep enough to come down to the end of January

So, of course, I’m going   with this year’s first edition of the Oscar Power Rankings.

As always, these are listed in order of likelihood of being nominated with no regard paid to who might end up winning.
 

BEST ACTOR

1 – Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln
Ever since Day-Lewis accepted the role of our 16th President he became a cinch for the nomination provided the film didn’t absolutely bomb with the critics and at the box office. It’s succeeded with both meaning it’s basically impossible for the two-time Oscar winner not to be nominated.

2 – Denzel Washington in Flight
With Day-Lewis likely to swallow all the precursor awards, this category will become increasingly hard to predict. I’ll slot Washington second for an against-type performance that ranks among his best. The only question will be if Academy voters can get by the tough subject matter.

3 – Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook
The revelation of this year. “Wow! Bradley Cooper can act!” The Academy loves a movie star owning his chops as an actor and this is the type of breakthrough that commands a nomination.

4 – John Hawkes in The Sessions
He’s the leader right now for the “Critics’ Darling in the movie nobody actually saw” spot.

5 – Joaquin Phoenix in The Master
A month ago, he was a total lock. Now nobody remembers this movie even existed. He’s going to need some major support from the critics’ groups to hold on to a nomination.

6 – Jean Louis Trin in Amour
The Academy loves these small indies and love to throw in the foreign-film acting curveball along with them. His powerful performance is traditionally Oscar bait and could see him upsetting an established star.

7 – Hugh Jackman in Les Miserables
If the Academy is ever going to nominate him, this is the perfect place to start. If the Academy is ever going to nominate him.

8 – Anthony Hopkins in Hitchcock
This was a total Oscar bait role from the start, and his performance was the best thing about the film

9 – Bill Murray in Hyde Park on the Hudson
His lone nomination came for Lost in Translation: A much more heralded role than this. Still, it never hurts to play a President.

10 – Ben Affleck in Argo
He’s going to need a whole lot of residual love to carry him through, but this is just the type of movie that can elicit that type of response.
 

BEST ACTRESS

1 – Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook
A past nominee here and the standout in a film that actors will devour. This is slight category fraud, but she’s looking a clear nominee as long as it sticks.

2 – Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty
It’s unlikely that this will be much of an actor’s piece, but neither was The Hurt Locker and we all know where Jeremy Renner ended up. Chastain has much more Oscar pedigree than Renner and this film may be even better.

3 – Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone
Cotillard has become a true Oscar darling in recent years and this is they type of critic’s favorite that typically thrives in this category.

4 – Rachel Weisz in The Deep Blue Sea
Winning the New York Film Critics Circle Award in a weak field instantly vaults you into the ranks of the predicted nominees.

5 – Emmanuelle Riva in Amour
Just like her counterpart, Riva is the beneficiary of the Oscar-baitiest of roles. It’s just a matter of how much of a widespread impact the film has.

6 - Quvenzhane Wall in Beasts of the Southern Wild
This will probably happen, but I’m letting my own bias against little kids who do nothing beyond walking around keep her out of the top five for now.

7 – Keira Knightley in Anna Karenina
Knightely always seems to be just on the verge of a major Oscar breakthrough. That’s probably we’ll she stay once again.

8 – Melanie Lynskey in Hello I Must Be Going
She drew raves on the festival circuit earlier this year and is going to need to rebound with the critics’ awards to move back up into the ranks of the nominees, but this is the type of performance that can do that.

9 – Helen Mirren in Hitchcock
An elderly Brit playing a Hollywood legend must always be considered at least an outside threat.

10 – Meryl Streep in Hope Springs
Just because she’s Meryl Streep.
 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

1 – Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln
His work as Thaddeus Stevens is drawing raves louder than those for even Day-Lewis. He’s virtually a lock already.

2 – Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained
This column isn’t about winners yet, but I’m on the record with this bold prediction: Leonardo DiCaprio is winning this award this year. That National Board of Review agrees.

3 – Robert De Niro in Silver Linings Playbook
Oscar loves a comeback and critics are already hailing this as De Niro’s big return to form. I expect the Academy to agree and give De Niro his first Oscar nomination in 20 years (Cape Fear).

4 – Alan Arkin in Argo
Love for this film is palpable, and Arkin seems like the only actor from it likely to make an impact. I doubt the Academy passes up the chance to nominate this former winner.

5 – Phillip Seymour Hoffman in The Master
Just like Phoenix, Hoffman was a lock a few months ago and then this film got overwhelmed by a stellar late-season slate. Now he’s holding on by the hairs of his mustache.

6 – David Strathairn in Lincoln
Earlier in the season, the buzz was going harder in Strathairn’s direction than it was Jones’. That’s definitely switched, but don’t count out this former nominee’s chance at a second nomination here.

7 – Edgar Ramirez in Zero Dark Thirty
I’m not sure which supporting actor is going to emerge from this film, so I’ll let the Carlos star hold down this slot for now. I think somebody’s got a shot from this film, I’m just not sure whom.

8 – Javier Bardem in Skyfall
The last time he played a psychotic villain, Bardem won this very award. I don’t think this is nearly as strong a case, but he should at least be considered.

9 – Tom Wilkinson in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
The Academy loves them some old Brits and Wilkinson was the oldest and Britishest in this early-season critics’ darling.

10 – Andy Serkis in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Here’s the annual spot for Andy Serkis’ potentially getting nominated for not actually appearing in a movie. I’m kind of putting him here as a reverse-jinx for now.
 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

1 – Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables
She missed the first two precursors, but I don’t think there’s any chance in the world Hathaway doesn’t get nominated for this show-stopping role.

2 – Sally Field in Lincoln
There are two locks in this category and she’s the second one. Either could be at number one. They’re both that locked in.

3 – Helen Hunt in The Sessions
This is almost a co-lead and Oscar tends to love those lead-as-supporting performances. This former winner looks poised to come back to the big stage.

4 – Maggie Smith in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Actually, she was the oldest and British-est.

5 – Amy Adams in The Master
It’s probably the best performance in the film and a truly frightening supporting role for this multiple nominee. But can she overcome this feeling like it came out a year ago and disappeared?

6 – Ann Dowd in Compliance
I’m not exactly sure who Ann Dowd is or what Compliance is, but she won the National Board of Review, so she must be considered a big threat at this early stage.

7 – Kerry Washington in Django Unchained
It’s unclear how impactful her role will be in this film, but I think it’s about time Tarantino got one of his ladies nominated after coming close with his last few films.

8 – Amanda Seyfried in Les Miserables
Remember a few years ago in Brokeback Mountain when Michelle Williams was a lock to get nominated in this category and Anne Hathaway had no chance despite having a similarly substantial role? Well, it looks like Hathaway’s turn to take down her co-star.

9 – Kelly Reilly in Flight
This is the type of “Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Bone” de-glammed breakout role that the Academy tends to honor. She’ll need a lot of critics’ awards love to make it happen, though.

10 – Jacki Weaver in Silver Linings Playbook
Can this film run the acting category gamut? She’s its only real shot at supporting actress, but a role beyond saying she made homemades isn’t too likely to sneak in.
 

BEST DIRECTOR

1 – Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty
Looking to go back-to-back in this category, Bigelow swept the first two precursors and is already looking like a certain nominee.

2 – Ben Affleck for Argo
The one film everyone can agree on and the one actor-cum-director that everyone is ready to honor. He’s a certainty as well.

3 – Steven Spielberg for Lincoln
He missed with Best Picture nominee War Horse last year, but this is a much better vehicle for him to get nominated and poised to break his (gasp!) five-year drought.

4 – Ang Lee for Life of Pi
This is one of those movies that’s a director’s achievement through-and-through and the Academy tends to honor the visionary behind it. Too bad it’s one of the biggest money-losers of the year – that’s the only thing keeping him from lock status.

5 – David O. Russell for The Silver Linings Playbook

After breaking through with The Fighter, Russell has put together an even stronger Oscar vehicle with this film. Give a few points on his getting nominated.

6 – Tom Hooper for Les Miserables
He rode the buzz all the way to an upset over David Fincher the last time he made a film. This time he’s helming a Christmas tentpole and is no longer the underdog. We’ll see how he fairs in that role.

7 – Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained
This film is the mystery of Oscar season. I’m choosing to believe in Quentin’s chances rather than being suspect.

8 – Peter Jackson for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
He got nominated for the other three films in this series, but his fourth is seeming much less likely.

9 – Robert Zemeckis for Flight
This movie didn’t quite hit as big as the live-action return of Robert Zemeckis should have, but the Academy may want to welcome him back anyway.

10 – Christopher Nolan for The Dark Knight Rises
He’s somehow never been nominated in this category despite being the best blockbuster director working right now. This is a long shot, but I’ll leave it in as a hopeful shot.
 

BEST PICTURE

1 - Zero Dark Thirty
Like its director, this film has swept the first two precursors and looks to be the frontrunner all season.

2 - Argo
Until Zero Dark Thirty hit hard to start the season, this was the frontrunner. Now it’s just looking like a mere lock.

3 - Lincoln
With big raves from critics, the industry and at the box office – this is looking like it’s going to max out its Oscar chances.

4 – Silver Linings Playbook
The crowd-pleaser of Oscar season is going to dominate the acting branch – the largest voting bloc in the Academy. It should cross the goal line to a nomination.

5 - Les Miserables
You’d think there’d be more buzz by now beyond the musical geek set, but it’s still out in the nether regions it seems. Still, it has too much pedigree not to be considered a favorite for a nominee.

6 - Django Unchained
I refuse to doubt Quentin Tarantino, even if this looks more like blockbuster than Oscar bait.

7 - Life of Pi
This dominated with critics, but its box office and overall disappearing act has gotten concerning. This is the most likely to drop off completely.

8 - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
I want to say this has no chance as there’s been very little awards buzz with it, but I just can’t count out the exact same group that gave us three consecutive Best Picture nominees.

9 - Amour
Probably the best bet at this moment for the “Tiny Indy That Nobody Saw” spot.

10 - Beasts of the Southern Wild
Unless it goes here.

11 - Promised Land
Or here.

12 - The Avengers
And now we get to the straight-out Blockbuster. The number one film of the year scored huge with critics and audiences. It’s gotta get a lot of precursor love to do the same with the Academy, and I think that’s a bit unlikely at this point, but it’s the best bet of the blockbusters.

13 - Skyfall
Unless they go here.

14 - The Dark Knight Rises
Or here.

15 - The Master
See how far we’ve fallen? The PT Anderson vehicle just fell apart in terms of buzz these last few months, and it’s barely hanging on to also-ran status at this point.

That’s it for this installment. Make sure to check back periodically for updates on the race throughout Oscar season!

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