Finally, it comes down to this. 10 Best Pictures. Only 5 Best Directors. The suspense is fierce over which five films would not have normally been nominated and have absolutely zero chance in actually winning. Testing that theory over just how honored it is to be nominated when the cynical amongst us see ten nominees as a way to boost interest in generally one of the most watched televised events of the year anyway. Will guilt over The Dark Knight sneak in less worthy blockbusters or a tripling of fanboy genre representation? Do any indie films really stand a chance? Is this the year when a second animated feature cracks the best-of-the-year list, thus guaranteeing its win in its own specialized category? The questions will be answered this Tuesday, Feb. 2 and the debate will reign on long after the winners announced on March 7. But first, the potential nominees.

THE LOCKS
Four groups with critics of varying respects and three major Guilds will make up this particular breakdown. As we did with the actors and the screenplays, we will look at what has been lauded by the Broadcast "Film Critics" Association, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (aka The Golden Globes), the Chicago Film Critics Association, the British Academy of Film And Television (or BAFTA) and three Guilds made up of Producers, Writers and Directors. Seven groups that have nominated 13 films in unison since 2001 (when the BFCA began nominations.)

A Beautiful Mind (2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), Brokeback Mountain (2005), Good Night and Good Luck (2005), Babel (2006), The Departed (2006), Little Miss Sunshine (2006), No Country For Old Men (2007), There Will Be Blood (2007), The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (2008), Slumdog Millionaire (2008)



This year they have added two more films to that list - The Hurt Locker and Up In The Air. You might notice the common denominator amongst the previous thirteen. That's right. All of them nominated. So we've got two nominees right there. You want two more? How about taking the Chicago critics out of the equation? Do that and there are another four titles that were nominated by the other six groups.

Moulin Rouge
(2001), Chicago (2002), The Aviator (2004), Frost/Nixon (2008)

Yes, the Chicago critics did not nominate Chicago for Best Picture. (And in 2004 did not have nominees and Sideways won.) Beyond that, though, that makes 17 films all nominated for the Academy Award when in the running from the other six bodies. Chicago may not have loved up Avatar and Precious for their top prize this year, but the rest of them did and it is hard to bet against a perfect batting average. Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds was snubbed by BAFTA as well as the Writers Guild (which disqualified it). That leaves it noms from the BFCA, Globes, Chicago, the PGA and the DGA. 17 other films (and not exactly those previous 17 films) have received at least that much support and all of them were nominated for Best Picture. And if this was anytime between 1938-2008, those would be your five Best Picture nominees. For 2009 though, we're only halfway there.

THE LIKELY
Since 1997, when a film has been nominated by at least the Producers' Guild and the BAFTAs they have a 88% chance of getting a Best Picture nomination. Only four times out of 36 (Billy Elliot, Almost Famous, Shrek, Cold Mountain) has a film failed to get a shot at gold. And that was only with five nominations. Even if you throw out its spot amongst the BFCA ten nominees, An Education was also in the ten slots of the PGAs and amongst the five of the BAFTAs.

THE FINAL FOUR
From here on out it is a crapshoot. It was a lot easier to look at the potential negatives of getting in then the positives. Invictus and Up, for example, have only been nominated in the ten slots from the BFCA and the PGA. Only two films since 2000 have received this specific duet of support - Road To Perdition (2002) and The Last Samurai (2003). Neither were nominated, but this is a whole new year and we have to look at things in fresh, new ways. Even if they mean just as little.

For example, we can consider the fact that only five films since 1998 (Elizabeth, Moulin Rouge, LOTR: The Two Towers, Master & Commander, Ray) - and none since 2004 - have been nominated for Best Picture without receiving one of the ten available Best Screenplay slots. If we care to assume that my prognostication skills are up to snuff, then five of the six aforementioned (likely) locks will be in contention while Avatar becomes number six on that other list. Surely, it won't be alone. They could be as many as three more films up for the grand prize without a recognization for its writing. Invictus could very well be one of them. Of the remaining five screenplays I'm banking on - Up, A Serious Man and District 9 have the best chance at a Best Picture nomination.

Want another stat? You have to go all the way back to 1981 to find five films that received a Best Picture nomination without receiving either a single writing or acting nomination - Master & Commander (2003), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), Beauty and the Beast (1991), The Mission (1986) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Avatar could be joining that list as well. (At least, it should.) Does that mean bad news for Star Trek and Nine or good news for The Blind Side and The Lovely Bones? Three of those five films, however, did indeed get a nod for their director - as is likely the case for James Cameron and Avatar. We can't really count on that list to help us since Kathryn Bigelow, Jason Reitman and Quentin Tarantino are all pretty much as good as in. Even if Lee Daniels is replaced for Precious, (the DGA noms have only gone 5-5-for-5 once since 1999) it's most likely going to be either Clint Eastwood or Neill Blomkamp. Unless, of course, a total loop is thrown and we get someone like Michael Haneke for The White Ribbon.



Blomkamp has only been singled out by the Online Film Critics Society this season though. Daniels was nominated by the BFCA and the DGA; Eastwood by the BFCA and the Globes. Between those three groups, the BFCA/DGA combo is 4-for-7 since 2001 hitting Roman Polanski (The Pianist), Taylor Hackford (Ray), Paul Haggis (Crash) and Gus Van Sant (Milk) but missing on Bill Condon (Dreamgirls), Sean Penn (Into the Wild) and Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight). The BFCA/Globes combo, on the other hand is 1-for-4, missing with Peter Jackson (King Kong), Joe Wright (Atonement), and Tim Burton (Sweeney Todd), but hitting with - wait for it - Clint Eastwood (Letters From Iwo Jima). Ugh! Could it happen again? Or do we go back all the way to the first awards package of the season - the National Board of Review - who named Eastwood Director of the Year, a category whose winner has missed out on an Oscar nomination 6 of the last 10 years.

The Producers Guild since 1999 are 36-for-52 in matching up with the Oscar. Just under 70%. If we translate that to their list of ten, then the numbers figure that three from the list of District 9, Invictus, Star Trek and Up are going to get screwed. 14 films in the last decade have received Best Picture nods without the benefit of a PGA nom. Since 2003 they have only been averaging one miss a year. So their percentage is at 80% for the past six years. If you had to choose 8 out of their 10 choices this year, surely you would have to go with Invictus and Up as the stronger players, right?

And then there were two. With four films likely in contention. Mathematically, Rob Marshall's Nine is in the best company. As I had written about films to be nominated by the BFCA, Golden Globes and for the SAG ensemble prize, "28 of the last 34 films to receive those three nods have moved on to an Oscar nomination. The six watching from the sideline were Being John Malkovich (1999), Almost Famous (2000), Billy Elliot (2000), Adaptation (2002), Dreamgirls (2006) and American Gangster (2007). Of those 34 however, only two of them (American Gangster & The Reader) received not a single nod from the Producers', Directors' or Writers' Guild." But both of them were nominated by BAFTA where Nine was not. We have all figured for a while that its chances were dead. Let's make it official.

Whose film gets in? Abrams, Blomkamp or the Coens? A Serious Man was up for Best Picture from the BFCA and Chicago as well as grabbing a WGA nod. Star Trek also got a writing nod to join its PGA nomination. District 9 was only slotted by the Producers Guild. Do we use a coin, a magic eight ball or our intuition? Eventually it all just comes down to a guessing game anyway. Sorry, Trekkers, but the gut says go with the writing. The same gut that believes unless Avatar ends up snagging those screenplay and song nominations, it will not lead the tally come Tuesday. What could lead the way? Here our my best educated guesses for what the final list could look like.


FINAL PREDICTIONS FOR THE 82ND ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATIONS

BEST PICTURE
Avatar
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Invictus
Precious: Based On The Novel Push by Sapphire
A Serious Man
Up
Up In The Air


BEST DIRECTOR
James Cameron - Avatar
Kathryn Bigelow - The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino - Inglourious Basterds
Lee Daniels - Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire
Jason Reitman -
Up In The Air

BEST ACTOR (See Breakdown)
Jeff Bridges - Crazy Heart
George Clooney - Up In The Air
Colin Firth - A Single Man
Morgan Freeman - Invictus
Jeremy Renner -
The Hurt Locker

BEST ACTRESS (See Breakdown)
Sandra Bullock - The Blind Side
Helen Mirren - The Last Station
Carey Mulligan - An Education
Gabourey Sidibe - Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire
Meryl Streep -
Julie & Julia

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR (See Breakdown)
Matt Damon - Invictus
Woody Harrelson - The Messenger
Christian McKay -
Me and Orson Welles
Stanley Tucci - The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz - Inglourious Basterds

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS (See Breakdown)
Vera Farmiga - Up In The Air
Anna Kendrick - Up In The Air
Diane Kruger -
Inglourious Basterds
Mo'Nique - Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
Julianne Moore - A Single Man

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY (See Breakdown)
(500) Days of Summer (by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber)
The Hurt Locker
(by Mark Boal)
Inglourious Basterds (by Quentin Tarantino)
A Serious Man (by Joel & Ethan Coen)
Up (by Bob Peterson & Pete Docter)

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY (See Breakdown)
District 9 (by Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell)
An Education (by Nick Hornby)
In The Loop (by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche)
Precious: Based On The Novel Push by Sapphire (by Geoffrey Fletcher)

Up In The Air (by Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner)

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Coraline
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Ponyo
The Princess and the Frog
Up

BEST ART DIRECTION
Avatar
Inglourious Basterds
The Lovely Bones
Public Enemies
Where the Wild Things Are

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Avatar (Mauro Fiore)
The Hurt Locker (Barry Ackroyd)
Inglourious Basterds (Robert Richardson)
Nine (Dion Beebe)
The White Ribbon (Christian Berger)

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Coco Before Chanel
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Inglourious Basterds
Nine
The Young Victoria

BEST DOCUMENTARY
The Beaches Of Agnes
The Cove
Food, Inc.
Garbage Dreams
Valentino: The Last Emperor

BEST EDITING
Avatar (Steve R. Moore, John Refoua & Stephen Rivkin)
District 9 (Julian Clarke)
The Hurt Locker (Chris Innis & Bob Murawski)
Inglourious Basterds (Sally Menke)
Up in the Air (Dana E. Glauberman)

BEST FOREIGN FILM
Ajami (Israel)
The Milk of Sorrow (Peru)
A Prophet (France)
The White Ribbon (Germany)
Winter In Wartime (The Netherlands)

BEST MAKEUP
District 9
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Star Trek

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Avatar (James Horner)
Fantastic Mr. Fox (Alexandre Desplat)
The Informant! (Marvin Hamlisch)
A Serious Man (Carter Burwell)
Up (Michael Giacchino)

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
"Almost There" (The Princess and the Frog)
"Cinema Italiano" (Nine)
"(I Want To) Come Home" (Everybody's Fine)
"Invictus 9,000 Days" (Invictus)
"The Weary Kind" (Crazy Heart)


BEST SOUND
Avatar
District 9
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

BEST SOUND EFFECTS EDITING
Avatar
District 9
Star Trek
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Up

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Avatar
District 9
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

TOTAL PREDICTED NOMINATION TALLY (Multi-Nominated)
10 - Inglourious Basterds
9 - Avatar
7 - District 9,
The Hurt Locker, Up In The Air
5 - Precious: Based On The Novel Push by Sapphire, Up
4 - Invictus
3 - An Education,
Nine, A Serious Man
2 - Crazy Heart, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, The Lovely Bones, The Princess and the Frog, A Single Man, Star Trek, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, The White Ribbon