When Oscar nominations are announced Tuesday morning, pay special attention to which film has the most bids -- "The Artist" or "Hugo." Over the past 20 years, the movie with the most noms has won Best Picture 15 times. Currently, the experts polled by Gold Derby give "The Artist" overwhelming odds (6 to 5) to prevail, but, if "Hugo" is a serious threat, that may become evident by it leading early on with the most category mentions.
Three other films will certainly be nominated for Best Picture too -- "The Descendants," "The Help" and "Midnight in Paris" -- but suspense looms over which other flicks might make the cut. This year the number of nominees in the category is flexible. There will be a minimum of five, but there could be as many as 10 if others receive more than 5 percent of first-placed votes on the ballots of academy members.
The next five films with strongest support are "War Horse," "Moneyball," "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," "The Tree of Life" and "Bridesmaids." "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" has a shot, but, beyond that, if any other contender bumps these front-runners and makes the list, its addition will be a jaw-dropper.
Here's how the other top races are shaping up:
BEST ACTOR Four contenders seem like locks to get in: George Clooney ("The Descendants"), Jean Dujardin ("The Artist"), Brad Pitt ("Moneyball") and Michael Fassbender ("Shame"). That fifth slot could go to Leonardo DiCaprio ("J. Edgar"), Gary Oldman ("Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy") or surprise SAG nominee Demian Bichir ("A Better Life"). Clooney is out front to win with 8 to 11 odds from the Oscarologists at Gold Derby.
BEST ACTRESS Viola Davis ("The Help") and Meryl Streep ("The Iron Lady") are neck and neck to win, with Michelle Williams ("My Week with Marilyn") in show position on this racetrack. The other two nominees will probably be Glenn Close ("Albert Nobbs") and Tilda Swinton ("We Need to Talk About Kevin"), but one of them could be bumped by Rooney Mara ("Girl with the Dragon Tattoo").
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR Christopher Plummer ("Beginners") is so far out front to win (4 to 9 odds) that it's virtually impossible for him to lose on Oscar night. Other likely nominees: Albert Brooks ("Drive"), Kenneth Branagh ("My Week with Marilyn") and Jonah Hill ("Moneyball"). What gets into that fifth spot is a toss-up: Nick Nolte ("Warrior"), Max von Sydow ("Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"), Andy Serkis ("Rise of the Planet of the Apes"), Patton Oswalt ("Young Adult") or Ben Kingsley ("Hugo").
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS Octavia Spencer ("The Help") for the win (8 to 11 odds). Berenice Bejo could pull off an upset if there's a juggernaut for "The Artist" on Oscar night, but category confusion surrounds her candidacy. She really belongs in the lead race and Oscar voters might put her there, but the film's producers are campaigning her in Supporting because there's less competition. Jessica Chastain ("The Help") and Melissa McCarthy ("Bridesmaids") will certainly be nominated too. Shailene Woodley ("The Descendants") and Janet McTeer ("Albert Nobbs") duke it out for that fifth slot.
BEST DIRECTOR Guaranteed nominees: Michel Hazanavicius ("The Artist"), Alexander Payne ("The Descendants"), Martin Scorsese ("Hugo") and Woody Allen ("Midnight in Paris"). That fifth spot could go to Terrence Malick ("Tree of Life"), David Fincher ("Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"), Tate Taylor ("The Help") or -- outside shot -- Steven Spielberg ("War Horse").
Head to GoldDerby.com for the full Oscar predictions chart.