Hello, everyone and Happy New Year! January for film is always bittersweet – studios release movies that didn’t deserve to be made in the first place, but January also means Awards season, which is exciting for most film buffs (whether they’d like to admit it or not). Let’s start off by clarifying that, despite what Spike Lee has said, winning awards does not make a piece of art any better or worse. What a yearly award show like the Oscars ought to do is give a sort of snapshot of the year in film. So, who will be coming home with some metal come Oscar night? At this point, it’s purely speculative. This post will outline the frontrunners for each category to give you an idea of what should happen. Our top 10 lists will tell you what we thought. Let’s start with Best Picture. Best Picture this year is beginning to look pretty clear, although it’s always subject to change. The 5 nominees are looking to be, in order of certainty:

Slumdog Millionaire The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Milk Frost/Nixon The Wrestler

At this point, it’s looking like Slumdog is the frontrunner. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, go see it now. It’s fantastic, it’s filled with hope, and it’s just solid filmmaking front to back. At this point, though, things are subject to change. Unfortunately, there is a sort of buzz upon which these films feed in relation to and leading up to Oscar voting. The runner-ups for this category are, in my opinion, The Dark Knight, Doubt, Revolutionary Road, and Rachel Getting Married.

The Best Actor category is going to be a battle between Sean Penn for Milk and Mickey Rourke’s performance in Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. I love Darren Aronofsky (The Fountain is a personal favorite of mine) and would love to see The Wrestler pick up a few awards. Rourke certainly deserves Best Actor though. As good as Sean Penn was, Mickey just killed it. Another possibility is Frank Langella, who will certainly receive a nomination for his turn as President Nixon. He might gain some strength in the coming weeks.

Best Actress is a tough category to call, although at this point the nominations (again, in order of certainty) look like:

Meryl Streep in Doubt Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married Kate Winslet in Revolutionary Road Angelina Jolie in Changeling.

Now, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jolie didn’t end up getting a nomination, although I would personally like to see her get one. The fourth and fifth slots in this category will be interesting to see but ultimately futile because it will be between Close, Hathaway, and Streep. I could see Kristin Scott Thomas getting a nomination for her powerhouse turn in Il y a longtemps que je t’aime and I think Sally Hawkings has a good chance for Happy-Go-Lucky. Otherwise, there is Cate Blanchett in Benjamin Button and (maybe, just maybe) Michelle Williams for Wendy and Lucy. A man can hope.

Best Supporting Actor is virtually unpredictable. I wouldn’t even call Heath Ledger a lock for the win – Philip Seymour Hoffman is just lurking in the background, hungry for another Oscar. The Golden Globes nominations for this category were really screwy. Tom Cruise will not get a nomination for Tropic Thunder, but I might (just might!) see Robert Downey, Jr. get one. He was beyond hysterical in the movie and I think he deserves at least a nomination. James Franco should get one for Milk, but he might get overlooked for Brolin’s okay (I didn’t think it was that great) supporting role in the same flick. This is the category to watch, because I have NO idea where the Academy will go with this.

Supporting Actress is a bit easier to predict. Here are the nominations as I think they will turn out (again, in order of most certain to least):

Penelope Cruz for Vicky Cristina Barcelona Viola Davis for Doubt Marisa Tomei for The Wrestler Kate Winslet for The Reader Rosemary DeWitt for Rachel Getting Married

Now, it’s entirely possible that DeWitt will fade in voters’ minds. I think Debra Winger deserves second place for her performance in Rachel Getting Married (I thought Cruz was just perfect in VCB and should win) but she will more likely than not get overlooked. Davis and Tomei are very strong competition for the prize, however – Cruz is no longer the shoo-in. Other performances to watch include Amy Adams in Doubt and Taraji P. Henson in Benjamin Button.

Best Director seems pretty clearly to be between Danny Boyle, David Fincher, Ron Howard, and Gus Van Sant. I would absolutely love to see Aronofsky get the fifth nomination, but it will probably be Eastwood or Christopher Nolan (who rightfully deserves the nomination, don’t get me wrong).

Well, that about sums up the big 6. Stay tuned for more speculation and buzz. I’ll be posting reaction blogs for the Indie Spirits, the Golden Globes, the Directors Guild, and the Oscars – so keep reading!