WILL Skyfall be the first Bond film to score an Oscar nomination for best picture? Will French actress Emmanuelle Riva, at 85, become the oldest candidate for an acting award? Is best supporting actress an Anne Hathaway sure-shot? And is there any risk that voters will get Steven Spielberg's Lincoln mixed up with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter?
This Thursday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announces the Oscar nominations for 2013. It is earlier than usual - a calculated spoiler for the Golden Globes, which has its ceremony on January 13. This is the first time that Academy members - just under 6000 in number, with an average age of 62, according to the Los Angeles Times - have been able to vote online.
Some films are expected to do well across the board. Spielberg's Lincoln (opens February 7 in Australia) will be a presence in all the major categories, and Daniel Day-Lewis, in the title role, is a strong favourite for best actor. Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, with Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, is also likely to attract votes. David O. Russell's darkly comic Silver Linings Playbook (opens January 31) - with Bradley Cooper as a man trying to rebuild his life after coming out of a psychiatric hospital - is expected to do well. And Jacki Weaver, who plays Cooper's mother, could be in Oscar contention once more.
But she is up against the seemingly unstoppable force of Anne Hathaway, who went on an oatmeal paste diet to play the doomed Fantine in Les Miserables: the Oscar statuette is still considered to be firmly in the grasp of Fantine's cold, dead hand. Les Mis - which will probably score a best picture nomination - also has Hugh Jackman as a likely candidate for best actor.
The best picture category has become a wider field. Since 2010, up to 10 nominees can be chosen, after the much-criticised omission of The Dark Knight in 2009 led to a change being made, with the aim of bringing more widely popular movies into contention. The new Bond film, Skyfall - with favourable reviews and a billion-dollar worldwide box office - might score a nomination this year: the Producers Guild of America has just announced it as a PGA nominee, which is an encouraging sign for 007.
Ben Affleck's Iran hostage drama Argo is thought to be a strong best picture candidate with some good prospects in other categories. And Kathryn Bigelow's hunt for bin Laden action drama, Zero Dark Thirty (opens January 31), might have attracted furious debate over its politics, but it will still draw nominations, particularly for Jessica Chastain for best actress, for her performance as an obsessive intelligence analyst.
She's in a strong field. Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence is a likely contender for Silver Linings Playbook. And two French actresses are possibilities: 2008 Oscar winner Marion Cotillard, in Jacques Audiard's Rust And Bone (opens March 28), and 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva, in Michael Haneke's Amour (opens February 28). Amour, Austria's entry, is on the best foreign-language film shortlist, but it is also thought to be a chance for other nominations. And the focus could well be on youth as well as age; nine-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis, from Beasts of the Southern Wild, has already been nominated for several acting awards, and could get Academy voters' attention.
Australian Oscar contenders also include writer-director Ben Lewin for The Sessions, the story of a man who has spent most of his life in an iron lung, and seeks the help of a sex surrogate to lose his virginity: its lead, John Hawkes, is a favourite for a best actor nomination, as is Helen Hunt for best supporting actress. Lewin's script is also in the frame. Naomi Watts, playing a woman struggling with the aftermath of a tsunami in The Impossible (opens January 24), is thought to be a strong chance for a best actress nomination.
There will, of course, be other candidates, either little-known actors or smaller films that don't have the PR budget to run expensive ad campaigns. Could Ann Dowd - playing a fast-food restaurant manager who makes a very bad call in Compliance (opens January 17) - add a best supporting actress Oscar nomination to those she has already received? Will Rachel Weisz be able to translate the admiration for her performance in Terence Davies' The Deep Blue Sea into a best actress nod? A few pundits have fantasised about French director Leos Carax, or his actor-muse Denis Lavant, scoring a nomination for the extraordinary Holy Motors. Before next week, these sort of Oscar fantasies can still be indulged: it is, after all, one of 282 films eligible for best picture. And, with glitches already emerging in the online voting system, some Oscar watchers are wondering if the turnout will be low. Next week, all will be revealed.
The story Bond battles for Oscar nod against favourites and longshots first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.