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Oscars: Dave Karger predicts the nominees

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Here are my latest predictions for who’ll get nominated in the eight main Oscar races on Feb. 2. My Best Picture picks are immediately below; the other seven categories are after the jump.

Best Picture

Avatar

District 9

An Education

The Hurt Locker

Inglourious Basterds

Invictus

Precious

Star Trek

Up

Up in the Air

Oh, how much easier this would be if there were only five Best Picture nominees this year: It’d be Up in the Air (which won the National Board of Review prize), The Hurt Locker (winner of the Producers Guild, Directors Guild, and Broadcast Film Critics awards), Golden Globe and box-office champ Avatar, film-festival winner Precious, and SAG Award victor Inglourious Basterds and we’d call it a day. It’s those other five slots that are tougher to suss out. An Education has strong support from actors (witness its SAG nod for best cast) and across-the-pond voters. Invictus has the necessary prestige to make the cut, while Best Animated Feature front-runner Up should manage to break out of the cartoon ghetto. If voters want to go the populist route, the top contender is the adult romance It’s Complicated. But since it’s the No. 1 and No. 2 votes on the Academy’s ranked ballots that truly count, films with a smaller cult of enthusiastic followers—think District 9 and Star Trek—is poised to become a spoiler. Which means the flashy, filled-with-Oscar-faves musical Nine may fall victim to its nasty reviews and lackluster box office. I’m also increasingly worried for the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man, which seems to be fading a bit. As for Golden Globe winner The Hangover, it’s now an outside contender for one of the 10 slots but by no means a sure thing.

Check out the rest of my predictions after the jump.

Best Actor

Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

George Clooney, Up in the Air

Colin Firth, A Single Man

Morgan Freeman, Invictus

Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Four performances have dominated this race and show no signs of budging: George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Colin Firth, and Morgan Freeman all received the trifecta of Golden Globe, SAG Award, and Broadcast Film Critics Association nominations. Tobey Maguire also landed a Globe nod for Brothers, but the film has taken some knocks from critics, which hurts his chances; ditto BFCA nominee Viggo Mortensen for the drama The Road. In a race with another onscreen soldier, Ben Foster (so raw and moving in The Messenger), I think the last spot goes to Jeremy Renner. With victories at SAG, the Golden Globes, and the Broadcast Critics Awards, Bridges is certainly the guy to beat.

Best Actress

Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side

Helen Mirren, The Last Station

Carey Mulligan, An Education

Gabourey Sidibe, Precious

Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

Meryl Streep will easily break her own record and earn Academy Award nomination No. 16 for Julie & Julia, but she’s got competition in The Blind Side‘s Sandra Bullock, who tied her for Best Actress at the BFCA awards and topped her for the SAG prize. (They both picked up Golden Globes.) Meanwhile, Carey Mulligan and Gabourey Sidibe are the indie standouts of the year. Emily Blunt made the BFCA and Globe short lists for her impressive turn in The Young Victoria and could do the same here, but the Academy may round out the race with a past winner, The Last Station‘s Helen Mirren.

Best Supporting Actor

Matt Damon, Invictus

Woody Harrelson, The Messenger

Christopher Plummer, The Last Station

Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones

Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Christoph Waltz, who’s won every major award so far (including SAG, Globe, and BFCA) and Woody Harrelson are the definites here, followed by Matt Damon, who’d earn his first nomination in 12 years. With Me and Orson Welles‘ Christian McKay becoming more and more of a long shot, the last two slots will likely go to veterans who’ve never been nominated despite decades of strong work: Stanley Tucci (so fabulous in Julie & Julia but more likely to get noticed for his villainous role in The Lovely Bones), Christopher Plummer (resolute as a dying Tolstoy in The Last Station), or An Education‘s Alfred Molina, who may find himself drawing the short straw this year.

Best Supporting Actress

Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air

Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air

Mo’Nique, Precious

Julianne Moore, A Single Man

Samantha Morton, The Messenger

Awards magnet Mo’Nique is the clear front-runner here, having picked up trophies from SAG, BFCA, and the Golden Globes. Up in the Air’s Anna Kendrick also picked up a few critics’ prizes, while Kendrick’s costar Vera Farmiga also seems a good bet. The Screen Actors Guild overlooked Julianne Moore, but her boozy BFF in A Single Man should do the trick with the Academy. As Nine‘s buzz continues to fade, Golden Globe and  SAG Award nominee Penélope Cruz may find herself edged out. Inglourious Basterds‘ Diane Kruger made the SAG list, but the likeliest stealth contender is The Messenger‘s Samantha Morton, who has snuck in at the last minute before.

Best Director

Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker

James Cameron, Avatar

Lee Daniels, Precious

Jason Reitman, Up in the Air

Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

One certainty in this year’s Oscar race: A woman will be nominated for Best Director, for the fourth time ever, in the form of Directors Guild winner Kathryn Bigelow. Jason Reitman and Quentin Tarantino should each score their second nods in this race, while past winners James Cameron (who won the Golden Globe) and Precious‘ Lee Daniels (who scored the fifth Directors Guild nomination) stand the best shot at rounding out the category. Outside contenders include District 9‘s Neill Blomkamp, Up‘s Pete Docter, and An Education‘s Lone Scherfig, in which case there’d be two women nominated in the same year for the first time.

Best Original Screenplay

Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker

Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, A Serious Man

Pete Docter & Bob Peterson, Up

Scott Neustatder & Michael H. Weber, (500) Days of Summer

Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

There are essentially six screenplays fighting for the five spots here. The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Up, and A Serious Man, all strong overall contenders, seem like foregone conclusions. Nancy Meyers scored a Golden Globe nomination for her insightful and funny It’s Complicated script, but the guys from (500) Days of Summer can see Meyers on insightful and funny and raise her another all-important adjective: inventive. A spoiler here could be James Cameron, who could do with Avatar what he failed to with Titanic: earn a screenplay nod.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Wes Anderson & Noah Baumbach, Fantastic Mr. Fox

Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell, District 9

Geoffrey Fletcher, Precious

Nick Hornby, An Education

Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air

Up in the Air, Precious, and An Education are the surest bets, while the writers’ branch has recognized both members of Fantastic Mr. Fox‘s clever team before. For the fifth slot, it could be Nora Ephron for Julie & Julia or Tom Ford (co-credited with David Scearce) for his impressive overhaul of A Single Man. But if voters don’t want to let a designer into the club, Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell’s District 9 may be too unsettling to ignore.

Here’s my running tally of all the critics’ award winners as well as my precursor tally of all the important top-10 lists and major guild prizes. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter (@davekarger) for Oscar news and updates between now and the big night.