We rank the year's top films based on buzz, early critics' awards, and their likely number of Oscar noms

By Anthony Breznican
December 14, 2012 at 05:00 AM EST

1 Lincoln, (in theatres)
Daniel Day-Lewis is a near lock for Best Actor thanks to his soulful performance as the 16th president. In addition to supporting nods for Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field, the film has a shot at nominations for picture, director (Steven Spielberg), adapted screenplay (Tony Kushner), cinematography, sound, costumes, makeup, editing, production design, and music. (Rated PG-13)

2 Les Misérables, (out Dec. 25)
Another powerhouse contender, this adaptation of the phenomenally popular musical will easily score a Best Picture nomination, as well as numerous mentions in the technical categories and nods for director Tom Hooper, lead actor Hugh Jackman, supporting actress Anne Hathaway (a front-runner to win), and original song for ”Suddenly.” (Rated PG-13)

3 Zero Dark Thirty, (opens limited Dec. 19)
Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal may have invented a new genre with their meticulously researched film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden — investigative drama. Jessica Chastain is impressive in the lead, and The Hurt Locker‘s Bigelow is guaranteed another crack at Best Director and Best Picture. (Rated R)

4 Argo, (in theaters)
Ben Affleck’s spy thriller has just enough of a Hollywood plotline to woo Academy voters. The movie’s momentum may have slowed, but expect a Best Director nom, and Best Picture is still a possibility. (Rated R)

5 Silver Linings Playbook, (in theaters)
This comedy about a bipolar man (Bradley Cooper) and a troubled widow (Jennifer Lawrence) may net noms for both leads. We also predict nods for Best Picture and for supporting actor Robert De Niro. (Rated R)

6 Life of Pi, (in theaters)
Director Ang Lee’s fantasy adventure about a young boy lost at sea with a Bengal tiger should nab a nom for Best Picture and clean up in the technical categories for re-creating the harsh elements (and the tiger) with such precision. (Rated PG)

7 Amour, (opens limited Dec. 19)
A heartbreaker. Director Michael Haneke’s glimpse at the end of an elderly couple’s love story will have you ripping out pages of The Notebook to use as Kleenex. Emmanuelle Riva, 85, and Jean-Louis Trintignant, 82, could become the oldest lead-performer nominees ever. (Rated PG-13)

8 Flight, (in theaters)
Denzel Washington’s explosive role as a pilot who’s drunk during a plane crash — but still saves almost everyone on board — could earn him his sixth nomination. (Rated R)

9 The Impossible, (opens limited Dec. 21)
Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts star in this survival saga about a family on vacation during the 2004 tsunami. Every performance is riveting. In a just world, Tom Holland (who plays the eldest son) would score a Best Actor nod. (Rated PG-13)

10 Rust and Bone, (in theaters)
Marion Cotillard should get her second lead-actress nom (after winning in 2008 for La Vie en Rose) for playing an orca trainer who loses her legs in a whale attack and falls for an underground fighter (Matthias Schoenaerts) who shows her tenderness, but no pity. (Rated R)

11 The Master, (in theaters)
The Paul Thomas Anderson movie is dividing voters, but Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams all have solid shots at acting nominations for this searing look at damaged souls forging a new religion. (Rated R)

12 Moonrise Kingdom, (DVD and download)
Academy voters talk about Wes Anderson’s coming-of-age comedy as fondly as if it were how they spent their own summer vacation, making it an underdog contender for Best Picture and Original Screenplay. (Rated PG-13)

13 Beasts of the Southern Wild, (DVD and download)
The sky is falling, the water is rising, and prehistoric monsters are rampaging across the land. All that stands in the way is a feisty little girl, played by Quvenzhané Wallis, who, at 9, could become the youngest-ever Best Actress nominee. (Rated PG-13)

14 Django Unchained, (out Dec. 25)
Bounty-hunting duo Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz spill so much blood, it may split the Academy. Perhaps voters will agree that Leonardo DiCaprio’s satanic plantation owner is worthy of a supporting nod. (Rated R)

15 The Sessions, (in theaters)
Expect a lead-actor nomination for John Hawkes as a quadriplegic man trying to figure out what sex is all about, and a supporting mention for Helen Hunt as the sex surrogate who gets intimate to help him. (Rated R)

16 Anna Karenina, (in theaters)
The production design and lush costumes of imperial Russia should earn this Leo Tolstoy adaptation some technical nods, though Keira Knightley also stands a chance for lead actress as the adulterous, tragic heroine. (Rated R)

17 Wreck-It Ralph, (in theaters)
To paraphrase its J-pop theme song: S-U-G-A-R, jump into your racing car … and see this animated-feature front-runner about a videogame bad guy (voiced by John C. Reilly) who travels to another game to prove he can be a good guy. (Rated PG)

18 The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, (DVD and download)
British retirees engage in shenanigans at a run-down hotel in India after leaving their old lives behind. Judi Dench and Maggie Smith are the most likely nominees from this whimsical crowd-pleaser. (Rated PG-13)

19 The Dark Knight Rises, (DVD and download)
The last film (supposedly) in Christopher Nolan’s beloved Batman series — so this might get some nostalgia votes. It should claim nominations in technical categories, but also has a strong, ongoing push for Best Picture, which could help voters see something deeper in the blockbuster. (Rated PG-13)

20 Looper, (on DVD and for download Dec. 31)
Rian Johnson’s mind-bending time-travel thriller could get an original-screenplay nomination. (Rated R)

21 How to Survive a Plague, (in theaters and on demand)
This documentary about the fight for AIDS research quickens the pulse like a thriller and rouses passions as well as any drama. (Not Rated)

22 Middle of Nowhere, (in theaters)
Emayatzy Corinealdi’s breakthrough turn as a woman who falls in love with another man while her husband is in prison is a sweet, heartfelt performance. (Rated R)

23 The Perks of Being a Wallflower, (in theaters)
Stephen Chbosky adapted his own novel — then directed the movie. That’s why voters may consider it for adapted screenplay. (Rated PG-13)

24 Compliance, (on DVD Jan. 8)
Veteran character actress Ann Dowd lays bare our darkest authoritarian impulses as a fast-food manager manipulated into terrible deeds. (Rated R)

25 Frankenweenie, (on DVD Jan. 8)
It flopped at the box office. But voters (and their kids) may revisit this critics’ fave. (Rated PG)

Rolling in The Depp
Johnny’s 2012 World Tour

Johnny Depp has big movies in store, including this summer’s The Lone Ranger and an upcoming take on Don Quixote. But in 2012, he often turned to his trusty guitar for inspiration. Here’s a look back at some key musical moments.

April
Depp rocks hard, joining Marilyn Manson on stage in downtown Los Angeles. Lowering the volume, he then performs sign language and plays guitar in Paul McCartney’s moody video for the song ”My Valentine.”

June
He collects a Generation Award and jams with the Black Keys at the MTV Movie Awards.

August
Depp holds his own when he plays with Aerosmith at the Hollywood Bowl. The band appears pleased, inviting him back for an encore on Dec. 3.

October
His musical passion extends to books when HarperCollins announces Depp’s new imprint. Among the first releases will be House of Earth — a previously unpublished Woody Guthrie novel — and Douglas Brinkley’s The Unraveled Tales of Bob Dylan.

December
News hits that the actor will exec-produce a compilation of pirate songs called Son of Rogues Gallery (out Feb. 19), in which he performs on tracks from Shane MacGowan and Patti Smith. Capt. Jack Sparrow sings? Aye, aye, sir.

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