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Everybody Into the (Oscar) Pool

The Artist, Clooney and Streep are the early favorites

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It's quite possible that the Motion Picture Academy's class of 2012, revealed Jan. 24, is pound-for-pound the best list of Best Picture nominees in recent memory. Individually they may not be the best films ever, but collectively they represent greatness--with a little something for everyone.

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What really shook up things this year was the Best Picture nominating process. Let's face it: five nominees were too few, 10 were too many. But for 2012, in winnowing down submissions of favorite films from nearly 6,000 voting members, the Academy decided that each of the final nominees had to receive at least 5 percent of the No. 1 votes. Simply put, 5 percent of Academy members had to consider a film to be their absolute favorite movie of the year to make the cut. For the first time in 84 years, each one is a winner.

Best Picture

Nominees: The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Moneyball, Midnight in Paris, The Tree of Life, War Horse

BW readers have a leg up on most moviegoers when filling out the office Oscar pool. In September 2011, I began telling you about The Artist, The Descendants and Moneyball. My reporting from the Toronto International Film Festival confirmed that these three movies were a lock for a Best Picture nomination.

The Artist has, quite amazingly, become the darling of the pre-Oscar awards circuit. But wait. No foreign film, in the history of the Academy, has ever won Best Picture.

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Will win: The Artist

Should win: The Artist

Best Actor

Nominees: Demian Bachir (A Better Life), George Clooney (The Descendants), Jean Dujardin (The Artist), Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Brad Pitt (Moneyball)

Wow, wow, wow. I'm thrilled with this group, because it will mean more folks might see A Better Life or Tinker Tailor, two of the best, yet forgotten, films of the year.

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Will win: George Clooney

Should win: Gary Oldman

Best Actress

Nominees: Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), Viola Davis (The Help), Rooney Mara (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), Michelle Williams (My Week With Marilyn)

The perennially nominated Streep will pick up her third Oscar here and win because she's Meryl Streep, not because of her film. Any one of the other four would be preferable.

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Will win: Meryl Streep

Should win: Michelle Williams

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees: Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn), Jonah Hill (Moneyball), Nick Nolte (Warrior), Christopher Plummer (Beginners), Max Von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)

The weakest category. The Academy can mail Plummer his Oscar right now.

Will win: Christopher Plummer

Should win: Christopher Plummer

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees: Berenice Bejo (The Artist), Jessica Chastain (The Help), Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids), Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs), Octavia Spencer (The Help)

This is Octavia Spencer's to lose. Her performance in The Help was the kind of claptrap that the Academy loves to swoon over. The film made my stomach turn, but Spencer won't be denied. It's a shame. Bejo (whose performance was, in fact, a leading role) was wonderful and we're still laughing at McCarthy's bust-a-gut performance in Bridesmaids.

Will win: Octavia Spencer

Should win: Melissa McCarthy

Lesson learned: The NC-17 curse held. Shame, one of the finest films of the year, didn't pick up a Best Picture nod or acting nominations for Michael Fassbender or Carey Mulligan. What a ... well, you know.

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