Thursday's Oscar nominations arrive about two weeks earlier than last year's, which means one thing is certain: As Newsday's official Oscar predictor, I'll be wrong a little sooner.
Last year, I predicted nods for Charlize Theron in "Young Adult," Bryce Dallas Howard in "The Help" and Andy Serkis in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" -- and struck out on all of them. (I admit that Serkis, playing a computer-animated simian, was a long shot.) But for me, the whole point of predicting the Oscars isn't to get them right, it's to cheer on my favorite underdogs, harrumph at the heavyweights and point out the performances and achievements that moviegoers might have missed.
For instance: Why isn't anyone talking about Jude Law's strong performance as a dull, doughy husband in "Anna Karenina?" Did he play the role so well that no one recognized him? Or take the forgotten horror-spoof "The Cabin in the Woods" -- it mashed up gore and comedy just as cleverly as Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained," but it's unlikely to get a single nomination (except from me). As for Zoe Kazan's bittersweet comedic turn as a fantasy-girlfriend in "Ruby Sparks," which she co-wrote, it's at least worth a nod. Right?
We'll find out Thursday morning. Until then, here's what I'm hoping the list of Oscar contenders looks like.
* "The Master"
* "Zero Dark Thirty"
* "Silver Linings Playbook"
* "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
DREAM PICK "The Master." I really loved this movie, as you will see. The other contenders may be more topical, more fun or more accessible, but they don't hold a candle to "The Master."
BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
* Hugh Jackman, "Les Misérables"
* Daniel Day-Lewis, "Lincoln"
* Bill Murray, "Hyde Park on Hudson"
* Joaquin Phoenix, "The Master"
* Denzel Washington, "Flight"
DREAM PICK Phoenix, as a war veteran whose emotional injuries ooze from his cracked face and crooked body. It's an astoundingly physical performance.
BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
* Jessica Chastain, "Zero Dark Thirty"
* Judi Dench, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"
* Zoe Kazan, "Ruby Sparks"
* Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook"
* Quvenzhané Wallis, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
DREAM PICK Wallis, heartbreaking as a feral 9-year-old who learns what love is and prepares to live without it.
BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
* Dwight Henry, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
* Philip Seymour Hoffman, "The Master"
* Tommy Lee Jones, "Lincoln"
* Jude Law, "Anna Karenina"
* Matthew McConaughey, "Magic Mike"
BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
* Amy Adams, "The Master"
* Sally Field, "Lincoln"
* Anne Hathaway, "Les Misérables"
* Helen Hunt, "The Sessions"
DREAM PICK Wilton. I'm going way off the map by choosing this 66-year-old actress (familiar to Yanks from television's "Downton Abbey"), but she's wonderful as an aging woman trapped by her own unhappiness. In reality, this Oscar seems destined for Field or Adams.
BEST ANIMATED FILM
* "The Pirates! Band of Misfits"
* "Rise of the Guardians"
DREAM PICK "Pirates!" This Python-esque spoof (Hugh Grant gives voice to a stumbling swashbuckler) was cheeky good fun and cleverly claymated.
* Ben Affleck, "Argo"
* Paul Thomas Anderson, "The Master"
* Kathryn Bigelow, "Zero Dark Thirty"
* David O. Russell, "Silver Linings Playbook"
* Steven Spielberg, "Lincoln"
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
* "The Cabin in the Woods"
* "Django Unchained"
* "The Master"
* "Zero Dark Thirty"
DREAM PICK "Flight." Writer John Gatins combined his two worst fears -- dying in a plane crash and drinking himself to death -- into one funny, harrowing and sneakily profound film.