Here's the smart way to predict Tuesday's Oscar nominations: First, skim the trade magazines to see which studios are campaigning for which movies. Next, tally up the nominations from the prestigious actors, writers and directors guilds. Finally, compare those against the recent Golden Globe winners and you'll have a good idea of this year's Oscar contenders.
Or, you could just make it all up.
The latter approach seems as good as any in what's shaping up as a wide-open Oscar race. Last Sunday, the Golden Globes were handed out so willy-nilly that few movies emerged as obvious Oscar front-runners. All those guild nominations didn't help "Bridesmaids" win a single Globe; Martin Scorsese's win for "Hugo" seemed like a hiccup; and the biggest winner, "The Artist," still took home only three Golden Globes -- far from a landslide.
So I'm tossing aside the analytical approach this year and making my Oscar predictions based on something else: merit. That's a highly subjective notion, but surely my judgment is as sound as anyone's. At least I didn't give Michelle Williams the Golden Globe for best comedic actress, for playing a tormented Marilyn Monroe in "My Week With Marilyn."
I would, however, give the best actor Oscar to a chimpanzee -- or rather, to Andy Serkis, who played a computer-generated one in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." Serkis, long regarded as motion-capture's leading thespian, never got a nod for his groundbreaking Gollum in the "Lord of the Rings" films and probably won't get one for Caesar, a simian with a human intellect (and a very human soul). George Clooney will likely get the acting Oscar for "The Descendants," but for my money, Serkis delivered the year's most vivid and imaginative lead performance.
Many of my picks are equally unlikely to come to fruition. I'd like to see Bryce Dallas Howard, who was ignored by the Globes, earn a supporting actress nod for playing the deliciously evil Hilly Holbrook in "The Help" (I'd also like to see her win). Michael Fassbender also should be nominated, not for his tortured sex addict in "Shame," but for his vulnerable supervillain in "X-Men: First Class." And although few people are talking about director Tomas Alfredson, he deserves a mention for his sublimely stylish version of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy."
One category where the academy and I are likely to agree is best original screenplay, and for this reason: There nearly aren't any. This was the year of the adaptation, from "The Help" (based on a novel) to "The Ides of March" (a play) to "War Horse" (a novel and a play). That leaves few original scripts to choose from -- most notably Diablo Cody's "Young Adult" and Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" -- and the academy will probably end up with much the same list I have.
But enough reality. Here are my fantasy picks for Oscar nominations, along with the eventual winner I'd like to see in each category. The real nominees will be announced Tuesday morning, but until then, I'll keep dreaming.
BEST ANIMATED FILM
"The Adventures of Tintin"
"Winnie the Pooh"
DREAM PICK "Rango." Not for all tastes, but this surreal, acid-soaked Western was one of the best and weirdest surprises of 2011.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
"Midnight in Paris"
BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Kenneth Branagh, "My Week With Marilyn"
Michael Fassbender, "X-Men: First Class"
Armie Hammer, "J. Edgar"
Patton Oswalt, "Young Adult"
BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Bérénice Bejo, "The Artist"
Bryce Dallas Howard, "The Help"
Janet McTeer, "Albert Nobbs"
Octavia Spencer, "The Help"
Mia Wasikowska, "Albert Nobbs"
DREAM PICK Howard, playing one of the most awesomely detestable villains in years -- and one of the most human. The movie would have been good without her, but she makes it great.
BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
George Clooney, "The Descendants"
Jean Dujardin, "The Artist"
Joel Edgerton, "Warrior"
DREAM PICK Serkis. He's a human playing an animal through the medium of motion-capture -- an astonishing transformation and a tremendous feat of acting.
BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Glenn Close, "Albert Nobbs"
Elizabeth Olsen, "Martha Marcy May Marlene"
Meryl Streep, "The Iron Lady"
Charlize Theron, "Young Adult"
Kristen Wiig, "Bridesmaids"
DREAM PICK Theron, whose performance as a woman emotionally stuck in high school is poignant, harrowing, pathetic and -- despite it all -- hilarious.
Tomas Alfredson, "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"
Woody Allen, "Midnight in Paris"
Michel Hazanavicius, "The Artist"
Julia Leigh, "Sleeping Beauty"
Lars von Trier, "Melancholia"
DREAM PICK Hazanavicius, who may very well win the Oscar for his loving, dazzling tribute to the lost art of silent film.
"Midnight in Paris"
"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"
DREAM PICK "The Artist." The other films may be bigger and more polished, but charm, sincerity and a pure heart will win every time. In my dreams, at least.