The lead-up to this year's Academy Awards (aka "The Oscars") have been marked by rule changes (there can now be "no more than 10" Best Picture nominees, instead of a full 10) and accusations that the switch to an online voting system was causing problems for The Academy's older members - which is especially problematic because "elderly Academy voters" kind of just means "Academy voters" for the most part.

But, anyway! Let's take a look at what a select group of mostly retired, well-connected B and C-list industry mainstays have decided will compete for the "best" of their respective categories.

Denzel Washington (Flight)
Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)
Daniel Day Lewis (Lincoln)
Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)
Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables)

Any other year this would be a pretty interesting race given the variety of the performances and performers. Denzel played against-type as an alcoholic pilot in a (forgive the pun) personal tail-spin, Phoenix's career-best turn as an unstable Navy vet swept up into a Scientology-like cult, Bradley Cooper as a man coming to terms with bipolar disorder and a musical turn from Jackman ... but it's all pretty much window dressing. This is Lewis' race to lose. Lincoln looks like even more of a juggernaut this year than it did before (more on that in a moment), and he's the centerpiece of the film.

I can't really think of a "snub" here, other than that either Ben Affleck or Jamie Foxx would've been more deserving of a slot than Cooper (for Argo and Django, respectively) .

Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)
Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of The Southern Wild)
Naomi Watts (The Impossible)

Firstly, yes, it's kind of adorable (and I don't think un-coincidentally newsworthy) that this list includes both the oldest (Riva) and youngest (Wallis) nominees ever. The biggest "WTF?" onhand is Naomi Watts, given that The Impossible, a very, very loosely Spanish-funded but English language disaster film about a European family separated by the tsunami in Thailand, really kind of sucks and may as well not exist as far as U.S. moviegoers have been concerned. Incidentally, the heavy presence of the still relatively obscure (in the U.S., anyway) Amour this year is likely demonstrative of the skew that The Academy's still mostly-senior citizen membership puts on the nominations. The film is about an elderly couple coping with the wife's deteriorating health following a stroke, and while it hasn't been noticed by mainstream audiences, it probably speaks to older Academy voters in a powerful, personal way.

Prior to the nominations, Jessica Chastain looked like the favorite to win, and probably still is, but the film - a critic's awards darling - has been marred by a silly, trumped-up controversy and now looks shaky (see: Best Director nominations), so I'm feeling like the heat is now with Jennifer Lawrence, given that she's the big young actress of the moment (we're all still obliged to pretend that The Hunger Games wasn't crushingly mediocre because Katniss is such a better role model for young girls than Bella Swan had been, right?) and because her character - a magical imaginary girlfriend pastiche (semi-punk/goth, nymphomaniac, bisexual, unstable but in a cute "quirky" way that brings her significantly older male counterpart out of his shell - appears to be the number one reason that otherwise sensible film people have lost their damn minds over Silver Linings. Repeat after me, fellas: Tiffany isn't real. I know she reminds you of every baby bird with a broken wing enchantress who's ever fluttered through your life just out of reach ... but she's not real, and the movie is a goddamn sitcom, at best.

Alan Arkin (Argo)
Robert DeNiro (Silver Lining's Playbook)
Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)
Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)
Christophe Waltz (Django Unchained)

Django Unchained is a movie primarily about slavery, filled with black actors. The sole acting nominee? One of the two white guys. Waltz is great in the film (though, frankly, I'd rather see Leonardo DiCaprio and/or Samuel L. Jackson in his place here, especially since he just recently won), so don't get me wrong - it just feels kind of important to point that out. It's also noteworthy that his character is the "nicest" person in an otherwise brutal film. His existence isn't as uncomfortable as that of whip-scarred, vengeance-minded Django, and he doesn't spew a constant stream of racist rhetoric like Calvin Candie or Stephen.

Interestingly, everyone on this list has already won before. Philip Seymour Hoffman had been considered a heavy favorite, but that was back before anyone could've guessed that The Master would be shut out of Picture and Director. That probably makes DeNiro the favorite, since the actor's bloc is obviously seeing something in Playbook that I didn't and because everyone is really, really glad that he's back in a non-Fockers role and seems ambulatory again. Still, with Lincoln looking like such a heavy force this year, leading with 12 nominations, I could see Tommy Lee Jones winning handily as he's easily one of the best things in the movie (and stars in two of the scenes everyone talks about afterwards).

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