My Predictions: Steve Carell, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Keaton, David Oyelowo, Eddie Redmayne
Best Actress has thrown us a bit in recent years. Frequently we seem to have the exact lineup and then a Tilda Swinton or Emma Thompson end up missing. Still, if any recent year seems to scream "2009!" it's this one, with a default winner in Julianne Moore (Still Alice), who is getting her Oscar partially for performance but mostly because "Oscar Winner Julianne Moore" feels like something we should all be saying. Joining her will surely be Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) and Reese Witherspoon (Wild) the latter of which is in a film that is not catching on for some reason in other categories (perhaps after Into the Wild and 127 Hours the Academy is over the whole survivalist thing?), but in a year with few contenders that probably won't matter. The final slot in theory could get crazy. Amy Adams is always a threat, and she's playing a real-life person in a Globe-nominated role, but this movie feels like it isn't happening, doesn't it? Hilary Swank is the best she's been in years with The Homesman, but the film hasn't caught on in a major way and it's not a threat in other categories so people might not see the film. Marion Cotillard continues to be someone to keep track of, but even if she was just campaigning for one film, both The Immigrant and Two Days, One Night are both so small that it would be a tough sell-throw in vote-splitting and it becomes nearly impossible. And Shailene Woodley, Jenny Slate, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw all needed some sort of major precursor love in order to keep their names in competition. This is why I think the obvious fifth answer will be Jennifer Aniston, who after nods from the BFCA, Globes, and SAG, will nab her first Oscar nomination.
My Predictions: Jennifer Aniston, Felicity Jones, Julianne Moore, Rosamund Pike, Reese Witherspoon
In what was once a wide open race we now have a completely boring and potentially set race. JK Simmons is about as likely to win this award for Whiplash as anyone possibly could be at this point in the game, and Ethan Hawke (Boyhood) and Edward Norton (Birdman) have already started looking for a tux. Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher) and Robert Duvall (The Judge) round out the list of actors that scored with both the Globes and SAG Awards, and both are the sorts of actors that AMPAS would cling toward in a year where this list has no heat. In years like that, when the list is being held together by performances no one is enthralled with, it's always good to look at the Best Picture contenders and see if any of them have stealth nominees. Tom Wilkinson and Tim Roth (both for Selma) and Matthew Goode (The Imitation Game) both come to mind in this regard, though for some reason the Selma men haven't caught on in the way you'd expect and Goode is probably too bland and handsome to get a surprise nomination (Roth and Wilkinson have been nominated before, proving that they are liked by the branch). There's also the possibility that Christoph Waltz gets in in yet another lead/supporting performance but the stench off of Big Eyes is starting to become pungent, and he's being taken along with it.
My Predictions: Robert Duvall, Ethan Hawke, Edward Norton, Mark Ruffalo, JK Simmons
The rare category that didn't go lockstep with the Globes and SAG Awards, we got a few new names in the race (well, one, but that's still exciting), and as a result this could go a few different ways. It seems likely that four women have put themselves in positions to be nominated. Patricia Arquette, whether or not she wins, is certain to be a nominee for the critically-rewarded Boyhood. Emma Stone and Keira Knightley have plum roles in Best Picture frontrunners, and are the "right" age for this category-they're both in. And when Meryl scores at the Globes and SAG Awards, she also scores with AMPAS, so count on Number 19 (and a lot of gracious "oh you" moments with Neil Patrick Harris when he calls out that incredible number) for Into the Woods. The final slot could go a number of different ways. The Globes went with Jessica Chastain, the SAG Awards scored with Naomi Watts, and the BFCA's added Tilda Swinton's name for Snowpiercer to the mix (though they also put Chastain's name down-it's a six-wide field). While Chastain is probably what you'd consider the frontrunner for the fifth slot, it's worth noting that A Most Violent Year hasn't been released particularly wide yet and there's still quite a bit of scuttle around this spot. In addition to Watts and Swinton, it would be foolish to totally discount Carmen Ejogo (Selma), Laura Dern (Wild), or even Rene Russo (Nightcrawler), all of whom have significant roles in films that actors' branch voters will be seeing already (this has worked for people like Marcia Gay Harden in the past).
My Predictions: Patricia Arquette, Jessica Chastain, Keira Knightley, Emma Stone, Meryl Streep
And those are my predictions in the acting races. Unlike some of the other categories we'll look into, there's a decent chance that all of these people will be discussed before my final Oscar predictions, but since discussing actors is always a joy, why not take to the comments and give it a try?