1 of 4
Myles Aronowitz, Warner Bros. Pictures
Tom Wilkinson and George Clooney in "Michael Clayton."

Academy Award nominees will be announced Jan. 22 and the winners announced Feb. 24. But why wait until the names go public when we can speculate, speculate, speculate into the new year?

Below are lists of likely Oscar nominees, broken down into categories for easy consumption.

Here's a description of our categories:

The locks

These people or movies are almost sure to be nominated, to the point where it will make news as a snub if their names aren't called. Watch out once they're nominated, though — if they are too similar, sometimes the vote will split and an overrated entry or even a lovable loser can sneak in as the winner.

Overrated

It goes to the movies or artists who get to the awards show based on reputation or circumstance and not the actual quality of the particular film or performance. You will gnash your teeth when their names are announced and gnash them even more when they win and give a pompous Julia Roberts-style acceptance speech.

Underrated

There's almost no chance that these people or movies will get nominated, even though they deserve it more than at least three names that make the list ahead of them. Years later, they will be vindicated as the film or performance endures and everyone forgets about "Scent of a Woman" except how overrated it was.

Lovable loser

This entry will be an Oscar-time darling and the subject of mountains of press. It's often a child you've never heard of or an old actor you haven't thought about in 15 years. This nominee will quite possibly wear an ill-fitting gown, give hundreds of plucky interviews, almost certainly stay seated when the envelope is finally opened and then never get nominated again.

Here are our predictions:

Best actor

The locks: Daniel Day-Lewis, "There Will Be Blood"; George Clooney, "Michael Clayton"; Johnny Depp, "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street."

Overrated: Denzel Washington, "American Gangster."

Underrated: Benicio Del Toro, "Things We Lost in the Fire"; Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead."

Lovable loser: James McAvoy, "Atonement."

Breakdown: Day-Lewis makes a movie every 22 years, so he's definitely in, no matter how grating his accent was. Clooney and Depp both have a good chance to win and probably deserve it, having done some of their best work. There's room for an out-of-nowhere nominee in this category, such as Emile Hirsch for "Into the Wild" or Josh Brolin for "No Country for Old Men."

Best actress

The locks: Julie Christie, "Away From Her"; Marion Cotillard, "La Vie En Rose"; Angelina Jolie, "A Mighty Heart."

Overrated: Keira Knightley, "Atonement."

Underrated: Ashley Judd, "Bug."

Lovable loser: Amy Adams, "Enchanted"; Ellen Page, "Juno."

Breakdown: Knightley wasn't bad, but she certainly wasn't special — and her performance came in a year filled with solid best actress performances. Page and Christie are both worthy of the award. So are Judd and "The Savages" star Laura Linney — both of whom are unlikely to receive a nomination.

Best supporting actor

The locks: Tom Wilkinson, "Michael Clayton"; Javier Bardem, "No Country for Old Men"; Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Charlie Wilson's War."

Overrated: John Travolta, "Hairspray."

Underrated: Jeff Daniels, "The Lookout"; Ben Foster, "3:10 to Yuma."

Lovable loser: Hal Holbrook, "Into the Wild"

Breakdown: This is another category that is stacked with solid performances, with Wilkinson and Bardem most likely to walk away with a statue, although Hoffman and Holbrook were pretty great, too. Daniels and "3:10 to Yuma" co-stars Peter Fonda and Foster stood out but don't have much of a chance.

Best supporting actress

The locks: Cate Blanchett, "I'm Not There"; Tilda Swinton, "Michael Clayton"; Saoirse Ronan, "Atonement."

Overrated: Julia Roberts, "Charlie Wilson's War"; Vanessa Redgrave, "Atonement."

Underrated: Jennifer Garner, "Juno."

Lovable loser: Amy Ryan, "Gone Baby Gone."

Breakdown: Blanchett, Swinton and especially Ronan were excellent, and the possibilities go downhill steeply from there. Ryan deserves a shot, too, although not enough people know who she is or saw her movie. If Redgrave gets nominated for sitting in a chair for five minutes, then the Oscars are officially a sham.

Best original screenplay

The locks: Tony Gilroy, "Michael Clayton"; Kelly Masterson, "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead"; Diablo Cody, "Juno."

Overrated: David Benioff, "The Kite Runner."

Underrated: Judd Apatow, "Knocked Up."

Lovable loser: Sarah Polley, "Away From Her."

Breakdown: Gilroy, who also directed "Michael Clayton," deserves to win and may take the only award for that excellent movie (possibly the best of 2007). The three next-best original screenplays had much lighter touches: Cody's for "Juno," Apatow's for "Knocked Up" and Brad Bird's for "Ratatouille." Of those, "Juno" is the only one likely to get recognition.

Best director

The locks: Ethan and Joel Coen, "No Country for Old Men"; Joe Wright, "Atonement"; Paul Thomas Anderson, "There Will Be Blood."

Overrated: Mike Nichols, "Charlie Wilson's War."

Underrated: Brad Bird, "Ratatouille."

Lovable loser: Julian Schnabel, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly."

Breakdown: The Coens' main competition is Wright, not Anderson, who may have made a better movie than both of them, but probably won't be appreciated because of his quirky filmmaking history. Sidney Lumet ("Before the Devil Knows You're Dead") Tim Burton ("Sweeney Todd") and Sean Penn ("Into the Wild") could all end up in the lovable loser category.

Best picture

The locks: "There Will Be Blood," "Atonement," "No Country for Old Men."

Overrated: "American Gangster."

Underrated: "Michael Clayton."

Lovable loser: "Juno."

Breakdown: There's a lot of talk about "Atonement," but "No Country for Old Men" had the better performances and the Coen brothers cachet. Look for "Juno" or "Sweeney Todd" to snap up a nomination and benefit from the exposure but have virtually no chance of winning. At least this year there's no "Crash"; assuming "American Gangster," "Charlie Wilson's War" and "The Kite Runner" don't sneak in, all of the nominees will be deserving.

Best animated feature

The locks: "Ratatouille," "Bee Movie."

Overrated: "Shrek the Third."

Underrated: "Surf's Up."

Lovable loser: "The Simpsons Movie."

Breakdown: "Ratatouille" is the obvious choice, with nothing close to its level of technical and especially artistic excellence. "Surf's Up" was probably the second-best animated film, but it doesn't have a chance of getting nominated. "Bee Movie" and "Shrek the Third" were mediocre, but both will probably get in. "The Simpsons Movie" deserves a nomination but not an Oscar.


E-mail Peter Hartlaub at [email protected]. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service