By Richard Corliss
December 11, 2014

The Oscar nominations won’t be announced until Jan. 15, but on this Golden Globes day we can make an educated guess about some of the finalists for major Academy Awards.

Actor: Steve Carell for Foxcatcher, Benedict Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game, Michael Keaton for Birdman, David Oyelowo for Selma and Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything.

Actress: Felicity Jones for The Theory of Everything, Julianne Moore for Still Alice, Reese Witherspoon for Wild and two others.

Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette for Boyhood, Meryl Streep for Into the Woods and three others.

Supporting Actors: J.K. Simmons for Whiplash and four other guys who don’t stand a chance against the prohibitive front-runner.

And Best Picture: Birdman, Boyhood, Foxcatcher, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything and one or two others.

How do we know this — given that, in Hollywood, “Nobody knows anything”? Because in the first two weeks of Dec., three different kinds of groups have handed out their year-end awards or nominations.

First are the critics, who know what they like but don’t care whether the Motion Picture Academy agrees with them. Of the seven critics societies that have named their favorites so far, five chose Boyhood as the No. 1 film; Keaton, Simmons and Arquette were consensus winners in three of the four acting categories; and Marion Cotillard dominated in Best Actress for two films, the American The Immigrant and the Belgian Two Days, One Night. Cotillard, with her potential vote split between two little-seen films, is the longest of long shots to be Oscar-nominated.

Then there are the industry professionals, notably the Screen Actors Guild, whose membership significantly overlaps the Academy voters. SAG announced its nominees Wed., citing all the actors we named in the top paragraph plus a couple of surprises: Jennifer Aniston as a chronic-pain sufferer in Cake and Jake Gyllenhaal as the creepy newshound in Nightcrawler. (“Yaaay for Jake!” says this critic.) The nominees for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, SAG’s version of the Best Picture Oscar, were Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything — but not Foxcatcher or Selma. That isn’t a death notice to those two moves, as the Academy’s Best Picture category allows for as many as 10 nominations. (The list of SAG nominations is here.)

Finally we have two organizations of uncertain provenance but past masters at throwing star-studded awards parties: the National Board of Review and The Hollywood Foreign Press Association. The NBR, which has been around since 1909 with a membership of New York-based film lovers, went a little nuts this year and chose the period melodrama A Most Violent Year as Best Film, with the movie’s Oscar Isaac sharing the Actor citation with Keaton, and Moore taking Actress. Much more attention goes to the HFPA, a collection of L.A.-based showbiz reporters, not critics. Theirs are the only nominations announcements besides the Oscars that are broadcast live on national news shows, and their profligate list of nominees — 30 actors for movies, 40 for TV shows — makes their annual televised banquets a celebrity magnet. (The list of Golden Globe nominations is here.)

At the Globes, Moore will be competing with herself, in a way: she’s nominated for her dramatic role as the early-Alzheimer’s victim in Still Alice and, in the Comedy or Musical category, for her gung-ho turn as a desperate actress in Maps to the Stars. Three nominees got their nominations by doing it the hard way: Witherspoon toted a backpack that weighs more than she does; Aniston ditched her trademark glamour to play a grumpy frump; and Helen Mirren, in The Hundred-Foot Journey, affected a preposterous French accent. With the exception of 11-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis as the star of Annie, the rest of the HFPA’s Actress nominees play wives of various demeanors: Jones and Rosemund Pike (Gone Girl) in the Drama category, and Amy Adams (Big Eyes) and Emily Blunt (Into the Woods) in Comedy or Musical.

A couple dozen more critics groups will weigh in over the next few weeks. Then other industry guilds, from cinematographers to hair stylists, will hand out their own prizes — all in anticipation of Oscar night on Feb. 22. We have one solid prediction for that show too: virtually nobody will watch it.

Oscar broadcasts get their highest ratings when the chief contenders are box-office champions. Over the past two decades, the show scored some of its highest numbers in years dominated by such blockbusters as Titanic, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Avatar. Last year, audiences could root for big hits like Gravity and American Hustle. This year, no movie likely to secure a Best Picture nomination has earned so much as $60 million at the domestic box office; The Grand Budapest Hotel pulled in $59 million.

Mind you, some films haven’t officially opened yet, and others could build popular momentum through the awards season. But the list of early winners in critics groups and top nominees for SAG and the Globes reads like candidates for the Independent Spirit Awards: niche titles of a serioso bent, made for critics and other bestowers of awards, less so for the mass audiences that bring the industry its annual $11-billion bounty. The tone of the leading contenders is less High Hollywood than off-Broadway and Masterpiece Theatre.

Remember that, five years ago, the Academy expanded the Best Picture category because the previous year’s biggest hit, Christopher Nolan’s widely acclaimed The Dark Knight, didn’t make it into the top five. This time, in an affirmative-action push for “real movies,” voters might actually push Gone Girl, or Nolan’s Interstellar, onto the Best Picture not-so-shortlist, just to include one or two pictures that a lot of people saw. But it will still mostly be a night for films that made only the vaguest impression on the mass market mindscape. No Marvel movie, no Bilbo Baggins, no Harry Potter.

If only J.K. Simmons had been in a movie written by J.K. Rowling.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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