Lincoln must be in with a shout. This is an all-American history lesson for Americans about one of the more universally admired moments in American politics: the abolition of slavery and the end of the Civil War. It's long and serious and well made, and although making a whole film about the passage of an amendment to the constitution may seem self-indulgent to non-Americans, it's only American that count here.
Daniel Day-Lewis, who has Oscar form, may win for his part as Lincoln in Lincoln. For him, it's a moderated, quiet, low-key performance, and that may actually work against him. It's not such an obvious awards-magnet as his turns in Gangs of New York or There Will Be Blood, or even My Left Foot. If the Academy want an "actorly" piece of acting - in other words, obvious - they'll go for Joaquin Phoenix for The Master, but Day Lewis's might be argued to be superior.
Jessica Chastain has built up a decent CV in record time, notably in Tree Of Life and The Help, but she is the star of Zero Dark Thirty - a modern, true-life combat/intelligence adventure that might otherwise have been predicatably "male". As such, she seems a shoo-in for a nomination, and might just win it. She might be Zero Dark Thirty's only win in the non-technical categories.
Since Ben Affleck hasn't been nominated for Argo, I'll go for Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty, which would be historic, as she's already the first female director to win the category for The Hurt Locker. Why not make it the double? The sky's the limit.
By right, it ought to go to Tony Kushner for Lincoln - apparently it started out as a 500-page epic about the president's life, but was distilled down to just a couple of months
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
A wide-open field, which is what makes it so interesting every year - more so than Best Actor or Best Actress. Although Philip Seymour Hoffman's role in The Master is anything but supporting, that's the category the studio is putting him forward for (he has the Globe nomination), so he rather outclasses the competition, in screen time if nothing else.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Watch out for Helen Hunt in The Sessions. The film itself is Oscar bait: it's about illness and sex, and has "indie" written right through it, but with Hunt over the dangerous age in Hollywood where actresses are considered viable for sexually-charged roles, a win for her would be a barricade against institutionalised sexism that still dogs American cinema even in the 21st century.