HOLLYWOOD—We are just about two weeks away from learning the contenders for the ultimate prize this awards season: The Academy Award. There are many films, actors, actresses, writers, directors and countless others vying for the big prize. One thing that people should always know about the Academy is expect plenty of surprises. I mean there is always a surprise or two in each category that people never suspect.

Let’s take a look at some of the biggest races this year: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. Up first is Best Supporting Actress.

In my opinion, there are likely two virtual locks in this race, Lupita Nyong’o for her heartbreaking performance in “12 Years a Slave.”  She delivers work as a newcomer that is sure to land her a nomination, and in my opinion is the front-runner to beat this year. Right on her coattails is Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence for her sensational work in “American Hustle.”Lawrencejust took home a Best Actress trophy in 2013, and could be a repeat winner this year. The other three seats are questionable, but I’m certain Oprah Winfrey will capture her second Oscar nomination for her work in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” She may have been overlooked by the Golden Globes, but Oscar will not be able to forget the media mogul for her boozy housewife performance in the picture.

The other two seats become a tough race, as I can see them going to at least 3 to 4 Oscar-worthy performances. First, we have June Squibb for “Nebraska,” Octavia Spencer for “Fruitvale Station,” Sally Hawkins for “Blue Jasmine,” Julia Roberts and Margo Martindale for “August: Osage County.” I’ve mentioned this before, Roberts is worthy of a Best Actress nomination, but whether she gets that is another story, so as a safe bet she could land a nomination here, and likely will be because of name recognition. So that leaves the fifth spot open to Squibb, Spencer, Hawkins and Martindale, this may sound crazy, but I can see a surprise nod for Martindale who is a scene stealer in the picture and worthy of a nomination in my opinion. So those are my picks, but this is a category, where the last two seats will be surprises.

For Best Supporting Actor, two gentlemen propel to the forefront, Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyers Club” and Michael Fassbender for “12 Years a Slave.” The race is ultimately between these two gentlemen in my opinion.  Another likely candidate who will hear Oscar calling is newcomer Barkhad Abdi who is superb as one of the Somali pirates in “Captain Phillips.” This now leaves the last two seats open, some are predicting a nomination for Tom Hanks for “Saving Mr. Banks,” while that seems likely, I honestly don’t see that happening, Hanks is more likely to land a nomination for Best Actor for “Captain Phillips.” Rarely are actors nominated twice, unless they deliver unbelievable work in different films.

The last two slots are really big toss-ups in my opinion. Bradley Cooper is looking like another candidate for “American Hustle,” but his colleague Jeremy Renner could also sneak in a nod. Cooper is a safe bet, but I seriously expect Will Forte to sneak in a nomination for his work in “Nebraska.” He is a dark horse that many are underestimating, which means Jonah Hill may not get the nod so many expect for his work in “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

Best Actress is a race that is all, but locked for two ladies: Cate Blanchett “Blue Jasmine” and Sandra Bullock “Gravity.”  These ladies are front-runners and will do battle this season. Many speculate two slots are already reserved for Judi Dench “Philomena” and Emma Thompson “Saving Mr. Banks,” but they are not certainties in my opinion.  The buzz surrounding perennial favorite Meryl Streep for “August: Osage County” is sure to land the actress her record-breaking 18th nomination.  That leaves two seats open. It’s going to be a battle in my opinion between Dench and Thompson, while their films are not box-office hits, “Saving Mr. Banks” has a bit more of a punch than “Philomena” which pushes Thompson closer to a nomination. That fifth spot should go to Amy Adams for her sensational work in “American Hustle.” She’s been recognized by the Academy four-times already without a win, this could be the performance that solidifies a win for the actress that is way overdo.

The race for Best Actor has never been more competitive than in 2013.  There were so many great performances, some will be overlooked.  Locks in the race include Chiwetel Ejiofor for “12 Years a Slave,” Matthew McConaughey for “Dallas Buyers Club” and Leonardo DiCaprio “The Wolf of Wall Street.”  The final two spots will be tough for the Academy to choose.  We have Tom Hanks “Captain Phillips,” Bruce Dern “Nebraska,” Robert Redford “All is Lost,” Michael B. Jordan “Fruitvale Station,” Christian Bale “American Hustle,” Idris Elba “Mandela: Long Journey Home,” and Forest Whitaker “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” That’s seven actors vying for two spots. While Elba delivers exceptional work as Nelson Mandela, I don’t see him getting a nod as Morgan Freeman recently landed one for his work in “Invictus.” Redford’s performance in “All is Lost” is virtually silent, so while stellar, seems like a stretch, but Jean DuJuardin was nominated for “The Artist.”  “Fruitvale Station” came out so long ago, people have all, but forgotten the picture.  So it’s a race between Phillips, Dern and Whitaker.  I thought Whitaker was stellar, but I see Hanks and Dern nabbing the two final slots, but Bale could be a dark horse in this race.

Best Director is a two-person race between Alfonso Cuaron “Gravity” and Steve McQueen “12 Years a Slave.”  The other slots are open for filling. It should be no surprise to see Martin Scorsese land a nomination for his directorial tact in “The Wolf of Wall Street” his best work to date in my opinion.  Pure genius! The fourth and fifth spots become a bit tricky, as the directors branch of the Academy is known for throwing curve balls.  Paul Greengrass “Captain Phillips,” David O. Russell “American Hustle” and Alexander Payne “Nebraska” are contenders. Russell should earn another nomination for his work in “American Hustle,” that last seat is a fight between Greengrass and Payne, but a dark horse remains in Woody Allen for “Blue Jasmine.” Many are forgetting about the acclaimed director, who should be a lock in this race, but could lose his seat to Greengrass for “Captain Phillips.”

Best Picture has been a race I’ve all but lost hope for ever since extending the number of films that should be nominated. The Academy should go back to just nominating five films as it keeps things a bit more competitive, heck we know certain pictures that receive nominations have absolutely no chance of winning the coveted prize. So if we were looking at only five pictures to garner nominations the category would include “12 Years a Slave,” “Gravity,” “Captain Phillips,” “American Hustle” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.” We should expect between 5-8 films to be nominated, so three additional movies likely to land in the race include “Nebraska,” “Inside Llewyn Davis” and “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” There are many pictures vying for Best Picture slots, so expect those additional three to four slots to go to pictures with box-office power.

So those are my picks for Oscar nominations. Do you agree with the choices I have made, voice your opinion on our Facebook page and see if I’m right on Thursday, January 16, 2014 when Academy Award nominations are announced!

By LaDale Anderson