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And the Oscar nominations go to...

Hollywood nostalgia may be warmly embraced Tuesday morning when the 2012 Academy awards nominations are announced. Films involving the invention of the cinema, the transition from Silent to Talkies and the legend of Marilyn Monroe are among those certain to be nominated.

To general confoundment and widespread delight, a black and white silent movie is likely to steal the headlines. Look for "The Artist" to be nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor (Jean Dujardin), Best Supporting Actress (Berenice Bejo), Best Director and Original Screenplay (Michel Hazanavicius), and in various technical categories.

How many Oscars it will win is anybody's guess. But in a year with no single stand-alone favorite, it's not unthinkable that it could lead the derby. Its success can be simply explained: It's so doggoned much fun, and Hollywood enjoyed its story of the historic transition from silent films to talkies--a story greatly influenced by the classic musical "Singin' in the Rain."

It's unlikely, however, that "The Artist" will push aside all the other leading candidates. There may be Oscars to spread around. Martin Scorsese is a perennial favorite of Academy voters, and his "Hugo" celebrates an even earlier chapter in movie history, its actual creation, as the young hero crosses paths with the French inventor of the cinema. Apart from its excellence, one reason "Hugo" may win votes is that Scorsese made good use of 3D, and that embattled format needs all the help it can get.

The nominations will be announced at a little after 7:30 a.m. CST on Tuesday, and will be carried live on the morning shows and cable news. For the first time, the Academy will get involved in the annual online buzz about its nominations, by sponsoring an hour-long live moderated chat starting Tuesday at 2 p. m. CST. It's open to fans at the Academy website, www.oscar.com.

Again this year, the Best Picture category isn't limited to five titles, but could grow as large as ten. Because of recent tweaks in the bylaws, however, there don't have to be 10 nominations, and could be as few as six or seven.

In addition to "The Artist" and "Hugo," the consensus is that these titles will be included: Alexander Payne's "The Descendants," Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," Tate Taylor's "The Help," Bennett Miller's "Moneyball," and Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life." Other strong possibilities: Steven Spielberg's "War Horse" and David Fincher's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (2011).

Having won Golden Globes awards, Meryl Streep ("The Iron Lady") and Michelle Williams ("My Week with Marilyn") are leaders in the Best Actress category, where Viola Davis "The Help"), Tilda Swinton ("We Need to Talk About Kevin") and Charlize Theron ("Young Adult") are likely to fill out the bill. Williams may be the front runner here, again with a film involving Hollywood's past. The much-honored Streep was thought to be uncanny in her performance as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, but the film itself didn't measure up.

For Best Actor, there are four front runners: Dujardin, Hollywood favorite George Clooney ("The Descendants"), Brad Pitt ("Moneyball") and Michael Fassbender ("Shame"). For Fassbender, the nomination itself will likely be the award, because the image-conscious Academy is unlikely to honor a performance as a compulsive masturbator.

By proving a popular Golden Globe winner, Octavia Spencer has become a front-runner for Best Supporting actress for "The Help." Jessica Chastain, who had a sensational year in 2011 with five major performances, will be named--probably for "The Help," however, and not for her best performance, in "The Tree of Life." Shailene Woodley is likely to be nominated as the feisty daughter in "The Descendants," and Berenice Bejo as the overnight sensation who befriends Dujardin's cast-side silent star in "The Artist." I suspect the fifth nomination will go to Janet McTeer, as a woman who passes as a man in order to hold her job, and takes sympathy on Glenn Close's "Albert Nobbs," who is trying to do the same thing.

In the Best Supporting Actor category, the Golden Globes may once again prove influential, assisting Christopher Plummer's chances for "Beginners," as an old closeted gay man who finally comes out. Albert Brooks, usually the star and director of comedies, will be nominated for his edgy gangster in "Drive," Jonah Hill for his numbers-crunching baseball geek in "Moneyball," and Kenneth Branagh will be named as Sir Laurence Olivier in "My Week with Marilyn."

In the Best Director category, wait for the annual Directors' Guild Awards to be given out on Jan. 28. The odds are historically high that the five directors honored will turn out to have directed five of the Best Picture nominees--in fact, the odds are higher since there can be more than five BP titles. Expect to hear the names of Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Alexander Payne, Michel Hazanavicius and Spielberg, Fincher or Malick.

Immediately after the nominees are announced, Los Angeles ad agencies and billboard companies will go into frenzy of activity, and you can expect to see a great deal of the nominees on every possible talk show. The Oscar ceremony will be held Feb. 26 at the Kodak Pavilion on Hollywood Blvd, with Billy Crystal as the host for the ninth time.

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