First things first. The Broadcast Film Critics Association announces their awards on Monday night and this is the first major awards show of the year. Broadcast winners often match those of the Academy and at the very least, they determine who will be the season’s early frontrunners. Last year, The Departed won Best Picture, its first trophy en route for an Oscar win. They were also correct in every acting category except Supporting Actor (Eddie Murphy). Here are our predictions in the major categories.

Best Picture: Into The Wild
Best Director: Coens, No Country For Old Men
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Best Actress: Julie Christie, Away From Her
Best Supporting Actor: Javier Bardem, No Country For Old Men
Best Supporting Actress: Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone

Next up. The Director’s Guild of America (DGA) announces their nominations on Tuesday. There is hands down, NO BETTER indicator of the Academy Awards’ Best Picture five than these nominations. There were five for five in 2004 and 2005. Last year, they only missed Letters From Iwo Jima. Since 2001, they are at least correct on 4 out of the 5 films. Wow! It’s kind of interesting if you think about it, because the best directed film probably ought to be the best film after all. Here are our predictions.

Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country For Old Men
Sean Penn, Into The Wild
PT Anderson, There Will Be Blood
Ridley Scott, American Gangster
James Mangold, 3:10 to Yuma

Finally, since the new year is upon us, let’s revisit the complicated Best Picture race. Just like last year, the race for nominations is pretty much wide open. Ten films have consistently seen their names pop up on various critics/awards list and they are listed below. We’ll analyze each of their chances and narrow it down to our final five.

American Gangster: It’s got starpower with Washington/Crowe/Scott and the recent SAG ensemble nod boosts it chances. But reviews were lukewarm and the film, though weaving an interesting story, lacks passion and depth. The best it will likely do is a Directing nomination for Ridley.

Juno: Box office is approaching that of Little Miss Sunshine and it’s the only feel good movie that’s in contention. Usually there’s at least one light-hearted movie among the top five and this feels like it’s it. Ellen Page is getting extraordinary praise.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: It’s really moving audiences and features exceptional performances, but the Academy may decide that Best Foreign Language film is enough of an award.

No Country For Old Men: The only true lock for Best Picture. It’s so different than anything else and the message is deep and resonating. The Coens aren’t quite Martin Scorsese, but they are overdue. Wins from the National Board of Review and NY Film Critics Circle ensure it will get due recognition from the Academy.

Michael Clayton: Solid film on all levels, but is it really spectacular? With Clooney, Wilkinson, and Swinton all up for acting nominations, the actor’s branch could push it into the top five, but it could get edged out by the Academy’s preferential voting system, which awards passionate first place votes.

Atonement: Sweeping, romantic, old-fashioned. It’s more complex than it looks and Focus is planning a big push. However, comparisons to Cold Mountain are inevitable and Cold Mountain wasn’t nominated. This type of film may be out of favor with Academy voters in our current, cynical society. Unfortunate.

Sweeney Todd: Tim Burton may get recognized for his direction, but the conservative Academy is not going to nominate a film about a maniac barber who goes around killing people and cutting them up. Plus, it’s a musical, and musicals haven’t fared well lately.

3:10 to Yuma: It seemed finished after the first round of awards, but then a surprise SAG ensemble nomination and now a timely DVD release. Westerns are in style this year and this movie has heart and solid entertainment value (check out that box office). Lionsgate knows how to run a campaign, as evidenced by Crash a few years ago.

There Will Be Blood: PT Anderson is not popular with the Academy, but this film is supposed to be really, REALLY good. Unlike other features, it actually took its time to tell its story, thanks for a 2 hour, 20 minute plus running time. Its theme of unbridled greed and ambition may play well in today’s ultra competitive society.

Into The Wild: Most number of nominations from both the Broadcast Critics and the SAGs. It’s a charming, soul-searching adventure drama expertly directed by Sean Penn. True, it’s a small film and the box office has been less than impressive, but its core fans love it and that should be enough to crack the top tier.

OscarFrenzy’s Projected Best Picture Nominations:

3:10 to Yuma
No Country For Old Men
Into The Wild
Juno
There Will Be BloodThe Wild One full

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