Ben Affleck in ArgoAs I only predicted 15 out of 24 categories correctly for the previous Academy Awards, obviously I have some making up to do for my prognostic abilities to again be taken seriously.

Of all freakin' times to attempt a comeback ... !

Don't tell anyone. But usually, when it comes to predicting the winners of the Academy Awards' major races, it doesn't take much to look like you know what you're talking about.

So what did we learn from this morning's announcement of contenders for the 85th Annual Academy Awards?

It's incomplete, with such 2012 releases as Zero Dark Thirty, Amour, Rust & Bone, Arbitrage, The Intouchables, Not Fade Away, and Here Comes the Boom (ha ha!) still requiring my viewing. And it's certainly eclectic, as even I can't fathom a double feature of titles number one and two below. But in an all-around outstanding year for movies, the following ranking of 10 selections - with a bonus inclusion - is, as of January 6, my list of the absolute best times I had as a film fanatic this past year.

 

Sam Rockwell and Colin Farrell in Seven Psychopaths"So, Mike, what did you think of the other 2012 movies you saw?"

Gosh, how nice of you to ask!

In descending order of appreciation ... .

Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark ThirtyWill it be Argo's year or Lincoln's? Affleck's or not-Affleck's? Day-Lewis' or ... ?

Well, it's gonna be Day-Lewis'.

Obviously, a lot of noise surrounded The Dark Knight Rises, starting with the hype and anticipation. Then came the extreme reactions to some early negative reviews. And then the midnight-screening mass shooting in Colorado appropriately redirected attention to important matters.

The deaths of 12 people and the injuries to dozens more in that Colorado movie theatre on July 20 highlighted that neither a movie nor Batman is anywhere near as important as human lives.

Yet the arts are still integral to our existence, and whatever you think of Christopher Nolan's trilogy as films, these movies will stand as key markers in the lives of many millions of people and in the movie business, and they will be viewed as reflections of their cultural and political time. Like the original trio of Star Wars movies, we can already see them as significant pop-art artifacts.

For those reasons alone, Nolan's Batman movies deserve close scrutiny. They also reward inspection and consideration, as the writer/director has conceived and executed them with a rigor and density unusual to blockbusters. (Expect spoilers, although I've tried to be circumspect about late developments in The Dark Knight Rises until the final section.)

Best Actress Meryl StreepThe first trophy handed out at the 2012 Academy Awards ceremony was for Best Cinematography, a prize that I predicted would go to The Tree of Life but that instead went to Hugo. (Seriously, after his undeserved losses for 2006's Children of Men and now the Terrence Malick film, exactly whom does Emmanuel Lubezki have to do to win an Oscar?) But that was actually my second incorrect assumption of the evening, because as soon as host Billy Crystal stepped on stage, I said to the others at my viewing party, "Here comes the standing ovation," and the audience - despite giving the man a warm reception - remained seated. Did the crowd have a collective premonition of just how spectacularly Crystal would bomb last night?

Uggie and Jean Dujardin in The Artist

[Author's note: Well, considering that these original Oscar predictions are in print, I guess I'm stuck with them, right? Au contraire! Over the 13 days since this article was originally published online, Hollywood's arts & crafts guilds announced their winners, the British Academy of Film & Television Awards (BAFTA) were handed out, and numerous prognosticators far more in-the-loop than I am have weighed in. And so I'm finally prepared to offer my absolute, final, turn-in-your-Oscar-pool-guesses-now choices, having changed my original guesses on a full seven of the 24 categories. My final picks, along with some commentary, follow the originally published predictions. And don't forget to follow my reactions to the ceremony at Twitter.com/MikeSchulzNow. Let's see how awful my spelling gets as the night rolls on and I get more and more dru- ... ! Um-m-m ... . More and more excited, I mean!]

After tying my personal best two years ago, when I guessed correctly in 18 of the 24 individual Academy Award races, I experienced a rather sizable setback in 2011, amassing only 13 right. How am I feeling about my predictions this year?

Well ... I've certainly felt worse.

HugoWell, I have to hand it to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences: For all of the widespread grousing about its changing the rules regarding the Oscars' Best Picture race for the second time in three years, they did manage to make this morning's announcement of the 2012 Best Picture contenders exciting. And surprising. Very surprising.

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