HOLLYWOOD—My favorite day of the year is soon approaching. No it’s not my birthday, it’s not Thanksgiving, it’s not Christmas, its Oscar nominations! Yes, the 91st contenders for the Academy Awards will be unveiled on Tuesday, January 22, and like previous years I expect to see plenty of surprises just like in previous years despite the whole inclusion of more diverse members of the Academy.

Does the diversity change things? Of course, but at the end of the day, I’ve learned over recent years that the Oscars are like a game of politics. People are voting based on who they like and who they don’t like and some people tend to forget that. The one big difference for 2019 is that in my personal opinion there were no major standout flicks. We’ve seen good films, but I can’t place my finger on just that one movie that wowed me unlike anything else I’ve seen. I always go back to 2013/2014, which I thought was one of the best and most competitive years in cinema. I mean “12 Years A Slave,” “American Hustle,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Gravity” all stellar films all deserving of the Best Picture win and I would have been happy with ANY of them winning.  I can’t say the same for 2018.

Normally, I would save Best Picture for last, but let’s kick things off with that discussion. You already know I’m no fan of the preferential balloting that is used for this category where we can go anywhere from 5-10 movies. Look, it was 5 flicks for years, why the hell can’t we go back to that place. There is no point in nominating flicks that don’t even have the slightest chance of earning a win. Let’s focus on the ones that actual have a shot at the top prize.

Out of all the films, I would argue the only pure lock for me is “A Star is Born!” Critics love it, audiences love it and it is a damn fine drama to say the least. Other big contenders in the mix should be “Roma” and “The Favourite” which are earning all kinds of buzz and not currently facing backlash from potential commentary lurking via social media. So we have 3 films so far. I would argue we are likely to see 7-8 nominees in the Best Picture race this year, so that leaves four slots open. Other likely films to earn nominations include “Green Book,” “Vice,” “Black Panther,” “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “BlackKklansman.”

The remaining slots get tricky because all are viable contenders, but not all will make the cut. I feel “If Beale Street Could Talk” should land in the category, but I think that is more determined if its director Barry Jenkins earns a nomination over Spike Lee in the Best Director race. Other potentials include “Mary Poppins Returns,” but quite frankly I don’t see it, but the surprise could be “Crazy Rich Asians.” People are thinking 10 contenders I would lean on the safe bet of 8, with “A Star is Born,” “The Favourite,” “Roma,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Vice,” Green Book,” “Black Panther and “BlackKklansman” making the cut.

Best Director has two virtual locks, one likely being the winner in the race. Those contenders are Bradley Cooper for “A Star is Born” and Alfonso Cuaron for “Roma.” After that it all gets tricky because this race ALWAYS has a surprise nominee no one expected, which I love. Spike Lee has NEVER been nominated for Best Director and I think this will be the year that he earns his first nomination, but also in talks should be Barry Jenkins.  Are both likely to make the cut? I don’t think so, but if Lee makes it Jenkins might not, and if Jenkins makes it Lee might not. People are pegging Peter Farrelly for “Green Book,” but the controversy on that film I think is going to hurt Peter’s chances, and I think Yorgos Lanthimos is being underestimated for “The Favourite.” The one surprise I think could be Adam McKay for “Vice.” Expect Cuaron, Cooper, Lee, Lanthimos and McKay to make the cut.

Best Actor and Best Actress are fun categories for this year. Where Best Actress is very open to me, where Best Actor seems more locked at this point. For Best Actor you have three locks in Bradley Cooper “A Star is Born,” Rami Malek “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Christian Bale “Vice.” If any of those three ARE NOT nominated I would be stunned. The last two slots are more intriguing. Viggo Mortensen deserves a nod for his riveting work in “Green Book” which leaves only 1 slot open for grabs, and who’s getting it? This is the toughest, because I personally would throw Clint Eastwood in there for “The Mule,” but I’m not certain he can earn it regardless how well received the movie has been. I think the last spot is either going to Ethan Hawke “First Reformed” or William Dafoe for “At Eternity’s Gate.”

Both Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper are sure bets to earn nominations for their performances in “A Star is Born.”

For Best Actress Glenn Close “The Wife” and Lady Gaga “A Star is Born” are going toe-to-toe for the top prize and the likely frontrunners, in addition to Olivia Colman “The Favourite.” The last two spots again are open for grabs. I think people suspect Melissa McCarthy to be a lock for “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” I’m not so certain she’ll get it; I think Toni Collette for “Hereditary” deserves a nod. She was fantastic in that movie and she might be the surprise that no one expects. Yalitza Aparicio “Roma” could be the dark horse, while talk is burgeoning for Emily Blunt “Mary Poppins,” but I loved her more in “A Quiet Place.”

Best Supporting Actor might be the easiest to predict of the bunch, because four contenders are locks and there is one that could go anyway. Mahershala Ali “Green Book,” Richard E. Grant “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” Timothee Chalamet “Beautiful Boy,” (he should be in the Best Actor race), and Sam Elliott “A Star is Born” are certain to earn nominations. The fifth slot is the tricky one people because while Adam Driver “BlackKklansman” has earned accolades this awards season, I do not think he’s a lock. Driver is in a contentious battle with last year’s Best Supporting Actor winner Sam Rockwell, but this time Rockwell is winning praise for his performance as President George W. Bush in “Vice.”

Like the Best Supporting Actor category, similar sentiment can be echoed for Best Supporting Actress because four of the nominees are virtual locks in Amy Adams “Vice,” Regina King “If Beale Street Could Talk,” Emma Stone “The Favourite” and Rachel Weisz “The Favourite.” That fifth spot is the toss up people. It could go to Claire Foy who delivers great work in “First Man,” but the movie isn’t that good. A worthier candidate in my opinion is Emily Blunt in “A Quiet Place.” If she earns the nod I will be ecstatic because that bathtub scene was absolute gold in the cinematic universe.

If I had to place my bets on the biggest surprise it’s going to transpire in the Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Best Actor races. This year there is no hands down front-runners in the Best Picture race which will make for a very interesting ceremony come February 24.