At this point last year, the nominees for one of the most predictable Oscars in the history of the event had already been announced, with little to no surprises. While the 81st Academy Awards did manage to improve on the ratings of the previous year — due in large part to host Hugh Jackman’s showmanship — the awards show still posted the third lowest numbers in the past 20 years.

Luckily for the Academy, this year’s event looks to be far more intriguing. Whether it’s the increase in Best Picture nominees from five to ten, the inconsistency in winners among other award shows and critics’ prizes, or the stronger overall crop of films and performances, the 82nd Academy Awards should provide more drama than viewers have seen in years.

And it will all start this Tuesday when the Academy announces their nominees before most people have even rolled out of bed. Below I’ve highlighted the major categories, predicting who I think will capture these coveted nominations.

Best Picture

In any other year, predicting the nominees for film’s top prize would have been a piece of cake. You have the juggernaut Golden Globe-winning blockbuster, “Avatar,” a technical masterpiece that should earn the most nominations of any film this year — reminiscent of James Cameron’s box office champ, “Titanic,” which earned a record 14 nominations. Then you have the two timely picks, “Up in the Air” and “The Hurt Locker,” the favorites among the critic circles. Round it out with the poignant indie, “Precious,” and Quentin Tarantino’s bloody-good war flick, “Inglourious Basterds,” and you have your five.

From here it gets a bit more difficult, but I would say Pixar’s “Up” will join “Beauty and the Beast” as the only other animated film to be nominated for Best Picture. “Invictus” is your typical Oscar fodder, and indie-fave, “An Education,” has been coming on strong with critics of late. The final two spots I’m going to give to “A Serious Man,” because of the Coen clout, and the semi-long shot, “District 9.”

Sitting on the outside looking in, but with strong dark horse potential, are “(500) Days of Summer” and “Star Trek,” with the former suffering from a lack of romantic comedy love in the past and the latter losing out to other sci-fi flicks, “Avatar” and “District 9.”

Best Director

Ex-spouses James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”) are shoo-ins as Golden Globe and Directors Guild winners, respectively. This will make Bigelow only the fourth woman ever to be nominated for Best Director. Quentin Tarantino and Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”) should also pick up their second nods in this category, leaving the last spot to Clint Eastwood (“Invictus”) or Lee Daniels (“Precious”). Daniels took the final spot at the Directors Guild Awards, but I think the Academy will go with Eastwood, a two-time winner in this category.

Best Actor

George Clooney (“Up in the Air”) has dominated the critics’ prizes in this category and Jeff Bridges (“Crazy Heart”) already has a Golden Globe and a SAG Award under his belt for his stirring performance as a down-and-out country singer, making these two screen veterans definite ins. Morgan Freeman (“Invictus”) and Colin Firth (“A Single Man”) have joined Clooney and Bridges in every other major list, so expect them to receive the same love from the Academy. The final spot is up for discussion. Whoever gets it won’t be winning anyway, but as they always say, it’s an honor to be nominated, so I’ll go with Jeremy Renner for his gripping turn as a conflicted, bomb-defusing soldier in “The Hurt Locker.”

Best Actress

Earning what would be an unprecedented 16th Oscar nomination, Meryl Streep (“Julie & Julia”) should join indie darlings Carey Mulligan, the driving force behind the success of “An Education,” and newcomer Gabourey Sidibe (“Precious”). Golden Globe and SAG Award winner Sandra Bullock will take one of the final two spots for her role in the surprise box office success, “The Blind Side,” and past winner Helen Mirren (“The Last Station”) should edge out her competitors due to her elite status with Academy voters.

Best Supporting Actor/Actress

In the two most predictable categories this year, Christoph Waltz (“Inglourious Basterds”) and Mo’Nique (“Precious”) are clear frontrunners, sweeping every major award this year. Matt Damon (“Invictus”), who will earn his first nomination in 12 years, Woody Harrelson (“The Messenger”) and first time nominee Stanley Tucci (“The Lovely Bones”) should join them, along with Christopher Plummer for his role as Leo Tolstoy opposite onscreen wife, Mirren, in “The Last Station.”

Rounding out Supporting Actress, I would take both of Clooney’s gals, Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga, for their high-flying performances in “Up in the Air,” and silver screen veteran Julianne Moore (“A Single Man”). SAG nominee Diane Kruger (“Inglourious Basterds”) and latecomer Samantha Morton (“The Messenger”) will have to fight it out for the last spot. I’ll take Kruger solely because “Basterds” was the more critically and commercially favored of the two.

Best Adapted/Original Screenplay

Reitman (“Up in the Air”) has cleaned up in the Adapted Screenplay category and should be joined by Wes Anderson’s quirky “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” Geoffrey Fletcher’s heartrending “Precious” and Nick Hornby’s “An Education.” Give the final slot to Neill Blomkamp’s imaginative “District 9.”

Original Screenplay should boast some stalwart scripts, with “Inglourious Basterds,” “The Hurt Locker,” “Up” and “A Serious Man” all picking nods. The final spot is a toss-up, but I’m going to go with “(500) Days of Summer” for cleverly reinventing the rom-com genre.

Tony Lewis is a senior majoring in journalism and legal studies. Comments? Questions? E-mail him at [email protected]