Oscar Race Heats Up: Who Will Go for the Gold?

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It's Hollywood's equivalent of peering into a crystal ball.

As Oscar nominations inch closer (Jan. 25 at 8:30 a.m. ET, 5:30 a.m. PT, for those counting), newly announced contenders for other film industry honors offer clues as to who the Academy might deem worthy.

This week, the Producers Guild and the Writers Guild -- two of the three best known Hollywood guilds -- announced the nominees for their respective annual awards. The Producers Guild's picks for best picture: "127 Hours," "Black Swan," "Inception," "The King's Speech," "The Social Network," "The Kids Are Alright," "The Town," "True Grit" and "Toy Story 3."

The Writers Guild, which recognizes screenplay excellence, chose similar nominees: "Black Swan," "The Fighter," "Inception," "The Kids Are Alright" and "Please Give" for best original screenplay; "127 Hours," "I Love You Phillip Morris," "The Social Network," "The Town" and "True Grit" for best adapted screenplay.

Go to Oscar.com for Oscar coverage before, during and after the awards.

Unlike the Golden Globes -- which were widely criticized for nominating films that were poorly received by critics ("The Tourist," "Burlesque") and snubbing those that won rave reviews ("True Grit") -- the picks of the Producers Guild, the Writers Guild and the Directors Guild (contenders for its awards will be announced next week) could offer a clearer picture of the upcoming Academy Awards nominees.

Below, ABCNews.com takes a closer look at the folks and films likely to dominate Oscar nominations day:

Best Actress

Natalie Portman in "Black Swan."

Natalie Portman: For MaryAnn Johanson, a movie critic and founder of the long-running www.flickfilosopher.com, Portman leads the list for her turn as the psychologically fragile ballerina in "Black Swan," the tour de force directed by Darren Aronofsky. Portman's "Black Swan" co-stars, Mila Kunis and Barbara Hershey, could both be shoe-ins for Best Supporting Actress honors.

Sally Hawkins has a good shot for her portrayal of a British factory worker who leads a strike for equal wages in "Made in Dagenham." "Hawkins' character undergoes a powerful transformation, which also evokes Sally Fields' Oscar-winning performance in 'Norma Rae,'" said Johanson, adding that her Golden Globe-winning performance in "Happy Go Lucky" makes Hawkins far from an unknown quantity.

Lesley Manville is another favorite for her role in "Another Year." "Manville's character is unhappily single – she's self-delusional, desperate lonely and clingy – but puts on a brave front," said Johanson. "It's a heartbreaking performance."

Nicole Kidman is also on Johanson's radar for playing the Oscar-bait grieving-mother role in "Rabbit Hole."

Michelle Williams plays a young wife whose marriage is disintegrating in "Blue Valentine."

Noomi Rapace may also have a shot for her work playing the facially grommeted punk hacker Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish movie "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." (Rapace also starred in the two subsequent films in the series.)

"You don't often see female characters like the one played by Rapace, who was a startling screen presence," said Johanson. "She made a huge impression on movie goers and probably on Academy members as well."

However, said Johanson, the fact that "Dragon Tattoo" contained subtitles may prove to be its undoing. "Academy voters often disregard foreign movies outside the 'foreign film' category," she said.

Best Actor

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