First, the limitations:
Movies I haven't seen but might like to see (even if they have no chance to crack my top 10)--italicized numbers are to indicate the ranking in the top 25 by 2012 box office, according to imdb.com:
5 Skyfall; 10 Lorax; 11 Men in Black 3; 14 Snow White & the Huntsman; 21 Magic Mike (O.K., I'm not really interested); Anna Karenina; Life of Pi; Looper (now in DVD); Hyde Park on the Hudson; Perks of Being a Wallflower; and Not Fade Away.
Major movies not eligible for consideration, as they have not been released generally in 2012 ("Exclusive Engagements" to allow Oscar consideration definitely do not qualify in my book):
Zero Dark Thirty, The Impossible, Promised Land.
These are movies that I consider to be flawed in major ways, but I respect them as decent efforts, worthy of viewing:
The Master, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Dark Knight Rises Again, Hope Springs, and The Ides of March.
#10 - Brave (#7 box office) - Gets my vote for best animated feature. Fun, and with some socially redeeming value, as well.
#9 - Silver Linings Playbook - In a weaker year, I would seriously consider it as a Best Picture candidate (say, if it had been released in 2011, it would be comparable in quality to "The Descendants", a movie with which it has some similarity. Descendants was my choice in the final run-up to Oscar last year.)
#8 - Moonrise Kingdom - See comments for "Silver Linings Playbook" above. It has the additional handicap of being released in the middle of the year, from an Oscars perspective. Kind of a silly movie, fundamentally (is it advocating teenagers make life-changing romantic engagement?); very strong ensemble acting.
#7 - Avengers (#1) - Had all the elements for success--big stars, big effects, a complex story, and most crucially, built up some of the relatively minor characters (e.g., Captain America, Iron Man) with successful movies featuring them. Scarlett Johanson, The Hulk, didn't need much build-up. A good, wild ride.
#6 - Hunger Games - (#3) - Speaking as a non-reader of the trilogy, I thought it stood up well on its own as entertainment. I also observed that it satisfied the reading devotees, so in that regard it outdid the likes of The Hobbit and Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (the latter of which, I'm pleased to say, I did not see).
#5 - 21 Jump Street (#16) - Again, I was no fan of the TV show, maybe saw it once or twice. I thought the movie was pretty hilarious, and to me, it was surprising it didn't do better box office.
#4 - Les Miserables - The dark horse for Oscar awards, in my humble opinion: unlike Zero Dark 30, which I expect to get many nominations and few awards, I think this one will come up the aisle with 3-4 statuettes (cleverly, they added an original song; could easily win sound editing (if not a technological achievement award, as well), best supporting actress, makeup, costumes, set design, and will be in the running for best actor, direction--though Tom Hooper did win in 2011). The best movie musical I've seen in several years.
#3 - Argo (#24) - In a lesser year, would be a top contender for Oscars; it may still win one or two (Alan Arkin would be the best bet but has won Best Supporting Actor before). Credit to Ben Affleck for recognizing and executing upon a naturally great story.
#2 - Cloud Atlas - It's being overlooked for everything except its visual effects. It has the defects of not being topical or having classical focus. Its making is a milestone achievement, in my view; I'm hoping its lack of success won't prevent the making of other David Mitchell novels--my suggestion for the next would be The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.
#1 - Lincoln (#23) - Entertainment value is only "Good", but educational value is superior, technical achievement superior, redeeming social value off the charts. The only movie I can compare it to is "Gandhi", and I would say it had a better script, equal star performance, similar quality of indelible images.
My Oscar Picks (Limited, as Above)
These are what I would advocate today; I reserve the right to change my view, and certainly about what I think will win.
Best Picture - Lincoln
Best Actor - Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
Best Actress - Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
Best Supporting Actor - Robert DeNiro (S.L.P.)
Best Supporting Actress - Ann Hathaway (Les Miz)
Best Director - Ben Affleck (Argo)-- that may be a long shot. This is the toughest call , with an extremely strong field, but of the major contenders, Spielberg, Ang Lee, Hooper, and Kathryn Bigelow have all won it, so that leaves the two Andersons, David O. Russell, and Affleck.
Best Original Screenplay - Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master) - though I think Mark Boal may end up as the favorite for 0D30.
Best Adapted Screenplay - Tony Kushner (Lincoln). It had better be!
Best Foreign Language - Amour or The Intouchables, whichever gets the nomination from France.
Best Song - Suddenly (Les Miz) --I'd bet on Adele for Skyfall, though.
Best Score - John Williams (Lincoln) - Always a good bet.
Costumes - Lincoln
Makeup - Les Miz
Cinematography - Lincoln (Zero Dark 30?)
Best Editing - Lincoln (Life of Pi?)
Best Art Direction - Lincoln
Sound Editing - Les Miz
Visual Effects - Avengers (I think that's more realistic than Cloud Atlas, which everyone has already forgotten. Alas!)