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Who are this year's Oscar dark horses?

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 1/16/2017 Andrea Mandell
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Almost a year after its release, 'Deadpool' has Oscar on the brain. © David Dolsen, Marvel Almost a year after its release, 'Deadpool' has Oscar on the brain.

Every year, Oscar voters throw out a curveball or two in the nominations. Last year, the honor went to Mark Rylance, who shocked Oscarologists by picking up a best supporting actor nomination for Bridge of Spies — and then won the statue on the big night without campaigning. In 2012, it was Bridesmaids, the raunchy R-rated comedy that scored a nomination for best picture — an eyebrow raiser, considering that the Academy Awards aren't known for giving funny films their due. Whose name could surprise when nominations are announced Jan. 24? We explore this year's dark horses.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson  Supporting actor: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, 'Nocturnal Animals' © Tommaso Boddi, WireImage, WireImage Supporting actor: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, 'Nocturnal Animals'

The British actor plays a Texas psychopath in Nocturnal Animals, and thanks to his surprise Golden Globe win for supporting actor, the heat is on. "Aaron Taylor-Johnson is definitely coming on strong right now," says Dave Karger, special correspondent for the movie website IMDb.com. "The win at the Golden Globes, plus the BAFTA nomination, really mean that he’s the guy from that movie with the best shot at a nomination, not Michael Shannon like everybody initially thought."

Isabelle Huppert  This image released by NBC shows Isabelle Huppert accepting the award for best actress in a motion picture drama for her role in "Elle" at the 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017. (Paul Drinkwater/NBC via AP) © The Associated Press This image released by NBC shows Isabelle Huppert accepting the award for best actress in a motion picture drama for her role in "Elle" at the 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017. (Paul Drinkwater/NBC via AP)

The acclaimed French actress turned many a critic's head in Elle, and insiders say she could end up with a best actress nomination. "She pulls off an upset against Natalie Portman at the Globes and she’s a serious threat at the Oscars, even to win," says Tom O'Neil, founder of awards prediction site GoldDerby.com. "It’s suddenly a highly contested race."

Meryl Streep Meryl Streep poses in the press room with the Cecil B. DeMille award at the 74th annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP) © The Associated Press Meryl Streep poses in the press room with the Cecil B. DeMille award at the 74th annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

It's no secret that Oscar voters love Streep, but her leading performance in Florence Foster Jenkins seemed to have slipped off the actress short list — until she criticized Donald Trump in the Globes speech heard 'round the world. "Suddenly, she is a force here," says O'Neil. And since Streep's televised moment happened while Oscar ballots were out, that could change everything. "Hollywood could not only rally behind her for the nomination, they could rally behind her for the win," he says.

'Hidden Figures' Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe, left), Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) take time to dance in the period drama 'Hidden Figures.' © Hopper Stone Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe, left), Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) take time to dance in the period drama 'Hidden Figures.'

Most analysts agree there are four sure bets in the picture race: La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight and Arrival. But Hidden Figures could be the new American Sniper after winning the box office. "Hidden Figures is the one movie that is most on the bubble right now," says Karger, calling the movie "a real player" thanks to a Screen Actors Guild nomination for best cast, plus Producers Guild and Writers Guild nominations. Many consider Octavia Spencer a lock for a supporting actress nomination, but could Taraji P. Henson break into best actress? Thanks to the film's success (and her character's impassioned Oscar-bait speech inside NASA's all-white walls), "she could go along for the ride," says O'Neil.

'Deadpool' This image released by Twentieth Century Fox shows Ryan Reyonlds in a scene from the film, "Deadpool." The Producers Guild of America has nominated awards season favorites “La La Land,” “Moonlight” and “Manchester by the Sea” for its top award, as well as the R-rated superhero film “Deadpool.” Winners will be announced in a Jan. 28 ceremony at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. (Joe Lederer/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. via AP) © The Associated Press This image released by Twentieth Century Fox shows Ryan Reyonlds in a scene from the film, "Deadpool." The Producers Guild of America has nominated awards season favorites “La La Land,” “Moonlight” and “Manchester by the Sea” for its top award, as well as the R-rated superhero film “Deadpool.” Winners will be announced in a Jan. 28 ceremony at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. (Joe Lederer/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. via AP)

Ryan Reynolds has launched an impressive late-game Oscar campaign, and his budget superhero flick recently earned a spot on the Producers Guild list of the year's best films. But Karger cautions to remember what happened with big-budget spectacles like Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the Harry Potter franchise, both of which failed to nab best picture nods. "There is a history of blockbusters making it into the Producers Guild top 10 but not getting an Oscar nomination," says Karger. 

Mel Gibson Director Mel Gibson and Andrew Garfield promote their movie, 'Hacksaw Ridge,'at the Four Seasons in Los Angeles. © Dan MacMedan, USA TODAY, USA TODAY Job # 135668 Director Mel Gibson and Andrew Garfield promote their movie, 'Hacksaw Ridge,'at the Four Seasons in Los Angeles.

Talk about “a literal wild card," says O'Neil. Hacksaw Ridge is "full of patriotic spirit and religious passion. ... That’s usually a formula for Oscar bait." But is Hollywood ready for forgive the star's troubled past by nominating him for best director? "That’s what the Oscars are all about, bestowing hugs, who we love, who we don’t," says O'Neil. 

Hugh Grant Supporting actor: Hugh Grant, 'Florence Foster Jenkins' © Nick Wall, AP, Paramount Pictures Supporting actor: Hugh Grant, 'Florence Foster Jenkins'

Will Streep's screen husband in Florence Foster Jenkins make the cut? He's "vulnerable," says O'Neil, noting Nocturnal Animals' Michael Shannon, Hidden Figures' Kevin Costner or Hell or High Water's Ben Foster could take his spot in supporting actor, while Karger points out that he'd have to edge in among surer bets like Moonlight's Mahershala Ali, Hell or High Water's Jeff Bridges and Lion's Dev Patel.

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