It may have struggled to gain a foothold this week with groups like SAG and the HFPA, but "The Master" remains a pet of the critical community that has championed it since the fall. Right after The Guardian team named it the top film of 2012, Paul Thomas Anderson's thorny character study received further good news today from the Chicago Film Critics' Association, as it led their nominations list with a whopping 10 mentions.

The Chicago critics arguably sit alongside their Boston counterparts as the most significant regional critics' group after New York and Los Angeles -- not least because they incorporate the vote of America's favorite critic, Roger Ebert. Their picks can often be counted upon to avoid Oscar-season groupthink, and while it doesn't go out on too many limbs, this year's list follows suit.

Just behind "The Master," with nine nods, is "Beasts of the Southern Wild" -- meaning two films that are by no means Oscar certainties lead the pack, while industry favorites like "Les Miserables" and "Silver Linings Playbook" are largely left on the sidelines. Consensus picks "Argo," "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Lincoln" fill out the top category -- I might have expected to see LA Critics' champ "Amour" score here or for Michael Haneke in Director and Original Screenplay, though at least Emmanuelle Riva nabbed a Best Actress mention. 

Among the Windy City's more interesting picks, it's great to see "Holy Motors" dynamo Denis Lavant grab at Best Actor nod at the expense of stars like Bradley Cooper and Hugh Jackman, and I'm also glad to see at least one group ignoring campaign instructions and nominating "The Sessions" star Helen Hunt for Best Actress. Also, this is the first nomination I can recall for the superb Jason Clarke in Best Supporting Actor; I'd love to see his name mentioned more as "Zero Dark Thirty" builds momentum.

Meanwhile, it's interesting to see two previously under-the-radar screenplay contenders keep racking up mentions: "Looper" scores again in the original field, while word-of-mouth favorite "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" gets another adapted nod ahead of major Oscar hopefuls like "Life of Pi." Is the Academy's writers' branch hearing the same buzz? I'm beginning to think they might.

Check out the full list of nominations below, and catch up with the season thus far at The Circuit.

BEST PICTURE
Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Lincoln
The Master
Zero Dark Thirty

BEST DIRECTOR
Ben Affleck, Argo
Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

BEST ACTOR
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
John Hawkes, The Sessions
Denis Lavant, Holy Motors
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight

BEST ACTRESS
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts, The Impossible

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Jason Clarke, Zero Dark Thirty
Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained
Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Phillip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams, The Master
Emily Blunt, Looper
Judi Dench, Skyfall
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Django Unchained by Quentin Tarantino
Looper by Rian Johnson
The Master by Paul Thomas Anderson
Moonrise Kingdom by Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola
Zero Dark Thirty by Mark Boal

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Argo by Chris Terrio
Beasts of the Southern Wild by Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin
Lincoln by Tony Kushner
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Silver Linings Playbook by David O. Russell

BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM
Amour
Holy Motors
The Intouchables
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Rust and Bone

BEST DOCUMENTARY
The Central Park Five
The Invisible War
The Queen of Versailles
Searching For Sugar Man
West of Memphis

BEST ANIMATED FILM
Brave
Frankenweenie
ParaNorman
The Secret World of Arrietty
Wreck-It Ralph

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Claudio Miranda, Life of Pi
Janusz Kaminski, Lincoln
Mihai Milaimare Jr., The Master
Roger Deakins, Skyfall
Greig Fraser, Zero Dark Thirty

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Alexandre Desplat, Argo
Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Jonny Greenwood, The Master
Alexandre Desplat, Moonrise Kingdom
Alexandre Desplat, Zero Dark Thirty

BEST ART DIRECTION
Anna Karenina
Les Miserables
Lincoln
The Master
Moonrise Kingdom

BEST EDITING
Willian Goldenberg, Argo
Alexander Berner and Claus Wehlisch, Cloud Atlas
Leslie Jones and Peter McNulty, The Master
Stuart Baird, Skyfall
William Goldenberg and Dylan Tichenor, Zero Dark Thirty

MOST PROMISING PERFORMER
Samantha Barks, Les Miserables
Kara Hayward, Moonrise Kingdom
Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Tom Holland, The Impossible
Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild

MOST PROMISING FILMMAKER
Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Drew Goddard, The Cabin in the Woods
Nicholas Jarecki, Arbitrage
Colin Trevorrow, Safety Not Guaranteed
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild