February 13, 2009 at 05:00 AM EST

Original Screenplay
In a battle between speeches (Dustin Lance Black’s Milk) and ?silence (Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, and Pete Docter’s WALL-E), speeches will win. ?Plus, Milk is the only Best Picture nominee ?of the bunch.

Adapted Screenplay
This category includes adaptations of two acclaimed plays (Doubt ?and Frost/Nixon), a beloved novel by ?Bernhard Schlink (The Reader), and an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). But expect Slumdog ?Millionaire‘s Simon Beaufoy to trump his more highbrow competition.

The winner here doesn’t always match up with Best Picture, but unless the ?suspense-filled Dark Knight pulls an upset, ?the flashback-filled Slumdog should take it.

Button‘s Claudio Miranda would be the more traditional choice, but ?Anthony Dod Mantle’s energetic (and aerobic) camera work should result in another win ?for Slumdog.

Art Direction
With Slumdog not even among the nominees, this is finally a category where the lavish Benjamin Button will actually take home the prize.

Original Score
Indian superstar A.R. Rahman brought such vitality to Slumdog that he’s bound to be rewarded for his ultracontemporary soundtrack.

Original Song
Rahman has two noms in this category; Slumdog fans could split their vote and lead WALL-E‘s Peter Gabriel to a win for ”Down to Earth.” But the closing-credits dance anthem ”Jai Ho” should still come out on top.

Costume Design
Best usually means biggest here (see past winners Marie Antoinette ?and Elizabeth: The Golden Age), so bet on ?The Duchess‘ gorgeously over-the-top frocks.

Decades of impressive character ?aging for Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, and Taraji P. Henson means a no-brainer victory for Benjamin Button.

Sound Editing/Sound Mixing
With no ?musical in the race this year, voters will go the blockbuster route and recognize The Dark Knight over the more understated WALL-E ?in both sound categories.

Visual Effects
The Dark Knight could pick up another win here thanks to its stunning action scenes, but Benjamin Button‘s groundbreaking technical wizardry should prove irresistible.

Foreign-Language Film
France’s The Class seems to have the edge with Academy voters. But Israel’s Waltz With Bashir could dance to victory if the Academy is willing to embrace an animated documentary on a topical subject (Israelis at war).

Documentary Feature
Look for Man on Wire to stride the velvet tightrope to the ? podium, if Katrina doc Trouble the Water doesn’t unexpectedly sink it.

Documentary Short
The Witness — From the Balcony of Room 306, which recounts the week leading up to Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, should keep its eyes on the prize. If there’s an upset, it’ll be four-time nominee Steven Okazaki’s The Conscience of Nhem En.

Animated Feature
Not even close: WALL-E.

Animated Short
Presto, Pixar’s charmer about a magician’s rabbit that played before WALL-E, should conjure the award. Runner-up? The wordless pic La Maison en Petits Cubes.

Live-Action Short
Auf der Strecke (On the Line), a fascinating drama about a department-store security guard, deserves to win. But there’s a Holocaust film in this category: Spielzeugland (Toyland), which plays like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas with a happy(ish) ending.

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