The wait is nearly over. Will the Academy raise a loud cheer for the silent film ''The Artist''? We say yes. Read on for all our Oscar predictions

By Dave Karger
Updated February 17, 2012 at 05:00 AM EST

Best Picture
Under this year’s balloting regulations, Academy members will rank all nine Best Picture nominees. The No. 1 votes will be tabulated first, then the No. 2s — so a film needs to be near the top of many ballots to be named the Oscar winner. Six of this year’s entries — The Tree of Life, Moneyball, Midnight in Paris, War Horse, The Descendants, and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close — are clearly at the back of the pack. Though it took home the Screen Actors Guild award for best cast, The Help lacks the support of voters in the craft and technical branches to make it a strong contender. And even though Hugo amassed the most nominations, its lack of acting nods hurts its chances as well. So with wins from the Producers Guild and Directors Guild (and 10 Oscar nods), The Artist seems poised to become the second silent Best Picture winner in Oscar history.

The Artist 20%
The Help 15%
Hugo 15%
The Descendants 10%
Midnight in Paris 10%
Moneyball 10%
The Tree of Life 8%
War Horse 7%
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close 5%

Best Actor
For first-timers Demián Bichir and Gary Oldman, the nomination is the win here. And Brad Pitt reminded us all that he’s more than just a tabloid fixure — he’s a tremendous actor as well. But this amounts to a race between George Clooney, the elder statesman looking for a Best Actor trophy to match his Supporting Actor prize for 2005’s Syriana, and Jean Dujardin, the revelation who accomplished so much by saying so little. Dujardin won the Screen Actors Guild prize, which indicates strong industry support. But our money is still on Clooney for pushing himself to places unknown in The Descendants.

George Clooney, The Descendants 35%
Jean Dujardin, The Artist 30%
Brad Pitt, Moneyball 15%
Demián Bichir, A Better Life 10%
Gary Oldman, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy 10%

Golden Globe winner Michelle Williams, so luminous as Marilyn Monroe, has likely already had her moment in the awards-show spotlight. And the fierce Rooney Mara should be proud to be this year’s youngest acting nominee. In a weaker year, they’d have had a shot at the win, but not this time. As for the other three candidates? This year marks the third time Meryl Streep and Glenn Close are both up for a Best Actress Oscar. On the two previous occasions, they both lost (to Moonstruck‘s Cher in 1988 and The Accused‘s Jodie Foster in 1989, to be precise). And it looks like history is about to repeat itself. In her first-ever lead film role (hard to believe in itself), Viola Davis, ever graceful and understated in The Help, provides the most emotional heft of the five nominated performances. And in a tight race, that makes all the difference.

Viola Davis, The Help 35%
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady 30%
Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn 20%
Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs 10%
Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo 5%

Best Supporting Actor
Can anyone beat Christopher Plummer? In a word: No. Nick Nolte is carrying the torch for Warrior, easily the most underappreciated film of the year; Kenneth Branagh deserves praise for so successfully embodying one of his personal heroes (Laurence Olivier); and Jonah Hill has certainly changed the course of his career with his acclaimed turn in Moneyball. There’s a lot of support for Extremely Loud‘s Max von Sydow, whose touching performance as a mute gives voters a third acting category in which to recognize silent work. But this category belongs to 82-year-old Plummer, who brought such vitality to his out-and-proud widower in Beginners.

Christopher Plummer, Beginners 45%
Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close 30%
Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn 15%
Nick Nolte, Warrior 5%
Jonah Hill, Moneyball 5%

Best Supporting Actress
It’s always exciting when the Academy changes pace a bit and recognizes a comedic performance. And it’s particularly fun when that performance is as gonzo as Melissa McCarthy’s in Bridesmaids. Though the expressive Bérénice Bejo, versatile Jessica Chastain, and formidable Janet McTeer all more than earned their nominations, McCarthy is the only real contender with any shot to dethrone this year’s Supporting Actress steamroller, Octavia Spencer. But given Spencer’s awards-season dominance (she’s already won the Critics’ Choice, Golden Globe, and SAG awards for her commanding performance in The Help), even that would be a shock. Minny Jackson was clearly a role Spencer was born to play, and she and Viola Davis are poised to become the first-ever pair of African-American acting winners from the same film.

Octavia Spencer, The Help 35%
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids 25%
Bérénice Bejo, The Artist 20%
Jessica Chastain, The Help 10%
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs 10%

Best Director
Last year’s Best Director race was a competition between four established filmmakers and one relative newcomer, Tom Hooper, who ended up winning the prize. The dichotomy between veterans and rookies is even more pronounced this year. Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Alexander Payne, and Terrence Malick have a combined 34 previous Oscar nominations and five wins, while The Artist‘s writer-director-coeditor, Michel Hazanavicius, earned his first three nods this year. But as we learned last year, Academy members are often blind to experience and acknowledge the film (and filmmaker) that moved them the most. In that case, the first-time nominee will also become a first-time winner.

Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist 30%
Martin Scorsese, Hugo 25%
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris 20%
Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life 15%
Alexander Payne, The Descendants 10%

The Other Races
Our picks in the remaining categories.Dave Karger and Thom Geier

Original Screenplay
Even fans of The Artist have to concede that Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris script is the most magical and delightful of the year.

Adapted Screenplay
If the Academy’s recent penchant for scripts with one credited writer continues, John Logan’s Hugo could benefit. But Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash’s insightful screenplay for The Descendants stands to top Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian’s more clinical Moneyball.

Foreign Language Film
Iran’s A Separation leads the field, though it’s worth noting that there is a Holocaust drama in the mix (Poland’s In Darkness).

Animated Feature
Rango, all the way.

Animated Short Film
The standout is former Pixar designer William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg’s delightful The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.

Since this award usually matches up with Best Picture, The Artist is poised to beat runners-up Hugo and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Look for Emmanuel Lubezki’s breathtaking The Tree of Life camera work to trump Hugo and The Artist.

Art Direction
If there’s one award the visually stunning Hugo has in the bag, it’s this one.

Costume Designer
The Artist‘s 1920s duds aren’t as showy as many Oscar winners. But with few overly extravagant competitors, it should sew up a victory.

In a race between films featuring transformed female stars, The Iron Lady has the advantage over Albert Nobbs.

Original Score
Even with the brouhaha over the film’s use of Bernard Herrmann’s Vertigo music, The Artist (scored by Ludovic Bource) is the clear favorite.

Original Song
With only two nominees, it’s a 50/50 call. Expect The Muppets‘ ”Man or Muppet” to beat Sergio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown, and Siedah Garrett’s Rio tune.

Visual Effects
If there’s a mini-Hugo sweep, it could take this prize. But the impressive motion-capture simians from Rise of the Planet of the Apes should prove too bold to overlook.

Sound Mixing
With The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and War Horse in the mix, there’s a lot to choose from. But overall support for Hugo may extend here.

Sound Editing
Hugo again.

Documentary Feature
The favorite is Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, about the West Memphis Three convicts, who left prison last year thanks in part to the filmmakers. If there’s an upset, it might be Wim Wenders’ 3-D dance film Pina or If a Tree Falls, about a jailed ecoterrorist.

Documentary Short
A toss-up. We pick Saving Face, about Pakistani women recovering from acid attacks by their families, over the Iraq-war-set Incident in New Baghdad and God Is the Bigger Elvis, about actress-turned-nun Mother Dolores Hart.

Live Action Short
Raju, about a German couple adopting a boy in India, is moving. But the edge goes to The Shore, an Ireland-set yarn from director Terry George (Hotel Rwanda).