By Anthony Breznican
Updated February 20, 2013 at 02:51 PM EST
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There’s no award given for Best Oscar Predictions — and if there were, I’m sure somehow Argo would figure out a way to win that, too.

But we at EW have done our best homework and legwork to try to gauge which films will triumph at Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony.

We talked to scores of voters, factored in guild wins and other pre-Oscar prizes, weighed critical assessments, checked our guts, flipped coins, threw darts at a board, prayed to St. Vitriol, patron saint of award season pundits, and watched an octopus and a gorilla repeatedly arm wrestle while they wore top hats emblazoned with the names of the two frontrunners in each category.

Science, baby.

For those who keep the Academy Awards in proper perspective, this whole thing is a casual guessing game, mainly designed to win some swag at an Oscar party. In Hollywood (or if your job is to write about Hollywood) this is the source of much angst and teeth-gritting as careers and reputations hang on the line.

Now would be a good moment to point out — again — that for all the emotion and effort that goes into winning these trophies, only the moviegoers years and decades from now are the true arbiters of what makes a great film or a great performance. As wonderful as it must be to win, there are countless iconic movies that remain essential and timeless, even though they were passed over for Oscars in their own day. And as painful as it may be to not win, it’s worth remembering that awards are one of those paradoxical things that can only make you happy if you can also live without them.

Award season does bring us something wonderful: months of in-depth debate about the best storytelling of the year. Oscar voting officially closed last night, so it’s all over now except for the opening of the envelopes.

Here are the winners we think you’ll hear on Sunday:

Director

Actor

Actress

Editing

NEXT PAGE: BEST PICTURE

Picture

Will Win: Argo

On the day of the Oscar nominations, EW’s headline was “Bad day for ‘Argo,’ ‘Les Mis’ and ‘Zero Dark Thirty’” — and it was, at that moment, since each of those perceived Best Picture contenders saw their filmmakers snubbed in the directing category. Ben Affleck’s win that very night for director and best picture at the Broadcast Film Critic Awards felt like cruel irony as he ruefully joked about thanking the Academy.

Then, just days later, Argo‘s fortunes changed. The film won best drama and best director at the Golden Globes, and at the event’s various after-parties voters began whispering about a possible scenario in which Argo claimed the Best Picture Oscar because the broader Academy wanted to right the wrong of the directors branch snubbing Affleck.

That prophecy was confirmed time and again in the weeks that followed as Argo swept the various guild awards.

On Sunday, expect to hear it announced as Best Picture.

Runner-up: Everyone suspects this is a battle between Argo and Lincoln, but the real potential spoiler here is Silver Linings Playbook. It’s the first movie since 1981’s Reds to land nominations in all four acting categories, which indicates broad support within the actors branch, the largest voting bloc in the Academy.

Surprise: Lincoln. Despite her decades-long career as a producer, Kathleen Kennedy has never won an Oscar. If Lincoln somehow overcomes the Argo Express, the prize will still be making up for a snub.

Director

Will Win: Ang Lee, Life of Pi

Sorry, Academy voters. You can’t write-in Ben Affleck in this category. It’s the one award the actor-turned-director definitely won’t win, since it’s the snub that fueled the juggernaut behind Argo. So who among the actual nominees could get it?

Affleck won the Directors Guild Award, so that prize is useless as an indicator. Benh Zeitlin, the newcomer nominated for Beasts of the Southern Wild, was a surprise nominee and is unlikely to prevail. Michael Haneke’s work on Amour is much admired by those who saw that drama about an aging couple at the end of life, but it will be a tight race between Spielberg, Ang Lee for Life of Pi and David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook.

I’ve repeated this a lot, but it’s worth saying again: Life of Pi is a massive directorial achievement, combining water, digital effects, animals, a new actor, and 3-D imagery — all complications which would make a lesser director tremble with terror. In fact, three other prominent filmmakers tried and failed to bring it to the screen. If Lee takes the award, it will be well earned.

Runner-Up: A week ago, for the print-edition predictions I gave Steven Spielberg the slight edge to win. But Spielberg has the disadvantage of being Spielberg. Whatever admiration he has earned from his peers, it’s veined with a fair amount of envy. Put it this way: It’s very difficult for some members of the Academy to give an “Employee of the Year” prize to the guy who owns the store. Will admiration for Lincoln be enough to overcome that? Based on voters I’ve spoken to, I’d say maybe — but if it does, only barely.

Surprise: David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook. A few voters have said they’re voting for him because they feel it’s worth honoring subtlety over scale. No recreations of Civil War-era Washington, D.C. or digital tigers prowling life boats here. If enough ballots are cast for this family grappling with love, football, and mental instability, it could be one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history.

NEXT: BEST ACTOR

Actor

Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

“What he pulled off was in a category of one.” This was what a director member of the Academy said, and it pretty much sums up the feelings of the majority. Day-Lewis will become the first performer to win three Oscars in the lead actor category for his role as the 16th U.S. president. No one else even comes close.

Runner-Up: Distantly, it’s Hugh Jackman for Les Miserables. His emotional, musical performance as Jean Valjean is much admired and even though he won’t win, it created a lot of goodwill that may pay off the next time he has an Oscar-nominated role.

Surprise: Bradley Cooper for Silver Linings Playbook. This is extremely unlikely, and Cooper has had some fun joking around about the speech he might give on Oscar night (spoiler: it would be a concession speech). But The Hangover star is perhaps the actor who benefited most from the nomination, earning respect not just as a pretty face, but as a star with sincerity and depth.

NEXT: BEST ACTRESS

Actress

Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

The Hunger Games star earned her first Oscar nomination two years ago for Winter’s Bone and has since become one of the most sought-after actresses in the industry. Her colorful, charismatic widow in Silver Linings Playbook won over a lot of voters, and despite her youth she has shown remarkable versatility. Her off-the-wall personality also tended to charm more than it offended. She won the SAG Award and the Golden Globe for comedy/musical, but still — this is a close one, and not a lock by any means.

Runner-Up: As calculating and cool as Jessica Chastain was in Zero Dark Thirty, her CIA agent kept the world at arm’s distance, which may be a solid portrayal of that type of character but didn’t give viewers much of a personal connection. Amour‘s Emmanuelle Riva, who turns 86 on Oscar night, caused a lot of Oscar-watchers to recalculate with her in the lead after she won the BAFTA award last week, but her agonizing drama about an elderly couple reaching the end of their lives is one of those films that some voters will secretly admit they were reluctant to watch.

Surprise: Naomi Watts, The Impossible. Another film that suffered due to voter procrastination. Quite a few dragged their feet when it came to screening this tsunami disaster-drama, which may have prevented it from getting more nominations. Those who have watched it tend to become passionate supporters. She hasn’t won much this season, but if there’s a shock in the acting category this year it might be from Watts.

Supporting Actor

Will Win: Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook

“He reminded me of my dad,” one writer in the Academy told EW. Whether the obsessive, football-wagering pater familias in this comedic drama brings up father issues with other voters, we’ll never know. But De Niro’s return to form after quite a few years of silly comedies and paycheck-cashing genre roles has struck a nerve with many Academy members, giving him the lead in a very tight race.

The usually tight-lipped De Niro put aside his reticence and campaigned hard, showing a softer side we don’t always associate with the Taxi Driver and Goodfellas star. When he choked-up on Katie Couric’s talk show, talking about director David O. Russell’s bi-polar son, it caused as much buzz as his performance.

Runner-up: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained. The gunslinging bon vivant who rides through the deep south collecting bounties on outlaws claimed Waltz a BAFTA prize and a Golden Globe. The Austrian actor is a great charmer, which makes him an excellent campaigner. Is it too soon after his Inglourious Basterds win for another Oscar? Maybe, but the Academy adores him.

Surprise: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln. He might be the frontrunner if not for his surly personal style. That’s not supposed to count in the awards race, but anyone who says it doesn’t is kidding themselves. Few performances were as energetic or charismatic, however, and since he did win the SAG Award, there’s a good chance he might take this one, too.

Supporting Actress

Will Win: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

Hathaway has practically swept award season, so although there may be a little “I Dreamed A Dream” fatigue setting in, she’s still likely to claim the top supporting actress honor. The single, unbroken shot of her performing that gut-wrenching song moved even voters who weren’t a fan of the movie.

Runner-up: Sally Field, Lincoln. She has two previous Oscars, winning each time she was nominated, but it has been a while. Her emotionally fraught First Lady brought her first nomination since 1984 and has a lot of admirers, although it will be an uphill battle to take the trophy from Hathaway.

Surprise: Helen Hunt, The Sessions. “Courageous,” “gutsy,” and “bold” are all words voters have used to describe her performance as a sexual therapist in this comedic-drama about a disabled man trying to learn about lovemaking. If there’s a longshot in this race who might take it, it’s Hunt.

Adapted Screenplay

Claire Folger

Will Win: Chris Terrio, Argo. Taut, funny, and pulse-pounding, this script claimed the WGA trophy and is riding high on the Argo wave of support. This category is extremely difficult to call, however. As fun as Terrio’s script is, it may have the least emotional depth in this field of nominees. If it wins, it will be because voters admired its finely crafted clockworks.

Runner-Up: Tony Kushner, Lincoln. The elegance of the language in this script is impossible to deny, yet somehow it has failed to build the passion necessary to dominate this award season. If there’s a contender who has been robbed this year, it’s Kushner. He blended real and imagined dialogue, built from letters, speeches, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s historical tome Team of Rivals, and his own imagination in a seamless recreation of backroom politicking during the Civil War. There’s still a chance, but the margin will be slim.

Surprise: David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook. I wouldn’t bet money on it, but there’s a chance that love for this movie could result in an upset here.

Original Screenplay

Andrew Cooper

Will Win: Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained

He didn’t win for Inglourious Basterds, which is arguably an even better script, but Academy voters remember those sorts of things and tend to count them toward the next good work a nominee does. This violent, racially charged shoot-’em-up had members cheering over its sheer blood-soaked audacity. The speechifying by Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio brings an added level of grandiloquence to the proceedings.

Runner-Up: Mark Boal, Zero Dark Thirty. Another one of the crimes of Oscar season was the way this Osama bin Laden takedown thriller got mired in false accusations and misunderstandings. Did it glorify torture? No, it actually showed torture not working, and eventually other methods are shown, leading to actionable intelligence. Careful readings didn’t come soon or often enough, but if Academy voters managed to pay attention to what this blend of journalism and screenwriting actually had to say about what the U.S. government did in the search for the terrorist leader, they might push it over the top.

Surprise: Michael Haneke, Amour. Those who love this drama about death and aging are passionate and determined, leading quite a few pundits (including yours truly, for a while) to place this as their number one. The whole race is too close to call with any confidence. It really could be any one of these three films. But for now, I hear equal — if not stronger — passion for Django.

Animated Feature

Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Will Win: Wreck-It Ralph.

The one drawback here is that the older members of the Academy may not be as in-tune with video games, even the vintage ones that pop up in this movie. Ralph seems to have the edge, but any time an older group votes, such as at the BAFTAs or Globes, it goes to the moving mother-daughter story Brave. It’s an absolute toss-up, and while I lean Ralph I also think Brave could win by a single scarlet hair.

Runner-Up: Brave.

Surprise: Frankenweenie.

Cinematography

Will Win: Life of Pi. Claudio Miranda’s vivid, sometimes surreal camera work in this lost-at-sea fantasy led to one of the most beautiful films of the year.

Runner-Up: Skyfall, Roger Deakins. Reflection was the visual theme in this 007 thriller (remember the Shanghai scene?) Deakins has been nominated for the Oscar 10 times before, but has never won. If voters are feeling reflective, they might decide to correct that this time.

Surprise: Lincoln, Janusz Kaminski.

Visual Effects

Will Win: Life of Pi. If you don’t think Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott deserve this prize, you should be forced to sit in a lifeboat with a real Bengal tiger.

Runner-Up: The Avengers, Janek Sirrs, Jeff White, Guy Williams and Dan Sudick

Surprise: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and R. Christopher White

Costume Design

Will Win: Anna Karenina, Jacqueline Durran. This stylized version of czarist Russian fashion, slightly skewed with 1950s influences, is favored to bring her the gold.

Runner-Up: Les Misérables, Paco Delgado

Surprise: Lincoln, Joanna Johnston

Production Design

David James

Will Win: Lincoln. This is a slight risk. Most pundits are predicting Anna Karenina, which impressed with its music-box world and model train layouts. My sample may be off, but the one voters tell me they’re going for is Lincoln, due to admiration for production designer Rick Carter and set decorator Jim Erickson’s detailed historical recreation.

Runner-Up: Anna Karenina, Production Design: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer

Surprise: Les Miserables, Production Design: Eve Stewart; Set Decoration: Anna Lynch-Robinson

Documentary Feature

Will Win: Searching For Sugar Man, Malik Bendjelloul and Simon Chinn. This story about efforts to track down a legendary musician has been dominating the season.

Runner-Up: The AIDS saga How to Survive a Plague could pull an upset with its story of life-or-death resistance.

Surprise: The Gatekeepers, the behind-the-scenes story of the Israeli secret service’s anti-terrorism efforts.

Foreign Language

Will Win: Amour, Austria. With Best Picture, Screenplay, and Director nods, it’s hard to imagine this film losing.

Runner-Up: Kon-Tiki, Norway

Surprise: A Royal Affair, Denmark

Editing

Will Win: Argo. The movie is admired by those in the editing branch of the Academy for its deft blend of thriller and comedy elements, leading to a likely win for William Goldenberg (who shares another nomination in the category for Zero Dark Thirty.)

Runner-Up: Zero Dark Thirty, Dylan Tichenor and Goldenberg.

Surprise: Life of Pi, Tim Squyres

Makeup and Hairstyling

Will Win: Les Miserables. It takes a lot of work to make Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman look as grim and unhealthy as they do in this musical, but Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell could take home the trophy for accomplishing just that.

Runner-Up: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Peter Swords King, Rick Findlater and Tami Lane

Surprise: Hitchcock, Howard Berger, Peter Montagna and Martin Samuel

Score

Will Win: Life of Pi. Composer Mychael Danna is a favorite for his mix of Indian instruments, New Age style, and a traditional Western symphony.

Runner-Up: Argo, Alexandre Desplat

Surprise: Lincoln, John Williams

Song

Will Win: Skyfall. Adele and Paul Epworth’s title theme is a massive hit, and licensed to kill at the show — which will also feature a 007 tribute to commemorate the superspy’s 50th cinematic anniversary.

Runner-Up: “Suddenly,” Les Miserables — music by Claude-Michel Schönberg; lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil

Surprise: “Everybody Needs a Best Friend,” Ted — music by Walter Murphy; lyrics by Seth MacFarlane

Sound Editing

Francois Duhamel

Will Win: Skyfall. We feel the world of 007 especially acutely thanks to the aural effects created by Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers.

Runner-Up: Life of Pi, Eugene Gearty and Philip Stockton

Surprise: Argo, Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn

Sound Mixing

Will Win: Les Miserables. No audio challenge was greater this year: blending together live-sung performances in this musical will give Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson and Simon Hayes the edge.

Runner-Up: Life of Pi, Ron Bartlett, D.M. Hemphill and Drew Kunin

Surprise: Skyfall, Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell and Stuart Wilson

NEXT: BEST SHORTS

Documentary Short

Will Win: Inocente. This emotional story of a homeless teenage artist has the slight edge in a tough competition.

Runner-Up: Mondays At Racine, the story of cancer patients shedding their hair at a salon that trims away the locks for free, as a service to those fighting to survive.

Surprise: Kings Point, about changes of life at a Florida retirement community.

Live Action Short

Will Win: Death of a Shadow, a steampunk, Twilight Zone-esque supernatural drama about a World War I soldier (Rust and Bone‘s Matthias Schoenaerts) using a mystical camera to capture the souls of the dying.

Runner-Up: Curfew, the story of a suicidal man whose effort to end his life is interrupted when he finds himself stuck babysitting his young niece.

Surprise: Asad, about a young Somali boy’s temptation to join an outlaw pirate gang.

Animated Short

Will Win: Paperman. The black-and-white love story from Walt Disney Animation Studios is a popular favorite, although this is a prize that tends to skew indie.

Runner-Up: Adam and Dog, a homegrown, hand-drawn tale of the Garden of Eden, and man’s best friend.

Surprise: Head Over Heels, a stop-motion film about a mismatched husband and wife who live on two different planes of existence — one on the ceiling and the other on the floor.

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