Best Animated Feature
Will win: Rango
Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp’s quirky cartoon has swept all the big pre-Oscar prizes. Without Tintin in the race, it feels like the clear winner.
Should win: Puss in Boots
DreamWorks Animation impressively landed two films in the final five. Kung Fu Panda 2 was the bigger hit, but Puss in Boots takes the milk on charm alone.
Best Original Song
Will win: ”Man or Muppet,” The Muppets
Songwriter Bret McKenzie will likely take the statue over the only other nominee, ”Real in Rio,” as a nod to all of his work on The Muppets.
Should win: Neither
The music branch overlooked strong tracks by Mary J. Blige, Elton John, and Sinead O’Connor and instead nominated two utterly forgettable numbers? They should have just cancelled the entire category.
Best Original Screenplay
Will and should win: Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Even fans of The Artist have to concede that Allen, now 76 years old, crafted one of the most whimsical and inventive screenplays of the year.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Will win: Alexander Payne, Jim Rash, Nat Faxon, The Descendants
Screenplays with three credited writers don’t often win, but most voters are likely to consider the insightful Descendants script the work of writer-director Payne.
Should win: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willimon, The Ides of March
Clooney and Co.’s crackling exposé of the political campaign process was cynical, smart, and always riveting.
Will win: George Clooney, The Descendants
The closest major race of the year is down to Clooney and The Artist‘s Jean Dujardin. Dujardin could certainly benefit from an Artist sweep, but the Academy may want to give Clooney a lead-acting Oscar to go with his supporting win for Syriana.
Should win: Demian Bichir, A Better Life
The most criminally underseen performance of the year belongs to Bichir, playing a gardener attempting to avoid deportation with perfectly understated grace.
Will and should win: Viola Davis, The Help
Davis has tough competition from Meryl Streep (as Margaret Thatcher) and Michelle Williams (as Marilyn Monroe). But Oscar voters go with the performance that makes them feel. So count on Davis to win for her first-ever lead film role.
Best Supporting Actor
Will and should win: Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Was there a better film performance this year, from a man or woman, in a lead or supporting role? If so, I didn’t see it. Without question, Plummer will become the oldest acting Oscar winner ever.
Best Supporting Actress
Will and should win: Octavia Spencer, The Help
Minny Jackson was a role written for Spencer, and it shows. Her confident performance has just enough humor and heartbreak to make her a lock for the win.
Will and should win: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
If Martin Scorsese hadn’t won so recently for The Departed, he’d be a bigger threat here. But Hazanavicius, the only first-time nominee in the bunch, will win for his vision and daring.
Will and should win: The Artist
The delightful black-and-white silent film has swept the Directors Guild, Producers Guild, Golden Globes, and BAFTA Awards. There’s no way it loses the Oscar.