Academy members had to submit their ballots by Tuesday, Feb. 19, but even so, there were some last-minute developments that helped clarify the race a little. Best Picture frontrunner "Argo" picked up a couple more awards, one from the American Cinema Editors (the "Eddie" for Best Drama; "Silver LInings Playbook" won the Eddie for Best Comedy), and one from the Writers Guild of America for Best Adapted Screenplay. (Best Original Screenplay went to "Zero Dark Thirty," though it didn't have to compete against "Django Unchained," which wasn't eligible for Guild honors.)
Given those results, and those of some other precursor awards, I can put together with some confidence a complete Oscar ballot of predictions for Sunday's ceremony. In the comments, feel free to argue with me before Oscar night about the picks made below, and come back Monday to berate me further.
BEST PICTURE: "Argo" A month ago, I explained how "Argo" came from behind to emerge as the frontrunner. Since then, its momentum has only increased. Despite pockets of support for "Silver Linings Playbook," "ZDT," "Life of Pi," and "Lincoln," I predict "Argo" will win, though the also-rans in this category will almost certainly get their due elsewhere.
BEST DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg for "Lincoln" Still a tough race to call because Ben Affleck ("Argo") and Kathryn Bigelow ("ZDT") aren't in it. Steven Spielberg remains the 800-pound gorilla in the room; admiration for his legendary career and for "Lincoln" in particular will probably win it for him, but it's still an open race, with Ang Lee ("Life of Pi") and Michael Haneke ("Amour") as possible upsetters.
BEST ACTOR: Daniel Day-Lewis for "Lincoln" I imagine no one in this category except Daniel Day-Lewis even bothered to write a speech. That's how foregone a conclusion the "Lincoln" star's victory is. Sure, there's a tiny contingency that recognizes Joaquin Phoenix's striking work in "The Master," but even Phoenix thinks Day-Lewis should win.
BEST ACTRESS: Jennifer Lawrence for "Silver Linings Playbook" Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain have been the frontrunners here for months, and I'd say Lawrence has the edge, given the awards she's already won for her "Silver Linings Playbook" dancing widow. (Plus, hers is probably the only award "SLP" is likely to receive.) If there's a wild card, it's 85-year-old "Amour" star Emmanuelle Riva. Some pundits think she can pull off an upset like she did in London at the BAFTAs a couple weeks ago. Besides, her film and her oldest-nominee-ever status may resonate with the seniors who make up much of the Academy membership, who may want to honor her while they still can.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Tommy Lee Jones for "Lincoln" This is also a tough category to call. Everyone in it has won an Oscar before, which is unprecedented. The frontrunners have been Christoph Waltz ("Django") and Tommy Lee Jones ("Lincoln"), and while Waltz has picked up a lot of hardware for this role, he won the category just three years ago for a very similar performance. Jones, for all the ridicule he's earned for that wig and for the Internet meme of his grumpy visage at other recent awards shows, has the edge.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Anne Hathaway for "Les Miserables" There's a lot of hate out there for Anne Hathaway, with people reading her gawky enthusiasm and lack of poise at awards shows as false modesty. Still, she's had a death grip on this category ever since "Les Miserables" viewers first heard her choke out "I Dreamed a Dream." Even those who hated the film were moved, and what better argument for her achievement is there than that?
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Mark Boal for "Zero Dark Thirty" Mark Boal's WGA prize for "ZDT" last Sunday probably clinches this for him, even though he won the same prize just three years ago for "The Hurt Locker," and even though he's been accused of placing undue emphasis on the role torture played in finding Osama bin Laden (or at least paying too much heed to those of his sources who emphasized torture). His only serious challenger is Quentin Tarantino's "Django" script, so the historical revisionism and excessive brutality complaints won't wash.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Tony Kushner for "Lincoln" Tony Kushner's majestic "Lincoln" screenplay was a favorite for a long time, but the WGA award for Chris Terrio's "Argo" proves the momentum is still with the tale of how Hollywood creativity helped save American lives, especially among Academy members who'd like to pat their own oft-maligned industry on the back for its patriotism.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: "Wreck-It Ralph" A Disney movie will win this one, as usual. It'll probably be "Wreck-It Ralph," which has won most of the precursor awards. Though there's also some support for Pixar's "Brave," which tells a more traditional story and may have more appeal to the older Academy members than the videogame nostalgia of "Ralph."
BEST ORIGINAL SONG: Adele for "Skyfall" Adele seems to win every prize she's up for, and that hasn't changed this season with her kudos so far for the theme from "Skyfall." There's no reason to expect that her winning streak won't continue at the Oscars.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: Mychael Danna for "Life of Pi" The consensus choice throughout awards season has been the eclectic, world-music-embracing score that Mychael Danna composed for "Life of Pi."
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: "Amour" Given how many other nominations it received in major categories, "Amour" has to be the favorite. But if some Academy voters find it too depressing, they may go for the more uplifting "Kon-Tiki."
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: "Searching for Sugar Man" Even in a category known for grimness (hello, "How To Survive a Plague"), voters tend to go for upbeat and musical if given the opportunity -- which they have been this year, with "Searching for Sugar Man."
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Claudio Miranda for "Life of Pi" I'd really like to think that the 10th time will finally be the charm for Oscar bridesmaid Roger Deakins, who put his unique stamp on "Skyfall." But I think the visual feast (in 3D, no less) offered by Claudio Miranda in "Life of Pi" will send Deakins home empty-handed again.
BEST EDITING: "Zero Dark Thirty" William Goldenberg is going to win this one... but for "Argo" or "ZDT"? Last weekend, the American Cinema Editors gave it to "Argo," but the membership at large will find even more impressive his work (alongside co-nominee Dylan Tichenor) in assembling the unrelentingly intense "ZDT."
BEST COSTUMES: "Anna Karenina" The most florid, ruffly gowns usually win this category, but I'm betting the dueling Snow White movies cancel each other out here, leaving room for Seamus McGarvey of "Anna Karenina."
BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING: "Les Miserables" There are only three nominees in this category. The "Hitchcock" team didn't exactly convince viewers that Anthony Hopkins was Alfred Hitchcock. The "Hobbit" team deserves some credit for making Ian McKellen look younger than he did a decade ago in "The Lord of the RIngs" trilogy, but voters may think they've given out all the prizes for MIddle-earth magic back then as well. So that leaves "Les Miserables," whose Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell convincingly made Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway look bedraggled and homely.
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN: "Lincoln" A lot of the nominees here look like their sets were built via CGI on virtual soundstages. The work most likely to impress the voters is that of Jim Erickson and Rick Carter in recreating 19th-century Washington, D.C. in "Lincoln."
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: "Life of Pi" Tiger, tiger, burning bright. The "Life of Pi" team of Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik De Boer, and Donald Elliott will win for framing Richard Parker's fearful symmetry.
BEST SOUND MIXING: "Les Miserables" To oversimplify, Sound Mixing usually recognizes the work of those who record sound during the film shoot, while Sound Editing usually recognizes sound effects and other post-production sound work. For Sound Mixing, look to see the prize go to Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson, and Simon Hayes of "Les Mis" for the musical's unique feat of recording the singing performances during the shoot instead of having them lip-synch to pre-recorded vocals.
BEST SOUND EDITING: "Skyfall" Often, this award goes to the loudest and splashiest sound effects action blockbuster. This year, that's "Skyfall," so look for the 007 movie's Per Hallberg and Karen M. Baker to take the podium.
BEST SHORT - LIVE ACTION: "Curfew" "Curfew" seems to be the favorite, with an accessible story that starts out bleak but progresses toward an upbeat ending. (It's the "Silver Linings Playbook" of the short films, while "Henry," about an aging musician, is their "Amour.") If there's an upset, it'll be "Asad," which has a child protagonist and a cast made up of Somali refugees. (It's the category's "Beasts of the Southern Wild.")
BEST SHORT - ANIMATED: "Paperman" The temptation will be strong to give the prize to "Maggie Simpson in 'The Longest Daycare,'" given everyone's familiarity with "The Simpsons" and the fact that ordinary moviegoers actually saw this one (since it preceded screenings of "Life of Pi"). But Disney's lovely, old-fashioned, hand-drawn "Paperman" has the edge.
BEST SHORT - DOCUMENTARY: "Mondays at Racine" The category this year is full of inspirational tales of hard-luck outsiders fighting difficult battles. The most relatable may be "Mondays at Racine," about a hair salon that caters to cancer patients.