How many years in Oscar history have there been at least six films worthy of Best Picture? And, yes, there are nine nominees, but we are not counting DJANGO: UNCHAINED, Quenton Tarantino's latest blood-drenched revision of history. So, the race for Best Film is the most fascinating category. But let's play the prediction game and finish off with Best Film.
Best Actor: It's a foregone conclusion. If Daniel Day Lewis doesn't win for his incredible reincarnation of Abraham Lincoln, then we will all be monkeys' uncles.
Best Actress: Five strong performances (I haven't seen AMOUR with nominee Emanuelle Riva as an elderly woman facing death, but friends and critics alike hail her as sublime). Odds are on Jennifer Lawrence as a sassy but deeply sad young widow in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, but my choice is Naomi Watts and her harrowing, heartfelt mother facing the Asian tsunami and holding on to her family despite daunting odds in THE IMPOSSIBLE.
Who should win: Naomi Watts. Who will: Jennifer Lawrence.
Best Supporting Actor: Amazing field of Oscar winners. Adam Arkin as a wily producer of a fake film in ARGO, Robert de Niro as a frustrated but loving father of his mentally disturbed adult son. Christopher Waltz reprising his role from INGLORIOUS BASTERDS in DJANGO UNCHAINED, the least impressive of the five. Phillip Seymour Hoffman in THE MASTER. And Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stephens, the radical Republican who chews up the scenery in a good way and politicos of all stripes in LINCOLN.
Who should win: Tommy Lee Jones. Who will: Tommy Lee Jones.
Best Supporting Actress: Another great field. But it's really down to two knock-out performances. In LES MISERABLES Anne Hathaway plays the tragic Fantine who is forced into prostitution to pay for her daughter's survival. Her version of "I Had a Dream," is one of the rawest, most moving solos in movie history. Sally Field is Mary Todd Lincoln with all her guts, depression, and love for her patient husband Abe.
Who should win: Anne Hathaway. Who will: Anne Hathaway.
Best Director: Steven Spielberg's LINCOLN is subdued and reverent history with great writing and acting, but maybe a bit too stodgy. Ang Lee's LIFE OF PI is a rapturous 3-D fable about a boy and a tiger surviving a shipwreck and weeks together on the sea. German director Michael Haneke's AMOUR and independent director Benh Zeitlin's beautiful BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD are worthy long shots, as is David O. Russell's quirky dramedy about mental illness. What's interesting here is that Ben Affleck, who directed the highly praised ARGO and has won almost every other best director award out there, is NOT nominated.
Who should win: Ang Lee, LIFE OF PI. Who will: Ang Lee.
Best Original Screenplay: MOONRISE KINGDOM will probably beat DARK ZERO THIRTY.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Tony Kushner's LINCOLN is hard to beat. He combines Lincoln's actual words and speeches with some of his own, and it works.
LIFE OF PI will probably take the lion's share of the technical awards: Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Production Design, Editing, Cinematography, Best Original (music) Score.
Best Foreign Film: AMOUR, Austria.
Best Costume Design: Either LES MISERABLES or ANNA KARENINA.
And finally...drum roll, please: Best Film. Is it a smash musical adaptation that recorded the actual voices as they sang (LES MIZ), a tense procedural about finding and killing Bin Laden (ZERO DARK THIRTY), a somber but often brilliant biography of our greatest president, a technical and thematic triumph about a boy and a tiger, a crackerjack political thriller about about saving hostages in Iran (ARGO), or one of the other nominees?
Best Film: What should win: Life of Pi. What will: Life of Pi.
But don't hold me to it.