2012 Oscar Predictions: Our Official Academy Awards Picks

[caption id="attachment_51394" align="alignleft" width="300"]The Artist The Weinstein Co.[/caption]

Updated Feb. 23, 2012.

Here's some inside intel for casual movie fans contemplating their Oscar predictions: By the time the Academy Awards roll around, we know who's going to win in pretty much every major category.

Sure, there can be surprises and the occasional too-close-to-call race, but after so many other award functions play out in the lead-up to Oscar night, from the Critics Choice to the Golden Globes to the all the guild gatherings, patterns emerge and some favorites appear unbeatable.

That's why if you're about to head to Vegas (Editor's note: NextMovie does not condone gambling, unless you're sharing …) and lay down some scratch on "The Artist" winning Best Picture, the rewards, at this point, won't be too tempting.

But if you're simply just looking to fill out your office Oscar ballot (get your printable one right here), then there are some categories you just shouldn't miss on.

Get a full panel of Oscar experts predictions on Gold Derby

Best Picture

[caption id="attachment_110371" align="alignright" width="220"]The Artist Weinstein Co.[/caption]

In last year's marquee matchup, there was an early front-runner ("The Social Network") that maintained months of momentum before a late bloomer ("The King Speech") took the lead in the final lap and won the throne. So far this year it seems like the opposite: There was an early front-runner ("The Descendants") whose lead lasted only so long before a seemingly unbeatable contender ("The Artist") took over and has maintained that momentum for several months now.

With the inevitable front-runner backlash being relatively muted, and the high-powered Weinstein campaign machine seemingly content to stay in first gear (do they even need to push hard?), the only question seems to be whether or not the Academy will really go through with it and actually award a black-and-white silent film Hollywood's biggest prize in 2012. You can pretty much count on it.

Smart Money: "The Artist"

Don't Be Surprised By: "The Descendants"

Dark Horses: "The Help" and "Hugo"

Our Pick: "The Artist"

Best Director

[caption id="attachment_110372" align="alignright" width="220"]The Artist Director Michel Hazanavicius Weinstein Co.[/caption]

This one appears to be a two-way battle between visionaries who paid tribute to the olden years of classic cinema, Michel Hazanavicius (say it with us, "Ha-za-na-VEE-shooz ") for "The Artist" and Martin Scorsese for "Hugo."

Hazanavicius won the primary predictor here, which is top honors from The Directors Guild, while Scorsese pulled off an upset by taking home the Golden Globe. But it's Hazanavicius who also seems to be winning favor in Hollywood, continually expressing his just-happy-to-be-here 'tude with quotes like, "It would have been no problem to lose to Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, David Fincher, Alexander Payne." Respect.

Smart Money: Michel Hazanavicius, "The Artist"

Don't Be Surprised By: Martin Scorsese, "Hugo"

Dark Horse: Alexander Payne, "The Descendants"

Our Pick: Michel Hazanavicius, "The Artist"

Best Actor

[caption id="attachment_80670" align="alignright" width="220"]The Descendants Fox Searchlight[/caption]

The lead actor race has just recently become one of the more intriguing contests to watch. George Clooney was long looking like a lock for his revered performance as a devastated dad dealing with an unfaithful comatose wife (one of 99 problems) in "The Descendants," which is widely considered a career best. That was until "Artist" star Jean Dujardin pulled off a whopper of an upset at the Screen Actors Guild. Could the face of that widely celebrated film win the Oscar, too? (And could he be the new Roberto Benigni?)

It's hard to see Clooney, easily one of the most beloved actors in all of Hollywoodland, losing to a relative unknown, and 15 of the 27 experts on Gold Derby (including yours truly) are still going with him. But hey, stranger things have happened. Like Roberto Benigni …

Smart Money: George Clooney, "The Descendants"

Don't Be Surprised By: Jean Dujardin, "The Artist"

Our Pick: George Clooney, "The Descendants"

Best Actress

[caption id="attachment_63845" align="alignright" width="220"]Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady" Weinstein Co.[/caption]

And now for the tightest race among the major categories. In one corner you have Viola Davis: the true heart of "The Help," a film that had plenty to spare; and an underdog Hollywood success story up for her second Oscar in three years. In the other corner you have Meryl Streep (maybe you've heard of her), reigning Academy Queen who's been up for the statuette a record 1700 17 times now, her latest for the Margaret Thatcher biopic "The Iron Lady."

While Streep seemed like the early favorite (Streep + Thatcher = Game Over), the tide turned toward Davis after "Iron Lady" got less than rave reviews, and Davis became a sentimental favorite. Then Streep prevailed at the Golden Globes, and people began to realize that while she is seemingly up for an Oscar every other year, she hasn't WON one since 1983 (for "Sophie's Choice"). SAG winner Davis currently holds favorite status, but this one's clooooose.

Smart Money: Viola Davis, "The Help"

Don't Be Surprised By: Meryl Streep, "The Iron Lady"

Our Pick: Meryl Streep, "The Iron Lady"

Best Supporting Actor

[caption id="attachment_80685" align="alignright" width="220"]Christopher Plummer in Beginners Focus Features[/caption]

Maybe there would've been a contest here had comedic legend Albert Brooks not gotten the shiv for playing a cold-blooded SOB in the critical darling "Drive." The Academy does love an actor playing against type; that's probably why Jonah Hill (the sole representative of the under-50 demographic in this category) got on base for "Moneyball."

Instead we have the closest thing to a sure bet, second-time nominee and (almost-definite) first-time winner Christopher Plummer, for his heartrending turn as a fatally ill 70-something who's just come out of the closet in "Beginners." The 82-year-old deserves the statue on the merits of this performance alone, but the fact that he's done commendable work in over a hundred past projects damn sure doesn't hurt.

Smart Money: Christopher Plummer, "Beginners"

Our Pick: Christopher Plummer, "Beginners"

Best Supporting Actress

[caption id="attachment_80691" align="alignright" width="220"]Octavia Spencer in The Help Disney[/caption]

This category doesn't seem to be the wild card it once was. While early-'90s winners Marisa Tomei, Mira Sorvino, Whoopi Goldberg and Anna Paquin were wild upsets, recent winners like Melissa Leo, Mo'Nique and Jennifer Hudson were front-runners from the get-go.

Enter Octavia Spencer from "The Help," who has just mopped the floor (get it?) with her competitors throughout awards season, winning the Golden Globe, Critics Choice and SAG awards for her performance as the tough-but-vulnerable, experimental pie-making maid Minnie. If Viola Davis is the heart of the film, Spencer's the soul. Look for her to add another piece of silverware to her mantel Oscar night.

Smart Money: Octavia Spencer, "The Help"

Dark Horse: Melissa McCarthy, "Bridesmaids"

Our Pick: Octavia Spencer, "The Help"

Best Original Screenplay


[caption id="attachment_113160" align="alignright" width="300"]Midnight in Paris Sony Classics[/caption]

As clever and cute as Michel Hazanavicius' script (or as IMDB clarifies, "scenario and dialogue") is for "The Artist," here is one race he can afford to lose.

It's also a category in which the Academy can honor one of its favorite sons (even if he never calls!). Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" became his highest grossing film yet, and audiences, especially older ones, were most tickled by its nostalgic storyline (it's like "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" for adults) and expectedly witty banter. Hazanavicius, meanwhile, will just have to "settle" for Best Director and Best Picture.

Smart Money: "Midnight in Paris"

Don't Be Surprised By: "The Artist"

Our Pick: "Midnight in Paris"

Best Adapted Screenplay

Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian's razor-sharp adaptation of Michael Lewis' inside-baseball expose made audiences invest in an obscure sports strategy called sabermetrics, much in the same way Sorkin wowed viewers with a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of Facebook a year ago with "The Social Network," which won him the Oscar.

But don't expect a repeat: Aside from the Best Actor category, this is where the Academy will show its loyalty to "The Descendants," cowritten by director Alexander Payne, Jim Rash (fun fact: he plays the Dean on NBC's "Community"!) and Nat Faxon (fun fact? He plays Tim Kornick on NBC's "Are You There, Chelsea?").

Smart Money: "The Descendants"

Don't Be Surprised By: "Moneyball"

Our Pick: "The Descendants"

Best Animated Feature

It was one of the weakest years for animation in a long time -- a year so weak that for first time in this category's history, there's no Pixar entry to be found (its 2011 release was the much-maligned "Cars 2"). Oh the humanity! But Pixar's absence opened the door for the inclusion of two deserving little-seen "indie" animated features, "A Cat in Paris" and "Chico and Rita."

Of course, neither of them probably stand a chance of winning. That honor will almost certainly go to "Rango," a proudly weird, adult-friendly cartoon Western that still did gangbusters at the box office.

Smart Money: "Rango"

Dark Horse: "A Cat in Paris"

Our Pick: "Rango"

Best Animated Short

Smart Money: "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore"

Don't Be Surprised By: "La Luna"

Our Pick: "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore"

Best Foreign Film

[caption id="attachment_101289" align="alignright" width="300"]A Separation Sony Pictures Classics[/caption]

This, mis amigos, is one of the easiest mid-major categories to predict. The Middle Eastern export "A Separation," a stunning drama about an Iranian couple attempting to flee the country for the betterment of their child, has won every Best Foreign Film award so far, save for the BAFTA. It almost doesn't even matter what else is nominated: It would take a shocking upset to separate this one from the Oscar.

Smart Money: "A Separation"

Our Pick: "A Separation"

Best Original Song

It's a two-horse race. Literally. Thanks to a bizarre rule in voting of which we won't pretend to know bore you with the details, only two songs made the cut. Luckily, one of them ("Man or Muppet") is the most deserving of any original song to play in a movie this year.

Smart Money: "Man or Muppet," "The Muppets"

Only Other Song Nominated: "Real in Rio," "Rio"

Our Pick: "Man or Muppet," "The Muppets"

Best Original Score

Despite "Vertigo" actress Kim Novak's reported hateration against "The Artist"s' appropriation of that Hitchcock score (not so tastefully comparing it to "rape"), it's unlikely anything can top "The Artist," a wordless film that's relied more on music to push the narrative than any other film in years.

Smart Money: "The Artist"

Don't Be Surprised By: "Hugo"

Our Pick: "The Artist"

Best Costume Design

Look, it's a wide, wide, wide open race! Can "Anonymous" or "W.E." actually hold the title of "Oscar winner"? Could happen, but don't bet on it. This one will probably be another notch on the belt for "The Artist," though "Jane Eyre" is strong contender for its elegant period garb.

Smart Money: "The Artist"

Don't Be Surprised By: "Jane Eyre"

Dark Horse: "Anonymous" or "W.E." or "Hugo"

Our Pick: "The Artist"

Best Cinematography

It's hard to imagine anything topping Terrence Malick's undeniably gorgeous "Tree of Life" here. It may have been nonsensical, but it was pretty damn beautiful.

Smart Money: "The Tree of Life"

Don't Be Surprised By: "Hugo"

Dark Horse: "The Artist"

Our Pick: "The Tree of Life"

Best Art Direction

[caption id="attachment_108398" align="alignright" width="300"]Ben Kingsley and Asa Butterfield in "Hugo" Paramount[/caption]

"The Artist" could score again here, but you have to give the upper hand to "Hugo," in which a picturesque Parisian train station played as big a role as anyone.

Smart Money: "Hugo"

Don’t Be Surprised By: "The Artist"

Dark Horse: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2"

Our Pick: "Hugo"

Best Film Editing

This prize has gone hand-in-hand with Best Picture six out of the past 10 years, so the odds favor the smartly cut "The Artist." But it's always tough betting against a David Fincher or Martin Scorsese film in this category.

Smart Money: "The Artist"

Don't Be Surprised By: "Hugo"

Dark Horse: "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"

Our Pick: "The Artist"

Best Sound Editing

Don't discount "Transformers" here -- previous winners include "U-571," "Pearl Harbor" and "The Ghost and the Darkness." "Hugo" has the prestige, but we're going with the only win of the night for David Fincher's "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."

Smart Money: "Hugo"

Don't Be Surprised By: "Transformers: Dark of the Moon"

Dark Horse: "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"

Our Pick: "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"

Best Makeup

Please let this be the category in which "Harry Potter" gets its much-deserved loved from the Academy.

Smart Money: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2"

Don't Be Surprised By: "The Iron Lady"

Our Pick: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2"

Best Live Action Short

Smart Money: "The Shore"

Don't Be Surprised By: "Raju"

Dark Horse: "Pentecost"

Our Pick: "The Shore"

Best Sound Mixing

Know the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing? Here's a tutorial.

Smart Money: "Hugo"

Don’t Be Surprised By: "Transformers: Dark of the Moon"

Our Pick: "Hugo"

Best Visual Effects

How amazing did those damn dirty apes look?

Smart Money: "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"

Don't Be Surprised By: "Hugo"

Our Pick: "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"

Best Documentary

[caption id="attachment_113166" align="alignright" width="220"]Paradise Lost 3 HBO[/caption]

There's a wealth of strong contenders in this race (and an even greater wealth of deserving docs NOT nominated), with the striking 3-D dance documentary (yes, we just said that) "Pina" and the expectedly inspiring high school football drama "Undefeated," not to be confused with the not-so-inspiring, or accurately titled, Sarah Palin doc "THE Undefeated."

But look for a rare Academy Award for a sequel here, with the third entry in Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's unofficial West Memphis Three trilogy primed to pull off a victory -- albeit one not nearly as significant as the triumph of seeing the wrongly accused trio it features finally released.

Smart Money: "Paradise Lost 3"

Don't Be Surprised By: "Pina"

Dark Horse: "Undefeated"

Our Pick: "Paradise Lost 3"

Best Documentary Short

Smart Money: "The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom"

Don't Be Surprised By: "Saving Face"

Dark Horse: "Incident in New Baghdad"

Our Pick: "The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom"

Oscar Predictions 2013, Our Picks Thus Far