At this stage, Jean Dujardin losing the Best Actor Oscar would be a massive upset, but Meryl Streep triumphing over Viola Davis probably less of one, given that only one black actress has ever won in the category, and the Academy's long-standing affection for biographical performances. What gives Davis the edge is the popularity of "The Help" -- with audiences, guilds, and many critics -- and the sympathies associated with her character. The Supporting categories look sewn up, since Spencer and Plummer have been cleaning up in all of the precursors.
The screenplay categories look less locked, with "The Artist" and "Midnight in Paris" duelling it out on the Original side, and "The Descendants" facing off against the might of Sorkin and Zailian's "Moneyball" in Adapted. The Best Picture winner usually wins for its script, but I imagine that affection for Woody Allen's crowned comeback will see voters tick the box for his film, which won't win in any other category, and that the sole prize for Alexander Payne's glum Hawaiian adventure will happen here, too, despite it being far less complex or bracing than its main competitor.
Other iffy categories include Best Costume Design, which could represent an Oscar win for Madonna's critically-trounced "W.E," if its win with the Costume Designers Guild translates, but could also easily go to "Anonymous," "Jane Eyre," or three-time Oscar winner Sandy Powell for "Hugo." But I think this prize might go to "The Artist," on the coat-tails of its overall popularity, and for its undeniably well-tailored resurrection of Hollywood's golden age. I'm throwing my hands up where the sound categories are concerned, and wondering whether a bone will be thrown to "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," which, with five nominations, is surely a popular enough film to want to reward somewhere. The Visual Effects Oscar rarely goes to a Best Picture nominee, but if "The Golden Compass" can beat "Transformers," I think Martin Scorsese's film can also manage it.
I'm going to justify the possibility of heavily-favoured critical darling "A Separation" losing the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar to Agnieska Holland's "In Darkness," which has strong holocaust themes (often attractive to AMPAS) and a filmmaker behind it with an Academy-endorsed pedigree. I also think that "A Separation" is at a slight disadvantage with regard to America's strained political relationship with the Middle East, despite the film's internal critique of Iran.
That's all that's left to say, except that, wherever you are tomorrow night, and whatever you're drinking, try not to be too disappointed when your favourite loses. It's often best to treat the Academy's better decisions like a toddler using a potty, or a teenager making their bed in the morning. We're primed for disappointment when they turn around and do something stupid at the next available opportunity. Personally, this set of winners (especially in the acting department) would represent a great list of awardees to me, but it won't please everyone. When Emmanuel Lubezki loses Best Cinematography again, take a leaf out of Norman Maine's book. Stand upright, throw back a drink, and let the waves wash over you.
FINAL OSCAR PREDICTIONS
Best Picture: "The Artist"
(Alt: "The Help")
Best Actress: Viola Davis, "The Help"
(Alt: Meryl Streep, "The Iron Lady")
Best Actor: Jean Dujardin, "The Artist"
(Alt: George Clooney, "The Descendants")
Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, "The Help"
(Alt: Berenice Bejo, "The Artist")
Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, "Beginners"
(Alt: Max von Sydow, "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close")
Best Director: Michel Hazanavicus, "The Artist"
(Alt: Martin Scorsese, "Hugo")
Best Original Screenplay: Woody Allen, "Midnight in Paris"
(Alt: Michel Hazanivicius, "The Artist")
Best Adapted Screenplay: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, "The Descendants"
(Alt: Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin and Stan Chervin, "Moneyball")
Best Foreign Feature: "In Darkness" (Poland)
(Alt: "A Separation" (Iran))
Best Animated Feature: "Rango"
(Alt: "Chico & Rita")
Art Direction: "Hugo"
(Alt: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2")
Cinematography: "The Tree of Life"
Costume Design: "The Artist"
Documentary Feature: "Hell and Back Again"
Documentary Short Subject: "Saving Face"
(Alt: "The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom")
Film Editing: "The Artist"
(Alt: "The Descendants")
Makeup: "The Iron Lady"
Original Score: "The Artist"
(Alt: "War Horse")
Original Song: 'Man or Muppet' from "The Muppets"
Sound Editing: "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
Sound Mixing: "Hugo"
(Alt: "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo")
Visual Effects: "Hugo"
(Alt: "Rise of the Planet of the Apes")
Short Film (Animated): "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore"
(Alt: "A Morning Stroll")
Short Film (Live Action): "Tuba Atlantic"
(Alt: "The Shore")