Following are movie reviewer Susan Granger's Oscar picks at this Sunday's 85th Academy Awards ceremony.
Make no mistake: It's a sprint to the finish line. With roughly 6,000 Academy members voting on 282 eligible films, will the Best Picture be Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" or Ben Affleck's "Argo" at the Academy Awards showcase?
With its 12 nominations, the odds are with "Lincoln" because no movie has won the top prize without an accompanying Best Director nomination since 1989's "Driving Miss Daisy," which swept the awards even though director Bruce Beresford wasn't nominated.
Yet, having won the Producers Guild Award, "Argo" seems to be the frontrunner. The PGA winner has gone on to win the Oscar 16 times during the past 23 years, including "The Artist" in 2012. And there's tremendous sympathy for Affleck because of his directing shutout.
The other Best Movie nominees are "Amour," "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Django Unchained," "Les Miserables," "Life of Pi," "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Zero Dark Thirty." "Life of Pi" received impressive nominations from all technical branches, but no acting nominations. Conversely, "Silver Linings Playbook" scored four acting nominations, but was omitted from most craft contributions. And if all four acting nominees from "SLP" win, it would be the first time in Oscar history; if none of them wins, they will join "Sunset Boulevard" and "My Man Godfrey" in a shutout.
MY PREDICTION: "Argo"
For Best Director, the nominees are Michael Haneke for "Amour," Ang Lee for "Life of Pi," David O. Russell for "Silver Linings Playbook," Steven Spielberg for "Lincoln" and newcomer Benh Zeitlin for "Beasts of the Southern Wild." What about Ben Affleck? Conspiracy theories abound, along with resentment that Affleck has directed only two other pictures -- "Gone Baby Gone" and "The Town" -- but that's two more than Robert Redford or Kevin Costner helmed before they won. In hindsight, I suspect Affleck was overlooked because Academy nominations were due on Jan. 4, and the Directors Guild didn't announced their nominees until Jan. 8, so the 371 members of the Academy's Directors branch didn't have that crib sheet. Besides, Kathryn Bigelow, Tom Hooper and Quentin Tarantino were also snubbed. Although he's won three Oscars, including two for directing, many feel Spielberg is underappreciated, considering the scope of his incredible career.
MY PREDICTION: Steven Spielberg
For Best Actor, nominees are Bradley Cooper ("Silver Linings Playbook"), Daniel Day-Lewis ("Lincoln"), Hugh Jackman ("Les Miserables"), Joaquin Phoenix ("The Master") and Denzel Washington ("Flight"). Daniel Day-Lewis has swept all the critics' awards, in addition to the SAG Award from his peers, for his portrayal of America's 16th president. If Day-Lewis wins, he will be the only actor to have won three Oscars in this category. Jack Nicholson has won three times, but one of those was Best Supporting Actor.
MY PREDICTION: Daniel Day-Lewis
For Best Actress, nominees are Jessica Chastain ("Zero Dark Thirty"), Jennifer Lawrence ("Silver Linings Playbook"), Emmanuelle Riva ("Amour"), Quvenzhane Wallis ("Beasts of the Southern Wild") and Naomi Watts ("The Impossible"). At 85, Riva is the oldest Best Actress nominee, while 9-year-old Wallis is the youngest ever in this category. Shirley Temple was the youngest actress ever to win any kind of Oscar; she received the Academy Juvenile Award in 1935, when she was 6 years old. As for this year's winner, not only did Jennifer Lawrence win the SAG Award, but she also stars in the blockbuster action franchise "The Hunger Games," with a sequel scheduled later this year.
MY PREDICTION: Jennifer Lawrence
For Best Supporting Actor, nominees are Alan Arkin ("Argo"), Robert De Niro ("Silver Linings Playbook"), Philip Seymour Hoffman ("The Master"), Tommy Lee Jones ("Lincoln") and Christoph Waltz ("Django Unchained"). After critical accolades and the SAG Award, Tommy Lee Jones is the favorite.
MY PREDICTION: Tommy Lee Jones
For Best Supporting Actress, nominees are Amy Adams ("The Master"), Sally Field ("Lincoln"), Anne Hathaway ("Les Miserables"), Helen Hunt ("The Sessions") and "Jacki Weaver" ("Silver Linings Playbook"). To play doomed Fantine, Anne Hathaway reportedly lost 25 pounds, and she sings her heart out with "I Dreamed a Dream," presenting a far more poignant approach to the song.
MY PREDICTION: Anne Hathaway
For Best Original Screenplay, nominees include "Amour," "Django Unchained," "Flight," "Moonrise Kingdom" and "Zero Dark Thirty." For sheer originality, my choice would be "Moonrise Kingdom," yet "Zero Dark Thirty" has been highly controversial for its allegedly favorable depiction of using torture to hunt down Osama bin Laden.
MY PREDICTION: Mark Boal for "Zero Dark Thirty"
For Best Adapted Screenplay, nominees include "Argo," "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Life of Pi," "Lincoln" and "Silver Linings Playbook."
MY PREDICTION: Chris Terrio for "Argo"
Best Foreign Language contenders are Austria's "Amour," Norway's "Kon-Tiki," Chile's "No," Denmark's "A Royal Affair" and Canada's "War Witch." Although the Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or winner is tough to watch, it speaks to many older Academy voters. On the other hand, if it won Best Picture, it would be the first French language film to do so.
MY PREDICTION: "Amour"
For Best Animated Feature, contenders are "Brave," "Frankenweenie," "ParaNorman," "The Pirates! Band of Misfits," and "Wreck-It Ralph."
MY PREDICTION: "Wreck-It Ralph"
For Best Documentary, contenders are "5 Broken Cameras," "The Gatekeepers," "How to Survive a Plague," "The Invisible War" and "Searching for Sugar Man." For the first time this year, all Academy members will vote in three additional categories: Best Documentary, Best Animated Short Subject and Best Live Action Short Subject; previously, these categories were decided by members who attended special screenings.
MY PREDICTION: "Searching for Sugar Man"
Additional Academy Award categories:
Cinematography: "Life of Pi"
Film Editing: "Argo"
Best Visual Effects: "Life of Pi" for creating the tiger, Richard Parker
Costume Design: "Anna Karenina"
Make-up: "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"
Original Song: Adele for "Skyfall"
Original Score: Mychael Danna for "Life of Pi"
Production Design: "Les Miserables"
Animated Short Film: "Paperman"
Live Action Short Film: "Curfew"
Documentary Short Subject: "Open Heart"
Sound Editing: "Zero Dark Thirty"
Sound Mixing: "Les Miserables"
Hosted by Seth MacFarlane (creator of the animated TV show "Family Guy"), ABC-TV's Oscar broadcast at 7 p.m. Sunday will include a retrospective montage honoring the 50-year-old James Bond franchise, along with an homage to recent movie musicals, including "Dreamgirls," "Chicago" and "Les Miserables," with performances by Adele, Shirley Bassey, Norah Jones and Barbra Streisand.