Final ballots for the 85th annual Academy Awards were cast Tuesday, which means Sunday's outcome is no longer in doubt. The race, however, has been anything but predictable.
The category with the most surprises was, of course, the biggest. Two contenders for best picture, Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" and Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty," battled for front-runner status only to see Ben Affleck's feel-good spy-thriller, "Argo," emerge as the likely winner. Few saw that one coming, especially given that Affleck was shut out of the best director category. (Spielberg seems sure to bring that statue home.)
If this is, indeed, how things shake out, "Argo" will become the first film in more than 20 years to win the top Oscar without its director even being nominated. The last was 1989's "Driving Miss Daisy," directed by an unacknowledged Bruce Beresford.
What's more, "Argo" could win best picture but little else. Its six other nominations, many in technical categories, seem unlikely to become wins. When they're head-to-head in the same categories, look for "Lincoln" to steal supporting actor, original score and adapted screenplay, though "Argo" does have a good shot at winning for film editing.
Other categories to watch include original screenplay, where Quentin Tarantino may win for "Django Unchained," and visual effects, where the computerized tiger in "Life of Pi" is poised to pounce on "The Hobbit."
"Beasts of the Southern Wild"
"Life of Pi"
"Silver Linings Playbook"
"Zero Dark Thirty"
WHO SHOULD WIN "Zero Dark Thirty." Love it or hate it, this was an important movie about violence, vengeance and trouble spots both abroad and in the American psyche.
Bradley Cooper, "Silver
Daniel Day-Lewis, "Lincoln"
Hugh Jackman, "Les Misérables"
Joaquin Phoenix, "The
Denzel Washington, "Flight"
WHO SHOULD WIN Phoenix. As a lost soul following a dubious guru, he delivers the most emotionally and physically racking performance of his career.
WHO WILL WIN Day-Lewis. Any other actor would have turned Abe Lincoln into a caricature, but Day-Lewis made him convincingly human.
Jessica Chastain, "Zero Dark Thirty"
Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Emmanuelle Riva, "Amour"
Quvenzhané Wallis, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Naomi Watts, "The Impossible"
WHO SHOULD WIN Riva. At 85, the oldest ever nominee in this category, the French legend is extraordinary as a once-vibrant woman sliding into illness.
WHO WILL WIN Lawrence. As an actress, she's been better ("Winter's Bone"), but this is a movie-star performance: sexy, funny and utterly bewitching.
Alan Arkin, "Argo"
Robert De Niro, "Silver
Philip Seymour Hoffman, "The Master"
Tommy Lee Jones, "Lincoln"
Christoph Waltz, "Django Unchained"
WHO SHOULD WIN Hoffman. It's the performance of the year -- possibly of several years -- though neither audiences nor Oscar voters were won over by this difficult, diffuse movie.
Amy Adams, "The Master"
Sally Field, "Lincoln"
Anne Hathaway, "Les Misérables"
Helen Hunt, "The Sessions"
Jacki Weaver, "Silver Linings Playbook"
WHO SHOULD WIN Adams. The wife of a cult leader isn't an easy role -- she's creepy and likable at once -- but Adams nailed it perfectly.
WHO WILL WIN Hathaway. A million weeping moviegoers can't be wrong: Hathaway, as the martyred seamstress Fantine, clearly stole the show.
"Amour," Michael Haneke
"Beasts of the Southern Wild," Benh Zeitlin
"Life of Pi," Ang Lee
"Lincoln," Steven Spielberg
"Silver Linings Playbook," David O. Russell
WHO SHOULD WIN Haneke, channeling mystical old masters like Kubrick and Bresson. He'll never win, but "Amour" is a shoo-in for the foreign-
ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
"The Pirates! Band of Misfits"
WHO SHOULD WIN "Pirates!" It was funny, weird, literate (did Jane Austen really date Joseph Merrick?) and totally unexpected.
WHO WILL WIN "Brave." Pixar's first movie with a female heroine wasn't as good as hoped, but Oscar voters will reward its equal-opportunity intentions.