Oscars wild 

Academy best bets, should-wins and dark horses

The Academy Awards is a somber, dreadfully boring awards show that I've managed to trick my friends into watching with me for several years running by turning it into a gambling opportunity, and so too should you! Here are my picks and preferences for the major categories, which you are free to borrow for your own Oscar ballots. It's a fairly predictable year and I don't expect a lot of surprises, but you never know.

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees: Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables; Sally Field, Lincoln; Helen Hunt, The Sessions; Amy Adams, The Master; Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook

Anne Hathaway is not one of us. I've been watching her closely for years, and all I'm saying is, if the reptilian race is a real thing, Hathaway is probably their American ambassador. Look at how she always says and does the right thing. She's never given a bad performance. On the press circuit, she displays equal parts grace and humility. She's a robot; it's absurd. Nevertheless, you'd have to be some kind of a monster to sit through her rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" without being moved.

Will win: Anne Hathaway

Should win: Anne Hathaway

Dark horse: Anne Hathaway's equally riveting performance as Catwoman from The Dark Knight Rises

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln; Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master; Alan Arkin, Argo; Robert DeNiro, Silver Linings Playbook; Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

Here's a category where every player already has an Oscar on his mantle. Tommy Lee Jones is slightly favored for his utterly forgettable performance, but really it's anybody's game. Christoph Waltz is wonderful, but he already had his moment with Inglourious Basterds. (They'll try to tell you meta-gaming isn't a part of this, but of course it is.) My pick is Robert DeNiro's intensely human, vulnerable performance from Silver Linings Playbook. Also, where the hell is Leonardo DiCaprio? They forgot him? Again?

Will win: Tommy Lee Jones

Should win: Robert DeNiro, Leonardo DiCaprio

Dark horse: Robert DeNiro

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Best Actress

Nominees: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook; Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty; Emmanuelle Riva, Amour; Naomi Watts, The Impossible; Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts Of The Southern Wild

We're giving it to Lawrence and that's all there is to it. Her job is to hopelessly seduce us, and it is accomplished. Chastain is the only one capable of an upset, but I doubt it. War is played out this year.

Will win: Jennifer Lawrence

Should win: Jennifer Lawrence

Dark horse: Jessica Chastain

Best Actor

Nominees: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln; Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables; Denzel Washington, Flight; Joaquin Phoenix, The Master; Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook

In a field of strong nominees, nobody slew me more than Denzel Washington as the stubborn and finally repentant pilot from Flight. The fact that he's not a serious contender speaks to a lot of politicizing and dumb Hollywood trends. Black is out this year, and tired, cheesy caricatures of dead presidents are in. This will be Daniel Day-Lewis' third trophy. Phoenix is the only one in this category without a win under his belt. It's a good performance, but The Master failed to capture the collective imagination, so who cares if you're playing crazy well, if we don't know what's at stake or why it matters?

Will win: Daniel Day-Lewis

Should win: Denzel Washington

Dark horse: Hugh Jackman

Best Director

Nominees: Steven Spielberg, Lincoln; Ang Lee, Life of Pi; Michael Haneke, Amour; David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook; Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

The fact that Ben Affleck wasn't nominated is so baffling that it seems like a clerical error. When you're watching Argo, and you're holding your breath waiting for Iranian customs to stamp the Americans' passports and let them throughthat is a well-earned moment, and it's the man behind the monitor who's responsible for giving it to you. I would have loved to see Quentin Tarantino represented here as well, even if Django is maybe only his sixth best movie. It's still a more inspired and creative effort than anything Spielberg has put his hands on since Jurassic Park. Life of Pi is a beautiful film, and I think/hope Lee's going to edge out Spielberg in what will be a slight upset.

Will win: Ang Lee

Should win: Ben Affleck, Quentin Tarantino

Dark horse: Steven Spielberg

Best Picture

Nominees: Lincoln, Les Misérables, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Silver Linings Playbook, Life of Pi, Amour, Django Unchained, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Early on, this was Lincoln's category to lose, but it's losing momentum and I'm glad. Lincoln is this year's Benjamin Button: The people get swept up in sentimentality at nomination time and then quickly come to their senses. Argo is the natural next choice, which is fine. It's a perfectly made, wonderfully effective thriller. Overall, this category is a farce. Go back to five nominees!

Will win: Argo

Should win: Argo, Silver Linings Playbook, Django Unchained or Life of Pi

Dark horse: Lincoln

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