It's Academy Awards  season, and whether you're planning to hit a viewing party at the Roxie , the Balboa , the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center , or your Meryl Streep-obsessed BFF's apartment, it's best to show up prepared. Especially when there's a pool going.
Best Picture (and Best Director)
Black-and-white silent charmer The Artist has emerged as the clear front-runner, with copious wins at the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, the Director's Guild of America, and the Producer's Guild of America, plus a Golden Collar Award  for the film's charismatic canine co-star. I honestly can't think of another movie that could step up at this point; dwindling threats The Help  and The Descendants  will have to find glory in other categories. Look for The Artist's Michel Hazanavicius to pick up Best Director, too, unless Martin Scorsese scores an upset for Hugo . (He won't.)
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 's Gary Oldman is my pick, but I also wanted L.A. Confidential to beat Titanic in 1998. Wasn't gonna happen then, won't happen now. It's a suave-off between The Artist's Jean Dujardin, who's been raking in kudos for his performance since Cannes 2011, and The Descendants' George Clooney, a previous winner in the Supporting Actor category (for 2006's Syriana). Clooney is also nominated for his adapted screenplay for The Ides of March , which he directed. Close call, but look for The Artist tsunami to carry Dujardin to the podium. Consolation for Clooney: he'll be nominated again. And again. And again.
I was ready to declare this category the Battle of the Padded Butts and Power Wigs: Meryl Streep's Margaret Thatcher (in The Iron Lady ) versus Michelle Williams (in My Week With Marilyn ). These performances are eerily similar in some ways, with respected thespians (Streep a multiple prior winner, Williams a multiple prior nominee) portraying complex women who come fully-furnished with extremely well-defined public images. But The Help's Viola Davis, also a prior nominee, just picked up the Screen Actors Guild trophy; could she be the choice vote for Academy members who are tired of "acting" that feels more like an imitation?
Best Supporting Actor
Christopher Plummer, who is only two years younger than the Oscars, has been making films since the 1950s and is also a beloved star of stage and the small screen. He was first nominated, in this same category, for 2009's The Last Station, after which he reportedly said , "It's about time! I mean, I'm 80 years old, for God's sake. Have mercy." His performance as Ewan McGregor's dying, newly-out father in Mike Mills' twee yet pleasant Beginners  breaks no new acting ground, but the Academy loves to reward a legend. Do you really think Jonah Hill has a chance? Captain Von Trapp for the win.
Best Supporting Actress
This one's the Battle of the Poop Gags. "Eat my shit" versus "It's coming out of me like lava!" The Help's Octavia Spencer already has a Golden Globe, a BAFTA, and SAG awards decorating her mantle, so she's nearly a lock. However, newly Emmy'd (for her sitcom, Mike & Molly) Bridesmaids  scene-stealer Melissa McCarthy can't be totally counted out. The dolphin speech alone should keep her in the race.
Best Adapted Screenplay/Best Original Screenplay
The Writers Guild of America  awards are Sun/19, so this category may shape up even more after this weekend. For adapted, I think you can guess what I'm rooting for (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which just won at the BAFTAs), but The Descendants, adapted by director Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash from the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, also has a decent shot. Steven "Schindler's List" Zaillan and Aaron "The Social Network" could sneak in with Moneyball , though let's be honest: a kind word to describe that movie is "tedious." Apologies to A's fans.
Original screenplay will probably go to Hazanavicius for The Artist, but if the idea of a silent movie winning "best screenplay" rubs you wrong, there's always Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris  (not that great, except for the Hemingway scenes ) and my top pick: Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig's Bridesmaids. A win for Bridesmaids would (sorta) make up for the fact that Diablo Cody was robbed of a nomination for Young Adult .
But who knows, really. Rooney Mara could pull off an Adrien Brody-style upset win . Eddie Murphy (remember when he was gonna host, for like five minutes last fall?) could show up and kick Billy Crystal off the stage. Maybe this will be the year something exciting actually happens! Gotta tune in to find out. And to see the gowns. It's all about the gowns, anyway, right?
The 84th Academy Awards air Sunday, February 26 starting at 4 p.m. (for red-carpet fiends) on ABC .