BEST ORIGINAL SONG: ADELE VS. SETH MACFARLANE
So, yes, Adele is very good at these awards things. The British singing superstar won approximately 200 Grammy Awards for her "21" album last year, and has already collected a Golden Globe for her sweeping "Skyfall" anthem. However, one thing Adele has yet to do is defeat a nominee who's HOSTING the actual awards show! MacFarlane, nominated for writing the "Ted" song "Everybody Needs a Best Friend," could garner some tokens of appreciation from Academy voters for taking on the stint as the Oscars emcee. Don't bet against Adele (ever), but this could conceivably fall MacFarlane's way.
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: 'ZERO DARK THIRTY' VS. 'DJANGO UNCHAINED'
Quentin Tarantino won his only Oscar in this category 19 years ago for "Pulp Fiction," and "Django Unchained" could find one of its only wins of Sunday night if it can emerge victorious in a scribe showdown with "Zero Dark Thirty's" Mark Boal. Both films feature engrossing screenplays with wildly different points of view; can Tarantino's fantastical slave drama overtake the dense realism of Boal's bin Laden drama?
BEST DIRECTOR: STEVEN SPIELBERG VS. ANG LEE
Both directors have won before, and both would have a tough time topping "Argo" leader Ben Affleck... if Affleck had been nominated. Alas, Affleck's snub (along with the egregious oversight of "Zero Dark Thirty's" Kathryn Bigelow) has made this a two-horse race between "Lincoln's" commander and "Life of Pi's" master. Spielberg probably deserves this more, but will voter fatigue -- and "Pi's" technical achievements -- push the surging Lee onstage?
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: 'BRAVE' VS. 'WRECK-IT RALPH'
It used to be unthinkable for a Pixar film to not be the prohibitive favorite in the Best Animated Feature category, but last summer's "Brave," while presenting the studio's first female protagonist, was met with less-than-overwhelming reviews. Meanwhile, "Wreck-It Ralph" is fresh off a boffo box office performance and well-earned critical acclaim, which may be enough to wreck another Pixar bid, after "Cars 2" fell to "Rango" at last year's ceremony.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: 'LIFE OF PI' VS. 'THE AVENGERS'
Want to know what could defeat the lone Best Picture nominee to score a nod in the Visual Effects category, and a movie that everyone agrees is breathtaking to watch? How about a superhero movie that became one of the five highest-grossing films ever? the team of Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott could turn the tiger of "Pi" into a win here, but Iron Man, the Hulk, Captain America and co. might have something to say about it instead.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: TOMMY LEE JONES VS. ROBERT DE NIRO
With all five nominees in the Best Supporting Actor category card-carrying Oscar winners already (and Samuel L. Jackson somehow not nominated for "Django Unchained"), this has become a dead heat between two wily veterans. De Niro, as the Philadelphia Eagles-loving patriarch in "Silver Linings Playbook," is certainly the sentimental favorite here -- he's even got a crying scene! On the other hand, Jones' presence in "Lincoln" as the quick-tongued abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens prevents the film from ever slipping too far into its own heavy-handedness. Recent buzz has favored De Niro since Jones is perceived as a "sourpuss" in real life, but the Academy gave gold to Jones before for "The Fugitive," so why not again?
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: 'LINCOLN' VS. 'LIFE OF PI'
Like the Best Director category, the Best Cinematography award will likely go to either the beautifully constructed 19th-century shots in "Lincoln" or the eye-popping surrealism of "Life of Pi." Both Janusz Kaminski ("Lincoln") and Claudio Miranda ("Life of Pi") could rightly claim this trophy as their own; whoever's name is called early in the evening could determine the outcome of Spielberg vs. Lee later on.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: 'THE GATEKEEPERS' VS. 'SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN'
The general assumption on this one is that "Searching for Sugar Man," which chronicles one of the more remarkable musical stories to ever be captured in a documentary, is the easy favorite here, with its universal recommendations and box office performance. Don't sleep on "The Gatekeepers," though. Focused on a shadowy intelligence agency in Israel and featuring revealing interviews with six former heads of the operation, "The Gatekeepers" could very well be soaking "Sugar" on Sunday night, simply for the boldness of its scope and the timeliness of its subject.
BEST ACTRESS: JESSICA CHASTAIN VS. JENNIFER LAWRENCE
Jennifer Lawrence is the favorite here... but then might have irked some voters with some tossed-off jokes at the expense of her fellow nominees on "Saturday Night Live." Jessica Chastain could possibly score her first win for her tremendous performance in "Zero Dark Thirty"... but she's not as much of an ubiquitous entity as Lawrence, who stars in her second "Hunger Games" movie later this year and is pretty much locked in as Hollywood's Next Major Starlet. Give the slightest of edges to Lawrence, but Chastain would raise no eyebrows with a win.
BEST PICTURE: 'LINCOLN' VS. 'ARGO'
Let's take a moment to acknowledge how nice it feels to not quite know who will win Best Picture on Sunday night. Remember last year, when everyone was like, "Oh, 'The Artist' is going to win," and then "The Artist" won? That was no fun. This year actually has some drama between two dramas: after "Argo's" Ben Affleck got shut out of the Best Director category, the Iranian hostage drama has mounted a grassroots-esque effort to topple Steven Spielberg's Civil War showcase for the top prize. The crazy thing is that it seems to be working for "Argo," with a Golden Globe win for Best Drama coming at the expense of poor ol' "Lincoln" last month. So who comes up with the biggest win of all on Sunday night? We have no idea -- and that's fine with us.