If you had asked me a month ago when the nominations were announced, many of my predictions would have looked a lot different. The momentum always changes in the weeks between nominations and the awards ceremony. Films continue playing in the theaters and earning money. They win or lose other awards like the BAFTAs and the various guild awards. All these things doubtless affect Academy voters, but also indicate how people are reacting to the films.
prediction: Steven Spielberg
possible upset: Ang Lee
my preference: Ang Lee (even if I wasn't crazy about the movie, I think his directing is magnificent)
Documentary Featre - So many predictions are coming out for Searching for Sugar Man. You have to keep in mind that this is one of the few categories that demands Academy members see all five nominated film to be permitted to vote. Searching for Sugar Man is a populist choice because it's the only one that had a wide release, so more of the public has seen it. The Invisible War, about cases of rape and sexual assault in the military, and The Gatekeepers, interviews with 6 former heads of the Israeli security agency, Shin Bet, are the two most powerful.
Update 2/21/13: As it turns out, final voting is open to the full Academy membership for the first time this year, although members must affirm they've seen all the films. This potentially means that the most commercially viable film has the best shot, which points toward Searching for Sugar Man. But I'm sticking with my original prediction.
prediction: The Invisible War
possible upset: The Gatekeepers
my preference: The Gatekeepers
Documentary Short Subject - This category becomes much easier to predict when you've seen the nominees. Again, Academy members can only vote if they've seen the films, so basically I just go with my gut instinct on the film I found the most powerful and inspiring.
Update 2/21/13: As it turns out, final voting is open to the full Academy membership for the first time this year, although members must affirm they've seen all the films. This category is different from the Feature category in that the films don't really receive serious commercial releases. So this category still has the likelihood of being decided by people who have attended special screenings.
possible upset: Open Heart
my preference: Inocente
Film Editing - This category is often quite a tossup. It used go hand-in-hand with the Best Picture winner, but that has changed in the last decade.
possible upset: Life of Pi; Lincoln; Zero Dark Thirty
my preference: Zero Dark Thirty
Foreign Language Film - This is hardly a contest.
possible upset: none, although maybe War Witch if anything
my preference: Amour (although I haven't seen No)
Makeup and Hairstyling - The Academy has never really gone in for the "less is more" attitude in this category. So I usually go with the flashiest nominee.
prediction: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
possible upset: Hitchcock with that prosthetic chin on Anthony Hopkins' face
my preference: I don't really care, but I suppose The Hobbit
Music - Original Score - A tough call, honestly. John Williams has won 5 of these, the last one 19 years ago. Thomas Newman has been nominated 11 times and never won. Alexandre Desplat has no wins sitting on his 5th nomination. Desplat, in my opinion, is, along with Hans Zimmer, the best composer currently working in Hollywood. First time nominee Mychael Danna has a pretty good shot also.
prediction: John Williams - Lincoln
possible upset: Mychael Danna for Life of Pi or Alexandre Desplat for Argo
my preference: Desplat
Music - Original Song - Ugh, how I hate this category. I honestly think the Academy should eliminate this category completely. Its only purpose is to encourage producers to commission a song for their films for that outside chance at an Oscar nomination. It is the reason the documentary Chasing Ice is nominated this year. It is the reason Enchanted had three Oscar nominations a few years back. Last year's two nominees were only nominated in this category. But the title song from Skyfall, co-written and performed by Adele, is the best Bond song in years and would make a worthy winner because title songs and Bond movies go together. You can't have one without the other.
prediction: "Skyfall" from Skyfall
possible upset: "Suddenly" from Les Miserables
my preference: "Skyfall"
Picture - Go back one month and I was saying without a doubt that Lincoln would win. I said that the only two real contenders, Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, failed to get Director nominations, which really hurts their chances. Driving Miss Daisy 23 years ago is the last to win Best Picture without its director being nominated. But now that I've seen a lot of momentum swing toward Argo, with wins at the SAG, DGA, PGA, BAFTA, among others, it's hard to ignore it. Actors make up the largest contingent of Academy members and Argo is a film made by an actor. Even one of the other nominated producers, George Clooney, is an actor. Plus, it's a movie that puts Hollywood at the center of incredibly important work being done for the good of Americans in peril abroad. It's so self-congratulatory, you just can't count it out.
possible upset: Lincoln
my preference: Zero Dark Thirty or Amour
Production Design - Another Anna or Les Mis decision.
prediction: Anna Karenina
possible upset: Les Miserables
my preference: Anna Karenina
Short Film - Animated - Again it helps to have seen all the nominees so you can better judge what voters might be moved by. There's no real politics at play here because voters have to have seen all the nominees. Campaigning isn't really aggressive and there are no big names attached to any, except one of the nominees is a Disney production.
prediction: Head over Heels
possible upset: Paperman
my preference: Fresh Guacamole
Short Film - Live Action - What will voters (who can only vote if they've seen all the nominees) respond to?
possible upset: Buzkashi Boys
my preference: Asad
Sound Editing - Who knows?
possible upset: Zero Dark Thirty or Life of Pi
my preference: Zero Dark Thirty
Sound Mixing - Les Miserables has that whole songs recorded live on set thing going for it. Is that enough?
prediction: Les Miserables
possible upset: Skyfall
my preference: Skyfall
Writing - Adapted Screenplay - This is typically like the second place category for Best Picture. So I see this as a race between Lincoln and Argo. I think Tony Kushner's poetic screenplay will win out.
possible upset: Argo
my preference: Lincoln
Writing - Original Screenplay - Quentin Tarantino has won in the past and Django Unchained feels a little overwritten. Voters may want to reward the excellent Amour somewhere other than Foreign Language Film, but the film is more successful from its direction and acting.
prediction: Django Unchained
possible upset: Amour
my preference: Zero Dark Thirty
Visual Effects - I have little doubt here. This is as near to a sure thing as you can get in the technical categories.
prediction: Life of Pi
possible upset: The Hobbit
my preference: Life of Pi