Come Sunday night, you may embark on that annual ritual: Filling out the bottom of your Oscar pool entry, pretending you know the difference between Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. Will and I will both offer our picks for the eight major categories tomorrow, but today I'm going to offer my predictions on the smaller prizes. These are the races that are less understood and lower-profile. But they tend to make or break your pool sheet. I can't pretend I know better than anyone else when it comes to these categories, so, yeah, I'm guessing. But I guess with gusto!
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Your nominees: Brave, Frankenweenie, ParaNorman, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, Wreck-It Ralph
The pick: Wreck-It Ralph. Most years, the Pixar film's easy money. But this isn't most years. Inertia might earn a win for Brave, but the general lack of excitement about that film opens the door for another possibility: Wreck-It Ralph's a little hip for the academy, but it has a heartwarming story and a positive message about being true to yourself that's better than the same one in Brave. Plus, it won the Producers Guild award and the Annie for the year's best animated film.
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Your nominees: Amour, Kon-Tiki, No, A Royal Affair, War Witch
The pick: Amour. In a normal Oscar year, I'd go with the smart, crowd-pleasing No, which is based on the inspirational true story of how Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was thrown out of office as the result of a referendum Yes/No vote in which both sides got to run daily ads backing their cause. (It's like Argo meets Mad Men.) But this is the one category that Best Picture-nominee Amour seems assured of winning, so the Academy will probably make sure that happens.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Your nominees: 5 Broken Cameras, The Gatekeepers, How to Survive a Plague, The Invisible War, Searching for Sugar Man
The pick: Searching for Sugar Man. I'm really tempted to pick How to Survive a Plague, which features two crucial components for Oscar voters in this category: an important subject (the history of ACT UP) and an inspirational tone. But my gut tells me that a majority of voters will love Sugar Man, which helped bring forgotten singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez out of the shadows. A victory for this movie feels akin to the one for Man on Wire a few years ago and its equally intriguing subject, Philippe Petit.
Your nominees: Anna Karenina, Django Unchained, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Skyfall
The pick: Life of Pi. Is Roger Deakins ever going to win? The longtime cinematographer for the Coen brothers has been nominated 10 times. This time it's for Skyfall. There could be a groundswell of voters who feel that the man should have won by now and decide to award his work on the James Bond film. (It could also be a way of celebrating the movie, which received five Oscar nominations, although the Academy may do that by awarding "Skyfall" for Best Original Song.) Still, I'm going with Claudio Miranda for Life of Pi. In the past few years, the Oscar has gone to movies at the forefront of digital/3D filmmaking: Avatar and Hugo. Life of Pi fits that bill this year.
BEST FILM EDITING
Your nominees: Argo, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty
The pick: Argo. William Goldenberg's biggest competition may be himself. He's the editor of Argo, and he's one of two editors on Zero Dark Thirty, with Dylan Tichenor. In the last 10 years, this category has matched up with the Best Picture winner six times, and when it hasn't it's tended to go to a film that's really dazzlingly propulsive or fast-paced, like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or The Social Network or The Bourne Ultimatum. Zero Dark Thirty could sneak in for that reason, especially because of its final act, but the buildup of tension in Argo will probably be more than enough to win the prize. (Also, I think Argo is gonna win Best Picture.)
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Your nominees: Anna Karenina, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln
The pick: Anna Karenina. This prize, which used to be known as Best Art Direction, might as well be called Movie With the Most Stuff in It. Hugo, Alice in Wonderland, Avatar, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Sweeney Todd... these past winners sure had a lot of stuff in them. With that in mind, Anna Karenina and Les Misérables are the most lavish and eye-popping in their overall design. This is a tough call, but I'm going with Anna Karenina, simply because that movie's complicated stage-bound look was its big selling point. My worry, though: Did enough voters see it?
BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Your nominees: Hitchcock, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Les Misérables
The pick: Les Misérables. Another category whose name has been changed—it used to be just Best Makeup. I don't think Hitchcock was big enough to be remembered, so it's down to hobbits and poor wretches. The Lord of the Rings won this category twice, but those films were a little more beloved in the Academy than The Hobbit was. With Les Misérables getting a lot more Oscar nominations than The Hobbit, I have a feeling that could help here.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Your nominees: The Avengers, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Life of Pi, Prometheus, Snow White and the Huntsman
The pick: Life of Pi. The Lord of the Rings went 3-for-3 in this category. But considering how despised The Hobbit's 48 FPS was—and how praised Life of Pi's visuals were—I don't see it happening again. (And for those wondering why The Avengers won't win, the Academy tends not to give the prize to movies they view as simply popcorn flicks.)
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Your nominees: Anna Karenina, Les Misérables, Lincoln, Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman
The pick: Anna Karenina. Eiko Ishioka, who designed the costumes for Mirror Mirror, died about a year ago, a fact that may inspire some Academy members to vote for her to honor her legacy. (She won an Oscar for Bram Stoker's Dracula.) But I see this as a contest between Anna Karenina and Les Misérables. Period costumes tend to be big winners in this category, and the more gowns the better. I'm going with Anna Karenina by a hair.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Your nominees: Anna Karenina, Argo, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Skyfall
The pick: Life of Pi. This shapes up to be a battle between the Middle Eastern accents of Argo and the Indian themes of Life of Pi. I'm giving the slight nod to Life of Pi only because its score is slightly more integral to the film than Argo's is. One thing in Argo's favor, though: Composer Alexandre Desplat has been nominated five times now and never won. (This is the first nomination for Life of Pi's Mychael Danna.)
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Your nominees: "Before My Time" from Chasing Ice, "Suddenly" from Les Misérables, "Pi's Lullaby" from Life of Pi, "Skyfall" from Skyfall, "Everybody Needs a Best Friend" from Ted
The pick: "Skyfall" from Skyfall. It's the one song of the five nominees that most Academy members probably know without having to think about it.
BEST SOUND EDITING
Your nominees: Argo, Django Unchained, Life of Pi, Skyfall, Zero Dark Thirty
The pick: Skyfall. I can make a decent case for each of these winning except for Django Unchained. So why go with Skyfall? Because it's the big-budget event movie that the Academy seemed to actually like. (I do wonder if Life of Pi's phenomenal disaster sequence will help give it the win here, though.)
BEST SOUND MIXING
Your nominees: Argo, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Skyfall
The pick: Les Misérables. Whether you loved or hated Les Misérables, all anybody heard about the movie was that everyone sang their vocals live. The degree-of-difficulty factor will probably be enough to convince voters that the movie deserves this particular Oscar.
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
Your nominees: Inocente, Kings Point, Mondays at Racine, Open Heart, Redemption
The pick: Open Heart. In the past, I've reviewed all the short films—documentary, animated, live-action—which made it a little easier to guess what wasn't going to win. This year, I'm flying a bit blind, so I'm going based almost entirely on plot descriptions and trailers. Critical rigor! In this category, my hunch is Open Heart, about a Sudanese center that will perform surgery on eight impoverished Rwandan children suffering from rheumatic heart disease. Seems like an Oscar winner.
BEST ANIMATED SHORT
Your nominees: Adam and Dog, Fresh Guacamole, Head Over Heels, Maggie Simpson in The Longest Daycare, Paperman
The pick: Paperman. It's got a sweet story, lovely music, and a happy ending.
BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT
Your nominees: Asad, Buzkashi Boys, Curfew, Death of a Shadow, Henry
The pick: Curfew. Death of a Shadow looks amazing, but the consensus seems to be that Curfew is your winner. Look at this trailer and you can understand why: It has the sort of tart, ultimately uplifting tone that Oscar voters respond to.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.