What will win:It’s the most even field in years – partly because the films are a generally ordinary bunch. Pacesetter Life of Pi may have been overtaken by Ben Affleck’s Argo, in which starry Hollywood ingenuity bests faceless Iranian treachery.
What should win:Either Lincoln, Steven Spielberg’s rediscovery of magisterial storytelling instincts, or Silver Linings Playbook, the liveliest nominee, for setting about a careworn story arc in sparky, unconventional fashion.
Overlooked:Its lingering, unresolved mysteries have divided critics and audiences, but The Master, one of the foremost American screen achievements of last year, deserved a nomination at the very least.
Who will win:With BAFTA-winner Affleck going without nomination – the stench of Gigli seemingly lingers – it’s a two-horse race: Pi’s Ang Lee looks the likely beneficiary, with a certain Mr. Spielberg waiting in the wings.
Who should win:Deserving as they are, Lee and Spielberg already have Oscars, so let’s hail Silver Linings supremo David O. Russell (Three Kings, The Fighter) for consistently jazzing up material that might have become flatly generic.
Overlooked:Paul Thomas Anderson, for his chancy, visionary work on The Master; on a more commercial note, erstwhile Academy fave Sam Mendes was unlucky to miss out with Skyfall, his triumphant 007 reinvention.
Who will win:Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln. Day-Lewis has become as reliable a shoo-in on Academy acting ballots as Meryl Streep; watch him slipping quietly, unshowily, and wholly persuasively under Honest Abe’s stovepipe and you realise why.
Who should win:If not Day-Lewis, then Joaquin Phoenix: no less Methody and no less unforgettable as The Master’s damaged, drunken sailor. Props to Bradley Cooper, too, for putting The Hangover’s crassness behind him with Silver Linings Playbook.
Overlooked:Jean-Louis Trintignant, Amour’s tormented other half; Matthew McConaughey, whose wiry assassin in the Academy-unfriendly Killer Joe reminded us of the electrifying sparks this perennial romcom smoothie is capable of generating.
Who will win:Another open field: sprightly Hollywood hares Jessica Chastain (the controversy-dogged Zero Dark Thirty) and Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) are being challenged by tortoise-like veteran Emmanuelle Riva, clinging to whatever dignity remains in Amour.
Who should win:Cinephiles won’t argue if Riva wins, but Lawrence – a runner-up for 2010’s Winter’s Bone – makes a tough and compelling case for her character, choosing life, where Amour settles in for death.
Overlooked:A trio of Brits: Judi Dench, for seizing control of Skyfall, Keira Knightley, for lighting up Anna Karenina, and Andrea Riseborough, going pale with uncertainty as the MI5 informant in Shadow Dancer.
What will win:Amour. The only film among the nominees to also make the Best Picture shortlist, it’s a stone-cold certainty – and there’s nothing Academy voters like more than having their certainties confirmed.
What should win:Pablo Larrain’s formally bold, narratively stirring Chilean entrant NO, currently wowing UK audiences in recounting how a dissident group of ad execs helped to unseat Augusto Pinochet.
Overlooked:Pointed Swiss contender Sister, about a teenage thief stalking a ski resort, and Barbara, Christian Petzold’s gripping micro-drama of life under the Stasi, just missed the shortlist. Aleksandr Sokurov’s eye-popping Faust didn’t even get that far.
The 85th Academy Awards take place in Los Angeles this evening.