Best performance by an actor -- comedy or musical
If only the great comedians didn't have to go up against the great musical performers, because there's only one leading man in this category who's both funny and sings: Jack Black for "Bernie."
Black's competition includes Hugh Jackman ("Les Miserables"), Bradley Cooper ("Silver Linings Playbook"), Ewan McGregor ("Salmon Fishing in the Yemen") and Bill Murray ("Hyde Park on Hudson").
Jackman will win for his portrayal of Jean Valjean, but the most truly insane performance of the year belongs to Cooper. DiCaprio called it "unbelievable." Josh Brolin called Cooper "amazing." We call him another should-be winner.
Best performance by an actress -- comedy or musical
Jennifer Lawrence, Cooper's "Silver Linings" co-star, has some stiff competition in this category -- Meryl Streep ("Hope Springs"), Maggie Smith ("Quartet"), Judi Dench ("The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel") and Emily Blunt ("Salmon Fishing in the Yemen").
Despite facing off against such heavyweights, Lawrence should win for her portrayal of a promiscuous widow with a depressive disorder who ropes Cooper into a dance competition. "When she came over the transom with her Skype audition, I was like, 'Oh my God, who is this?' " director David O. Russell said. "Even though I had seen her on the Oscar circuit (for 'Winter's Bone'), I never understood who she was, and she showed up on Skype dressed as the character and knocked me out. She's a weapon waiting to be fired."
Best performance by an actress in a supporting role
And here the separation between drama and comedy/musical ends -- too bad for anyone who isn't Anne Hathaway ("Les Miserables").
Hathaway's competitors include Amy Adams ("The Master"), Sally Field ("Lincoln"), Helen Hunt ("The Sessions") and Nicole Kidman ("The Paperboy"). Kidman is the only one here who didn't make it in the Oscar nominations -- Jacki Weaver ("Silver Linings Playbook") replaced her for the nod.
Only Field seems geared up to give Hathaway a run for her money. Her turn as Mary Lincoln was a tour de force.
Best performance by an actor in a supporting role
The supporting actor nominees are Alan Arkin ("Argo"), Tommy Lee Jones ("Lincoln"), Philip Seymour Hoffman ("The Master") and Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio (both for "Django Unchained"), with only the latter (and the youngest) not receiving an Oscar nod this year.
Jones is the clear favorite for his portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens, with Hoffman not far behind as the charismatic leader of a cult. But Waltz's performance as a German bounty hunter in the Deep South had more meat to it.
Best animated feature film
There's no clear consensus in this category on which movie should win. "Brave," "Frankenweenie," "Hotel Transylvania," "Rise of the Guardians" and "Wreck-It Ralph" all have a good shot, even if "Brave" might the closest thing to a favorite.
But "Frankenweenie," Tim Burton's passion project that began as one of the director's first short films before becoming a full-length feature almost 30 years later, is the only one to have been part of a popular, if macabre, Museum of Modern Art exhibition.
Best foreign-language film
With the Oscar nominations, "Amour" broke out of the foreign-language category and infiltrated the best picture field, so it's a clear favorite here -- one that should win.
Although the film is an Austrian entry, thanks to director Michael Haneke, "Amour" is in French, and its lovely competitors include "A Royal Affair" (Denmark), "Kon-Tiki" (Norway), "The Intouchables" (France) and "Rust and Bone" (also France).
If there is an upset, expect it to be from one of the French rivals since all three deal with the bonds between disabled people and the caretakers who love them (in different ways ).
Best original score
John Williams ("Lincoln"), Dario Marianelli ("Anna Karenina"), Alexandre Desplat ("Argo"), Mychael Danna ("Life of Pi") and Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil (all for "Cloud Atlas") are the nominees.
Williams -- the most celebrated of the bunch -- will win for creating a score accurate to the musical sensibilities of the 19th century. But the "Cloud Atlas" trio had to create something described in David Mitchell's book as a piece for six instrumental voices, with each solo interrupted by its successor, only to be recontinued in order (just like the book and movie's plot).
Put another way, that's six separate plots in six separate genres, serving as the connective tissue of the larger story. It should win, hands down.