2. Best Original Score
The Academy played it safe in the nominations for this category, leaving out innovative scores from outside-the-establishment composers Jonny Greenwood ("The Master") and Dan Romer & Benh Zeitlin ("Beasts of the Southern Wild") -- the latter pair probably standing a good shot at winning had they actually been nominated. But in the wake of their snubs comes a very tight race, with one of the most nominated men in history (John Williams for "Lincoln," who at 48 nominations is the second most nominated person in Oscar history; he's won 5 already), going up against first timer Mychael Danna ("Life of Pi"), recent winner Dario Marianelli (nominated here for "Anna Karenina," and who won for another Joe Wright film, "Atonement," in 2008), and two men who have been nominated many times but have never won (Thomas Newman, getting his 11th nod for "Skyfall" and Alexandre Desplat, getting his 5th for "Argo").
Any of them could win, though it seems to be evolving into a three way race between Williams, Danna and Desplat. If "Argo" is indeed heading to a best picture win, they'll want to give it a few other awards too, and this is one of the more likely options (besides film editing, which "Argo" seems good to go for). Desplat being owed certainly helps the cause. But it's also the least memorable score here, and Desplat has definitely done better (arguably in two other 2012 films -- "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Moonrise Kingdom"). Williams and Danna, however, produced quite memorable work for "Lincoln" and "Life of Pi," respectively. Williams' restrained score is definitely his best in a long while, and while he does have five Oscars, it's been 20 years since his last. Danna, meanwhile, is an Oscar newbie (though he should have been here for "The Sweet Hereafter" and "Moneyball." Which is notable in that three of the past four winners in this category also won their first Oscar on their first nomination...
'Searching for Sugar Man'
3. Best Documentary Feature
Sure, Malik Bendjelloul's "Searching For Sugar Man" feels like the frontrunner here. It's the only real box office hit, and is coming off wins with the PGA and DGA. But this category is notoriously hard to predict, and this year for the first time all Academy members were sent screeners of all the docs and can all vote in the category, which entirely changes voting patterns and gives this category no precedent. So while "Sugar Man" has the momentum, it's just as easy to see Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi's "5 Broken Cameras" or Dror Moreh's "The Gatekeepers" or David France's "How To Survive a Plague" or Kirby Dick's "The Invisible War" pushing through . For one, they all feel like much more "important" documentaries, which may or may not help them (last year's winner -- high school football doc "Undefeated" -- also had that sense about it compared to its fellow nominees).