4. Best Original Screenplay
There was a time when Mark Boal seemed like a fairly sure thing in this category (hell, there was a time when Paul Thomas Anderson seemed like a sure thing in this category). But with "Zero Dark Thirty" slipping in Oscar buzz (and Anderson not even nominated for "The Master"), Boal is probably running third behind Michael Haneke ("Amour") and Quentin Tarantino ("Django Unchained"). He could still pull through, but it's going to be a nailbiter. Hurting Boal is his win for "Locker" just a few years ago, and though Tarantino won back in 1995 for "Pulp Fiction," it seems reasonable to give the man #2 this time around (they seemingly almost did in 2010, but instead gave it to Boal). But then there's Haneke who has never won, but has three different opportunities to this year (here, best director and best foreign language film -- though the latter techically goes to the country of Austria). So will voters assume he's winning for foreign language film and vote for Tarantino? Or maybe Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola will draw sympathy that the Academy screwed over "Moonrise Kingdom" everywhere else and pull off a shocker?
5. Best Actress
Jennifer Lawrence for the win? That was the story back in September, when "Silver Linings Playbook" soared out of the Toronto Film Festival with somewhat unexpected Oscar buzz, particularly for Lawrence -- who took charge in a category that had been a big mystery until then. And she held that position until Jessica Chastain popped up in mid-November even more out of nowhere for "Zero Dark Thirty." No one had any idea whether her role was lead in the film or if she/the film were any good. All cases turned out true. So the race was soon pegged as J.Law vs. J.Cha. They pretty much evenly split the precursor awards, though Lawrence started to hold a growing edge over Chastain, particularly after "Thirty" didn't do quite as well at the Oscar nominations (and "Linings" did better than expected). But something else happened at the Oscar nominations: L'amour for "Amour" across the board, and a nomination for Emmanuelle Riva. Riva -- who will turn 86 years old on Oscar night
-- is the oldest best actress nominee ever, and represents a rare case where she's both a sentimental choice and the most deserving winner. If voters actually see "Amour" (which given voting hasn't even started yet, they have plenty of time to), Riva could very well take that Oscar from Lawrence and Chastain. Or not. Though this Oscar prognosticator's totally impossible fantasy? Riva ties the youngest nominee in this category -- Quvenzhané Wallis of "Beasts of the Southern Wild" -- and the two of them walk up to stage hand in hand, adorably play-arguing on stage ("I'm the man!"; "No, I'm the man").
Peter Knegt is Indiewire's Senior Editor and awards columnist. Check out his Oscar predictions in all the categories here, and this list of all the Oscar-nominated films available ON DEMAND right now.