Considering there are a number of really close races (both lead acting categories) and very few “sure things” (both supporting categories) – and given the Academy’s penchant for out-of-left-field surprises – I wouldn’t recommend betting too much money in your Oscar pool this year. Nevertheless, the Haiku Review will take a stab at prognostication; just don’t come crying if you lose your lunch money. Here are the picks for who will (and should) win in the major categories at the 84th annual Academy Awards this weekend.

Best Picture
The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The Help
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
War Horse

Who will win: Barring an upset from Hugo, or an apocalyptic tragedy in which sentimental hopeful The Help becomes the first film since 1932 to win Best Picture without either a Best Director or a Best Screenplay nod, The Artist should dance off with the night’s big prize.

Who should win: In a year full of very good films, but lacking any truly great ones, The Artist is the most worthy candidate.

Best Director
Woody Allen – Midnight in Paris
Michel Hazanavicius – The Artist
Terrence Malick – The Tree of Life
Alexander Payne – The Descendants
Martin Scorsese – Hugo

Who will win: Scorsese is the only one here who can upset, but since Best Picture and Best Director align far more often than not, The Artist‘s Michel Hazanavicius should wear the crown.

Who should win: Love it or hate it, the polarizing Tree of Life is the work of a true visionary, but Michel Hazanavicius deserves recognition for taking a big risk and turning a silent film into something that charmed modern audiences.

Best Actor
Demián Bichir – A Better Life
George Clooney – The Descendants
Jean Dujardin – The Artist
Gary Oldman – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt – Moneyball

Who will win: In what is likely the tightest race of the year, Clooney and Dujardin – both Golden Globe winners for their respective parts – are neck and neck for the victory. Most predictions have George Clooney ahead by a nose, but it’s really a toss-up.

Who should win: It’s shocking to think that this is his first nomination, but Gary Oldman turned in a brilliantly subtle performance as British spy legend George Smiley.

Best Actress
Glenn Close – Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis – The Help
Rooney Mara – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams – My Week with Marilyn

Who will win: Though Streep is considered to be a strong contender, The Help was much more beloved than The Iron Lady, so Viola Davis should become the thirteenth person in a row to keep her from the gold.

Who should win: Rooney Mara gave an electrifying performance as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but it’s hard to argue with a Viola Davis win.

Best Supporting Actor
Kenneth Branagh – My Week with Marilyn
Jonah Hill – Moneyball
Nick Nolte – Warrior
Christopher Plummer – Beginners
Max von Sydow – Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Who will win: No one would fault Christopher Plummer if he had already cleared a space off on his mantle for this one.

Who should win: Without question, Christopher Plummer will have earned this for his heart-wrenching performance in Beginners.

Best Supporting Actress
Bérénice Bejo – The Artist
Jessica Chastain – The Help
Melissa McCarthy – Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer – Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer – The Help

Who will win: Like Plummer, Octavia Spencer has had plenty of time to get her victory speech ready.

Who should win: Spencer was great, but Bérénice Bejo lit up the screen with her smile and was responsible for much of The Artist‘s charm.

Best Original Screenplay
The Artist – Michel Hazanavicius
Bridesmaids – Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo
Margin Call – J.C. Chandor
Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen
A Separation – Asghar Farhadi

Who will win: Unless there is an Artist sweep, which seems unlikely, Woody Allen should win for the delightful Midnight in Paris, his highest-grossing film ever.

Who should win: Bridesmaids was marvelous, but Woody Allen was in top form this year.

Best Adapted Screenplay
The Descendants – Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash
Hugo – John Logan
The Ides of March – George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willimon
Moneyball – Screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin; Story by Stan Chervin
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan

Who will win: Either Hugo or Moneyball could upset, but the favorite (and recent Writers Guild winner) is The Descendants.

Who should win: Like The Social Network last year, Aaron Sorkin (this time along with Steven Zaillian) managed to take a seemingly unfilmable subject – the economics of baseball! – and turn it into something riveting with Moneyball.

And here are predictions for the rest of the categories…

Best Animated Feature: Rango
Best Art Direction: Hugo
Best Cinematography: The Tree of Life
Best Costume Design: Anonymous
Best Documentary Feature: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
Best Editing: The Artist
Best Foreign-Language Film: A Separation
Best Makeup: The Iron Lady
Best Original Score: The Artist
Best Original Song: “Man or Muppet” from The Muppets
Best Sound Editing: Hugo
Best Sound Mixing: Hugo
Best Visual Effects: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Best Animated Short: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
Best Live-Action Short: Raju
Best Documentary Short: Saving Face

So, readers, who are you putting your money on this year?

By Daniel J. Hoag