I've already given my previews twice: once before half the movies came out, and once drawing upon the Golden Globes results. From the predictions and scuttlebutt out there, I have the feeling I'm going to be very dissatisfied with the award-winners, but I have hopes to be pleasantly surprised in a couple of categories, and I always enjoy (and usually get a bit emotional about) the event itself.
For this post, I will list the category and which one I would've selected if I had a vote, and then contrast with the one "everyone" is expecting to win in parentheses; if I have no objection to the indicated winner, I'll just show that in parens. I haven't been participating in any of those contests to predict winners, so I haven't done my research on the "minor" categories such as documentaries, shorts, etc. So I'll just leave most of them out.
Best Picture: The Descendants (The Artist)
Directing: Terence Malick, The Tree of Life (Martin Scorsese, Hugo)
Actor: Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Jean Dujardin, The Artist)
Supporting Actor: Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn (Christopher Plummer, Beginners)
Actress: Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn (Viola Davis, The Help)
Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain, The Help (Octavia Spencer, The Help)
Animated Feature: (Rango)
Art Direction: The Artist (The Artist, or Hugo)
Cinematography: The Tree of Life (Hugo)
Costume: (The Artist)
Documentary: Pina (?)
Film Editing: The Artist (The Artist, or Hugo)
Foreign Language: (A Separation, Iran)
Makeup: (Albert Nobbs)
Music: (The Artist)
Song: (The Muppets)--the fact that only two songs were nominated is shameful.
Sound Editing & Sound Mixing: Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Hugo)
Visual Effects: (Harry Potter)
Writing (Adapted): The Descendants (Moneyball)
Writing (Original): Bridesmaids (Midnight in Paris)
A few closing comments: I would not be upset for Best Acturess if Davis or Meryl Streep win. Similarly, I'll be happy for Clooney if he gets Best Actor and not too upset if Dujardin gets it in his one bonne chance. I will be very upset if The Artist wins best screenwriting. I think Hugo is not really in the running for Best Picture but might end up with the most awards for its technical merits, and that's OK. The Best Director nominees are all extremely well-qualified, which makes my longshot pick of Malick a bit unrealistic.
Best Supporting Actress should've gone to Shailene Woodley for The Descendants, which wasn't nominated; Octavia Spencer's best hope is that her colleague in The Help, Jessica Chastain, looks like a long-term multi-nominee so people will overlook her this year, but the fact that the favored candidate shares a nomination with someone in the same movie does suggest that there could be an opening for one of the other nominees, perhaps even a surprise for Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids.
I do not agree that this was an unusually weak year, but I think the retrospective view will be that (or maybe that the Academy made huge errors in overlooking other films) if The Artist is chosen for all the big awards. It's a light entertainment, cute and well-made but not too engaging and with no lasting effect. I think the default pick of Christopher Plummer as Supporting Actor is a poor one with high-quality alternatives: though he's undoubtedly a great actor, nobody saw his movie--maybe Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, in which he did well in a relatively minor role, would've been a better vehicle.
Finally, the Best Picture favorite, far and away, is The Artist, with The Descendants being the second choice; however, if I were betting, I would put money on Hugo, probably about a 15-1 choice, that could pull an upset. This would disappoint few, and it follows the leading indicator of most nominations; I see it winning 4-6 Oscars prior to the Best Picture announcement, which might put it in top spot for the night even without it.