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Handicapping the Oscars: There Could Yet Be Some Surprises

It’s seemed over for weeks now. But is it?

The 85th Annual Academy Awards will go to Argo, Jennifer Lawrence ( Silver Linings Playbook ), Daniel Day-Lewis ( Lincoln ), Anne Hathaway ( Les Miserables ) and Tommy Lee Jones ( Lincoln ), right? All the pre-Oscar hoopla, the earlier awards from critics’ groups and guilds, point toward those conclusions.

Not so fast.

Anne Hathaway has had best supporting actress socked away since the day she was cast as Fantine in Les Miserables. Cynical critics and heartless punters claim they didn’t cry when she sang I Dreamed a Dream. Liars.

Daniel Day-Lewis gave us a once-in-a-lifetime interpretation of Abraham Lincoln, historically accurate and wonderfully human. Best actor belongs to him. Period.

But Jennifer Lawrence, the front-runner for best actress — forever — in the somewhat over-rated “Love cures mental illness” dramedy Silver Linings Playbook — may give way to the sentimental favorite, the legendary Emmanuelle Riva from Amour. I’m still pulling for Naomi Watts, who tears your heart out in the under-appreciated The Impossible. But Riva will win.

Tommy Lee Jones ( Lincoln ) and Robert DeNiro ( Silver Linings ) are the toss-up choices for best supporting actor, two venerated icons of the silver screen. Since everybody else in the category is, like them, already an Oscar winner, there are no real dark horses here. If it’s an Argo kind of night, doesn’t Alan Arkin have a shot? Oh, give it to Jones, see if it softens his mood.

“Best directors direct best pictures,” as the Oscar wags know. And since Ben Affleck, who has taken Clint Eastwood’s place on the Warner Brothers backlot — a hitmaker who acts in and directs prestige pictures — cannot win best director, Argo is facing a headwind in pursuit of best picture. He isn’t nominated for best director. But Argo has won everything in sight.

And Zero Dark Thirty and the hit Django Unchained have that same shortcoming. No best director nomination.

People respected Amour and Life of Pi. But where’s the love? Beasts of the Southern Wild would rank with the biggest best picture upsets in history. The Lincoln blowback — historical shortcomings — is severe enough to suggest Spielberg won’t win best director or best picture.

So the movie in which Hollywood saves the day AND the hostages, Argo, will win.

Best director is a tossup. Ang Lee may be the favorite now, for Life of Pi, and the venerable bad boy Michael Haneke ( Amour ) may have bit of buzz. But the MAD money has to be on Benh Zeitlin of Beasts of the Southern Wild. He will never, ever make a movie as novel as this one.

Brave has won a lot of pre-Oscar guild prizes, but I still figure Wreck-It Ralph will win best animated film, Searching for Sugar Man best doc, costume and production design prizes for Anna Karenina and/or Les Miserables, and screenwriting awards for Argo and probably Zero Dark Thirty.

But big surprises Oscar night? First-time host Seth MacFarlane may have to provide those.