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Another year of movies has been in the books for a while, but Oscar night finally has arrived.

It was looking like a pretty underwhelming year for Best Picture-worthy films for a long stretch of 2017. But when all was said and done, the nine nominees are very, very strong, and I'd be hard-pressed to figure out what to bump in place of something else.

It's going to be hard to to top the drama we saw a year ago when "La La Land" was announced as Best Picture, only to have it discovered moments later it really was "Moonlight." But that doesn't mean there's no drama leading into the show when it comes to predicting the ballots. With the Oscars, it's best to predict unpredictability.

Best Picture seems like a race between "The Shape of Water" and "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." But both likely have their detractors. There's a camp that doesn't like the way "Three Billboards" wrapped up its story. And there's a camp that won't want to vote for what essentially is a monster movie in "The Shape of Water." And because of the way the preferential voting system works for Best Picture, that actually leaves some room for "Get Out" to swoop in and steal the big prize.

"The Shape of Water" looked like a pretty solid pick for a while, but now it's very much up in the air. Four of the past five years, the directing winner and Best Picture have not been for the same movie. It looks like Guillermo del Toro has a lock on Best Director for "Shape of Water," so that might bode well for "Three Billboards," which will close as the betting favorite, just slightly. We've also seen surprises for Best Picture three straight years: "Birdman" beat "Boyhood," "Spotlight" beat "The Revenant" and "Moonlight" beat "La La Land."

So this will be interesting, indeed, when we get to the final trophy of the night. Where things seem a lot less dramatic is in the acting awards. It seems like Frances McDormand, Gary Oldman, Allison Janney and Sam Rockwell have those locked up. If there's a surprise, it could come for Supporting Actor, despite Rockwell's run through most of the precursor awards. And the writing trophies seem to be sewn up, as well.

Much of the night will be about seeing what does well in the below-the-line awards to figure in what movie will be the most awarded of the year. And the one with the most trophies might not be the Best Picture winner. I'm forecasting four for "The Shape of Water," including Best Picture, but I'm not sure there's a path for any one film to take home more than that barring a bunch of upsets.

Once again this year, we present picks in every category. There's some math and probability behind some of the picks, and gut instinct behind others. But like in the movies, anything can happen.

Best Picture

The nominees: Call Me by Your Name; Darkest Hour; Dunkirk; Get Out; Lady Bird; Phantom Thread; The Post; The Shape of Water; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

We have a bona fide race for Best Picture this year. I highly doubt we'll see the type of on-stage drama and controversy we had last year, when "La La Land" was mistakenly announced as the winner when it actually was "Moonlight." That said, this is a close one. "The Shape of Water" appears to have the edge over "Three Billboards" if you take the precursors into consideration, but the oddsmakers have "Three Billboards" as the favorite. The way the Oscars' preferential balloting system works for Best Picture, it's possible the movie with the most No. 1 votes can not win the top prize. For all we know, that may have happened last year. What it amounts to is Best Picture doesn't necessarily go to the film the most people love – it goes to the nominee the fewest people don't love. It's a complicating tabulation process, but one that means "Get Out" and "Dunkirk" are very much players as potential spoilers. Still, I thought "The Shape of Water" was the best thing going early in awards season, and when "Phantom Thread" and "The Post" didn't quite hit the perfect notes I expected, I stuck with it. It's part science fiction, part love story, part Cold War thriller, and all beautiful.

MattE’s pick: The Shape of Water

Spoiler: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri or Get Out

Directing

The nominees: PT Anderson (Phantom Thread), Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water), Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk), Jordan Peele (Get Out)

Guillermo del Toro has a tight grip on this year's top directing prize for "The Shape of Water." He won at the Golden Globes, BAFTAs, Critics Choice and the movie took the producers guild's top prize. But most importantly, the directors guild gave him its trophy, and that winner has won at the Oscars 13 of the past 14 years. It's also about 90 percent accurate. If there's an upset, look for Jordan Peele for "Get Out," the racially charged psychological horror film that was the talk of Sundance a year ago and picked up new steam during awards season.

MattE’s pick: Guillermo del Toro

Spoiler: Jordan Peele

Actor in a Leading Role

The nominees: Timothee Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name), Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread), Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour), Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.)

Gary Oldman's transformation into Winston Churchill was amazing. He has his first Oscar in the bag for "Darkest Hour." He took home the Golden Globe, the BAFTA (no shocker, since he's British), the SAG Award and most critics awards. He's perhaps the night's biggest lock. Timothee Chalamet and Daniel Kaluuya were breakout stars, and this won't be the last time we hear their names called through the years. They're just up against an irresistible pick.

MattE’s pick: Gary Oldman

Spoiler: Timothee Chalamet

Actress in a Leading Role

The nominees: Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water), Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Margot Robbie (I, Tonya), Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird), Meryl Streep (The Post)

It's odd that the most nominated actor in history, Meryl Streep, is the also-ran for Best Actress this year. Frances McDormand has owned this race from the start, and her win will cement her as one of the true all-time greats. (It still bothers me she didn't win the Oscar for Supporting Actress for "Almost Famous.") Any other year, we'd really be gushing over Sally Hawkins in "The Shape of Water," since going nearly an entire movie as the lead without speaking always is remarkable. And Margot Robbie's transformation into Tonya Harding nearly was as good as Oldman's as Churchill. But this is all McDormand, deservedly.

MattE’s pick: Frances McDormand

Spoiler: Sally Hawkins

Actor in a Supporting Role

The nominees: Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project), Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water), Christopher Plummer (All the Money in the World), Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

Sam Rockwell has all the momentum for "Three Billboards." But he is nominated against Woody Harrelson for the same movie, and Harrelson almost certainly has pockets of support. It's possible that those two will get conflicting votes, making room for Willem Dafoe to slip in. The trouble with his heartwarming performance in "The Florida Project" is that it may not have been seen widely enough. Otherwise, he'd be a bigger threat. But I think Rockwell holds his ground.

MattE’s pick: Sam Rockwell

Spoiler: Willem Dafoe

Actress in a Supporting Role

The nominees: Mary J. Blige (Mudbound), Allison Janney (I, Tonya), Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread), Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird), Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water)

The pick here is Allison Janney for "I, Tonya" in her first nomination. She'll now have an Oscar to put alongside her many, many Emmys (mostly for "The West Wing") and SAG awards. Fellow TV Laurie veteran Laurie Metcalf was amazing, as well, in "Lady Bird," but Janney has the precursor support. Mary J. Blige's nomination is notable, though. She's the first woman in history to get an acting nomination the same year as a nomination for Original Song.

MattE’s pick: Allison Janney

Spoiler: Laurie Metcalf

Writing (Original Screenplay)

The nominees: The Big Sick; Get Out; Lady Bird; The Shape of Water; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

What Jordan Peele accomplished with "Get Out" is remarkable. He's just the third person in history to get Oscar nominations for directing, screenplay and Best Picture in the same year for a debut film. He's probably going to be outshined for Best Picture, and Guillermo del Toro probably will take the directing trophy. But where his work can be rewarded is Original Screenplay. And the film truly is just that – original. He's got the writers guild prize already, and that winner has repeated at the Oscars more than 70 percent of the time this century. I believe the Original Screenplay crop to be the most stacked category this year. Every one of them would be a deserving Oscar winner.

MattE’s pick: Get Out

Spoiler: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

The nominees: Call Me by Your Name, The Disaster Artist, Logan, Molly's Game, Mudbound

James Ivory has been taking home all the key precursor awards for his adaptation of Andre Aciman's novel "Call Me by Your Name." He'll turn 90 this summer, and this would be a fitting cap to his career. Ivory's directing credits include "A Room with a View," "Howards End" and "The Remains of the Day," and he was nominated as a director for all three. This would be his first Oscar, and it would be well-deserved. The film is extraordinary and needs to be remembered in Oscar history. Its competition is from Dee Rees' script for "Mudbound," which also deserves to be honored somehow. It's just a shame it's up against such a strong leader in "Call Me by Your Name."

MattE’s pick: Call Me by Your Name

Spoiler: Mudbound

Foreign Language Film

The nominees: A Fantastic Woman (Chile), The Insult (Lebanon), Loveless (Russia), On Body and Soul (Hungary), The Square (Sweden)

Chile's nominee, "A Fantastic Woman," seems like the leader of the pack for its story of a transgender woman struggling against the family of her former lover, who was 30 years her senior and for whose death she's treated as a suspect. But "The Insult" has a lot of support, as well – and its story of a Christian in Lebanon and his hate toward a Palestinian refugee is certain to raise some eyebrows with Academy voters given our regular wall-building and DACA news. "The Square" has some precursor awards, but it may have been just too weird to vote for. I'll say this for it, though: It's a trip.

MattE’s pick: A Fantastic Woman

Spoiler: The Insult

Animated Feature Film

The nominees: The Boss Baby, The Breadwinner, Coco, Ferdinand, Loving Vincent

It's hard to pick against Disney-Pixar's "Coco." Pixar has an amazing track record in the category, and "Coco" is a Disney instant classic that should've been nominated for its writing, as well. But do yourself a favor and see "The Breadwinner" (iTunes, Blu-Ray) and "Loving Vincent," the latter of which is a truly remarkable achievement in animation using more than 65,000 individual canvas oil paintings in the impressionist style of Vincent van Gogh.

MattE’s pick: Coco

Spoiler: The Breadwinner

Cinematography

The nominees: Blade Runner 2049, Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, Mudbound, The Shape of Water

If the name Roger Deakins isn't familiar to you, it should be. Among directors of photography, he's royalty. The reason you haven't heard of him, though, is despite 13 nominations before this year, he's yet to win an Oscar. That should change with his nod for "Blade Runner 2049," if for no other reason than Academy members have got to want to reward the Susan Lucci of his field at long last. When he wins, his speech should be epic. His biggest competition seems to be Hoyte van Hoytema for "Dunkirk," which would be incredibly deserving, as well. But Deakins has nine nominations in the past 11 years. His first two were for "The Shawshank Redemption" and "Fargo," a pair of classics. Give this guy a trophy already!

MattE’s pick: Blade Runner 2049

Spoiler: Dunkirk

Costume Design

The nominees: Beauty and the Beast, Darkest Hour, Phantom Thread, The Shape of Water, Victoria & Abdul

What are the odds the award for best costuming goes to a film other than the one that is about a couture dressmaker in London? This seems to be "Phantom Thread" all the way. A win here would be the second for Mark Bridges – he also won for "The Artist" a few years back. If he has competition, it likely comes from Jacqueline Durran for "Beauty and the Beast" – though she's also competing against her own work for "Darkest Hour." Durran won five years ago for "Anna Karenina," but probably will be a few threads short this time.

MattE’s pick: Phantom Thread

Spoiler: Beauty and the Beast

Documentary Feature

The nominees: Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, Faces/Places, Icarus, Last Men in Aleppo, Strong Island

It looks like the race is between "Faces/Places" and "Icarus," but all five nominees are outstanding. "Faces/Places" is the lightest of the bunch and takes us on a road trip through France with famed French director Agnes Varda, who at 89 became the oldest nominee in Oscars history, and street artist and photographer JR. It's a fantastic story, and its theme of sharing art and photography in unique ways probably resonates in the film community. "Icarus" is yet another strong Netflix documentary and uncovered the Russia Olympic doping scandal. It's perfectly timed since the Winter Games were happening during voting. But my pick is for Varda and JR, especially since Varda just won an honorary Oscar in November.

MattE’s pick: Faces/Places

Spoiler: Icarus

Documentary Short Subject

The nominees: Edith + Eddie, Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405, Heroin(e), Knife Skills, Traffic Stop

All five of these nominees are available online; you could do worse with your time than to seek them all out. Each is excellent. This always is a tough category. "Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405" is my pick. It's the story of an L.A.-based artist and her struggles with anxiety disorder and depression while transferring those issues to her art. "Edith + Eddie" no doubt will get some votes, as well, for its story of an aging married couple – her black, him white – torn apart by a family member. "Heroin(e)" is right there, too – an inside look at some of the women trying to help curb the massive heroin addiction epidemic in Huntington, W.V. It was a Netflix release, so may have been more widely seen than the others.

MattE’s pick: Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405

Spoiler: Edith + Eddie

Film Editing

The nominees: Baby Driver; Dunkirk; I, Tonya; The Shape of Water; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

"Dunkirk" seems to be the frontrunner for best editing, with "Baby Driver" lurking, actually. And it's true – that means we're pushing arguably the two top Best Picture candidates to the side in a category the Best Picture winner also takes home about a third of the time this century. But the way "Dunkirk" melded its multiple stories and multiple timelines was brilliant. Where things get tricky is, the BAFTAs gave the editing prize to "Baby Driver," and the BAFTA winner has repeated at the Oscars eight of the past 10 years. The American Cinema Editors winner for drama was "Dunkirk" (and its comedy/musical award went to "I, Tonya"), and the ACE Eddie winner hasn't been as accurate of a predictor.

MattE’s pick: Dunkirk

Spoiler: Baby Driver

Makeup and Hairstyling

The nominees: Darkest Hour, Victoria & Abdul, Wonder

The only category with three nominees always seems a little bit easier to predict. This year, it's a slam dunk for "Darkest Hour," which transformed Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill so seamlessly we had to really work to imagine that was Oldman behind those glasses. Plus, "Darkest Hour" is a Best Picture nominee. I found "Wonder" to be quite wonderful, and "Victoria & Abdul" may have been my sleeper favorite of awards season – the one I was glad was nominated, since I otherwise likely would've passed it by. But this is a lock for "Darkest Hour."

MattE’s pick: Darkest Hour

Spoiler: Wonder

Music (Original Score)

The nominees: Dunkirk (Hans Zimmer), Phantom Thread (Jonny Greenwood), The Shape of Water (Alexandre Desplat), Star Wars: The Last Jedi (John Williams), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Carter Burwell)

The way you often can't tell the difference between Hans Zimmer's music in "Dunkirk" and the sound effects themselves is amazing. Jonny Greenwood from the band Radiohead will get some votes, too, for "Phantom Thread." But this seems to be Alexandre Desplat's year for "The Shape of Water." He's got the precursor pedigree this year, and he's just three years removed from his first Oscar, which came for "The Grand Budapest Hotel." He's been one of best for years, and he's finally starting to get the recognition for it.

MattE’s pick: The Shape of Water (Alexandre Desplat)

Spoiler: Dunkirk (Hans Zimmer)

Music (Original Song)

The nominees: Mighty River (Mudbound), Mystery of Love (Call Me by Your Name), Remember Me (Coco), Stand Up for Something (Marshall), This is Me (The Greatest Showman)

I believe this is a two-song race. And it's close. The presumptive favorite all along has been "Remember Me" from "Coco." It's a key plot point in the movie, which is not just one of the best animated features of the year, but one of the best, period. But "This is Me" from "The Greatest Showman" is a true message song, and it's delivering at the right time. It helps that the lyrics for it were written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who won this award last year for "City of Stars" from "La La Land." (But then again, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez won four years ago for "Let it Go" from "Frozen.") With so much focus on those who want to keep people down because of who they are, "This is Me" may ring louder to voters than "Remember Me."

MattE’s pick: This is Me (The Greatest Showman)

Spoiler: Remember Me (Coco)

Production Design

The nominees: Beauty and the Beast, Blade Runner 2049, Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, The Shape of Water

"The Shape of Water" took home the prize from the art directors guild, and won this category at the BAFTAs, as well. And while "Blade Runner 2049" is a solid upset pick, it's going to be hard to deny "The Shape of Water" for its gorgeous apartment sets, as well as the cold and dark governement lab sets. If voters are picking it for Best Picture, it's always an easy choice to give it some of the below-the-line awards, as well. But in this category, it truly stands out from the pack.

MattE’s pick: The Shape of Water

Spoiler: Blade Runner 2049

Short Film (Animated)

The nominees: Dear Basketball, Garden Party, Lou, Negative Space, Revolting Rhymes

This is a tough one. "Lou" is from Pixar, and on the surface that would seem to make it the frontrunner. But unlike the Animated Feature category, Pixar doesn't often win here for some reason. "Lou" is Pixar's 13th Oscar nomination for Animated Short, but it has just four previous wins. One was last year, which snapped an 0-for-7 skid. It's about a schoolyard bully who learns his lesson and repents, so it could strike a chord. The worry is that with so many Oscar voters in Hollywood – a Lakers town – the votes will go for "Dear Basketball," written and narrated by Kobe Bryant. Helping its cause is that itw as animated by Glen Keane, an actual Disney Legend whose character animation resume includes "Aladdin," "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Little Mermaid." Plus, it has an original score from John Williams, who reportedly stopped in the middle of working on "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" to compose the music for it. But in the current era, I wonder if the old allegations against Bryant will work against his little project and let "Lou" take the prize. (That said, the best animation of the whole batch is "Garden Party.")

MattE’s pick: Lou

Spoiler: Dear Basketball

Short Film (Live Action)

The nominees: DeKalb Elementary, The Eleven O'Clock, My Nephew Emmett, The Silent Child, Watu Wote/All Of Us

Always a crapshoot, this year's nominees are five serious films and one comedy, "The Eleven O'Clock." Only once in a while does being the banana in a bowl of apples work, and while it was very entertaining, it may not be strong enough. "DeKalb Elementary" is based on a true 911 call for a school shooter. Given the events of less than three weeks ago in Florida, the timing is right for it – which is quite unfortunate when applied to the real world. My personal favorite was "The Silent Child," which is the story of a deaf girl learning to sign with a tutor despite a mother and father who want her to only learn how to read lips.

MattE’s pick: DeKalb Elementary

Spoiler: The Silent Child

Sound Editing

The nominees: Baby Driver, Blade Runner 2049, Dunkirk, The Shape of Water, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The yearly struggle in the sound categories for many people is knowing the difference between the two. Sound Editing is the creation of sounds. Because of that, this category often goes to a loud film. If it's a war movie, all the better. "Dunkirk" will be hard for the voters to deny because of that, especially since all Academy members can vote, and if they don't know the intricacies between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing, they may just point to the one they know had the most explosions and call it a day. If it was critically beloved, like "Dunkirk," all the better.

MattE’s pick: Dunkirk

Spoiler: Blade Runner 2049

Sound Mixing

The nominees: Baby Driver, Blade Runner 2049, Dunkirk, The Shape of Water, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Sound Mixing is how all the sounds, dialogue, music, etc. come together in the final product. And for that reason, it's never a surprise to see musicals and music-based films win here. Last year, we had "La La Land" as a presumed frontrunner, but "Hacksaw Ridge" muscled it out. This feels like a fairly safe bet for "Dunkirk" to double up and win both categories, but it can be tricky if voters want to give love to a film that might not otherwise win anything – like "Baby Driver" or "Blade Runner 2049." Still, I think "Dunkirk" will sweep – which will make it six times in the past nine years the same movie has won both sound categories.

MattE’s pick: Dunkirk

Spoiler: Blade Runner 2049

Visual Effects

The nominees: Blade Runner 2049; Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2; Kong: Skull Island; Star Wars: The Last Jedi; War for the Planet of the Apes

To casual observers, picking a "Star Wars" movie for visual effects is a no-brainer. The problem is, "Star Wars" movies just don't win Oscars these days. And if that won't win, we can probably cound out "Guardians of the Galaxy," as well. The "Kong" special effects were fantastic – way better than I figured they'd be. But this seems to be between "Blade Runner" and the "Apes." The "Apes" franchise is regularly nominated, but doesn't win. And even though "Apes" was a critical smash, I think it's looked at as a less serious picture than "Blade Runner 2049." I'm playing a hunch.

MattE’s pick: Blade Runner 2049

Spoiler: War for the Planet of the Apes

Matt Erickson is an award-winning journalist based in Northwest Indiana. Starting in 2002, he has seen each Oscar nominee in the 20 major categories prior to the awards ceremony, and for five straight years, he has seen every nominee, period. In 2004, he correctly picked 21 of the 24 winners — and has been trying to get back into the 20s ever since.

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