Here's the part of the Academy Awards that will make or break your Oscar pool ballot: The specialty categories.
These are tricky, because of an Academy rule that says to vote in these categories (except for Animated Feature), you have to prove that you've actually seen the films. Nothing like real information to mess up even the most savvy prognosticator.
The Cricket predicted the technical categories on Tuesday, and the craft categories on Wednesday. The major categories will get their due Friday, on this blog and in the print edition of The Salt Lake Tribune (or you can take a peek now).
The Cricket will be live-tweeting the Oscar ceremony, starting at 6 p.m. Mountain time Sunday, February 26 — at @moviecricket.
The nominees are: "A Cat in Paris," "Chico & Rita," "Kung Fu Panda 2," "Puss in Boots," "Rango."
Who will win: With no Pixar film in the mix (they've won the last four years), the betting is behind Gore Verbinski's offbeat computer-animated Western "Rango."
Who should win: "A Cat in Paris" has a charming and unique look, but the story is a bit slight. "Puss in Boots" is OK, and so is "Rango." But The Cricket's love goes to the sumptuous artistry of "Kung Fu Panda 2." (Disclaimer: The Cricket has not seen "Chico & Rita," which is slated to open in Utah in March.)
Animated short film
The nominees are: "Dimanche/Sunday," "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore," "La Luna," "A Morning Stroll," "Wild Life."
Who will win: It's always tough to bet against Pixar, represented here by the friendly fable "La Luna." "A Morning Stroll" is the most daring in animation terms, and there is some charm in the two Canadian memory pieces, "Dimanche/Sunday" and "Wild Life." But the one that seems to strike a chord is "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore," a gorgeous computer-animated tale (co-directed by "Rolie Polie Olie" creator William Joyce) about a Buster Keaton-esque figure discovering a world of magical books.
Who should win: "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore," by far the most beautiful of the bunch.
The nominees are: "Hell and Back Again," "If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front," "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory," "Pina," "Undefeated."
Who will win: The competition includes a story of a Marine back from Afghanistan ("Hell and Back Again"), radical environmentalists ("If a Tree Falls"), a case of injustice that led to the release of three people wrongly convicted of murder ("Paradise Lost 3"), a profile of an acclaimed choreographer ("Pina") and a look at an underdog high-school football team ("Undefeated"). "Paradise Lost 3" seems like the one to beat -- if, for no other reason, the filmmakers' role in getting the West Memphis 3 released.
Who should win: No pick. The Cricket has only seen one of these films, "If a Tree Falls" (which played last year at Sundance).
Documentary short film
The nominees are: "The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement," "God Is the Bigger Elvis," "Incident in New Baghdad," "Saving Face," "The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom."
Who will win: A lot of tough subjects: Civil rights in "The Barber of Birmingham," conflicts in the Middle East (both "Incident in New Baghdad" and "Saving Face"), and the Japanese earthquake ("The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom"). But never discount Oscar's ability to celebrate Hollywood, and "God Is the Bigger Elvis," a profile of Dolores Hart -- a '60s starlet who went from co-starring with Elvis Presley to becoming a Benedictine nun -- is probably the favorite here.
Who should win: No pick. The Cricket hasn't seen any of these. (The Tower is playing four of them in a program this weekend.)
The nominees are: "Bullhead" (Belgium), "Footnote" (Israel), "In Darkness" (Poland), "Monsieur Lazhar" (Canada), "A Separation" (Iran).
Who will win: Cynical Oscar observers will usually tell you a Holocaust-themed movie will always win, which would give it to Agnieszka Holland's "In Darkness." But the only one of these five to receive a Oscar nomination in another category -- for original screenplay -- is Asghar Farhadi's brilliant and humane drama "A Separation."
Who should win: The Cricket has not seen "Footnote" or "In Darkness," but "A Separation" is so good it would hard to think anything could top it. ("A Separation" is playing at the Broadway Centre Cinemas, and "Bullhead" opens Friday at the Tower Theatre.)
The nominees are: "Pentecost," "Raju," "The Shore," "Time Freak," "Tuba Atlantic."
Who will win: When in doubt, go with pedigree: "The Shore," a gentle tale of reconciliation from Northern Ireland starring Ciaran Hinds ("There Will Be Blood," "The Debt") and directed by Terry George ("Hotel Rwanda").
Who should win: The comedies among these five are fun, especially the offbeat Norwegian story "Tuba Atlantic." But the emotional gut-punch of "Raju," a drama about a German couple trying to adopt a Kolkata orphan, is too powerful to resist.