Win your Oscar office pool

Hugo, starring Asa Butterfield as Hugo Cabret
Hugo, starring Asa Butterfield as Hugo Cabret
Paramount Pictures

Every year, you enter your office's Oscar pool and carefully select the major categories while haphazardly guessing the minor ones. Every year, you lose. Why? Because you've got it backward: Oscar pools are always decided on the margins, where information is sketchier and outcomes are harder to predict. If you can pin down the categories where everyone else is clueless, you'll have a distinct advantage. That's where we come in. Here are our picks for six awards that could finally make you a winner.

Best Sound Editing

Nominees: Drive, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, War Horse

On a purely technical level, Transformers was probably the most impressive achievement in sound editing and design last year. But could you live with yourself for legitimizing the phrase "Oscar winner Transformers: Dark of the Moon"? So who wins? Here's an interesting statistic: Since 1995, when a war film has been nominated for sound mixing, it has won every single time. Translation: Put it all on War Horse.

Best Sound Mixing

Nominees: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, Moneyball, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, War Horse

If War Horse wins Best Sound Editing, does that mean it's a lock for Sound Mixing, too? No. The same film has won both sound categories just four out of the last 11 years. Plus, though Sound Editing—the creation of noises and effects—typically goes to spectacles, Sound Mixing—the blending of those tracks into a cohesive soundscape—is more unpredictable. Oscar front-runners, though, seem to fare well: The Hurt Locker won Sound Mixing on its way to six awards in 2010; same for Slumdog Millionaire's eight prizes in 2009. In other words, The Artist would have this one locked up if only it had any sound to mix. That bodes well for the consensus Best Picture runner-up, Hugo.

Best Makeup

Nominees: Albert Nobbs, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, The Iron Lady

If there's a dark horse in this category, it's Albert Nobbs for Glenn Close's always-tricky Reverse Doubtfire. Meryl Streep's prosthetics in The Iron Lady, though, are exactly the kind of cosmetics that traditionally wins at the Oscars: impressive in an overt, flashy way. But is it more overt and flashy than Close's transformation from woman to man? Yes, I'm trying to find a delicate way to say that it's harder to make Meryl Streep look really old than it is to make Glenn Close look like a dude. So far, no luck. The Iron Lady by a hair.

Best Documentary Short

Nominees: 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

This should be a neck-and-neck race between Saving Face, about the plight of abused Pakistani women, and The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom, about the plight of grieving Japanese tsunami victims. Give a slight edge to Saving Face. Its story of wives destroyed by husbands who threw acid in their faces (and, in many cases, got away with it) should resonate in Hollywood, where visible facial scarring is a fate worse than death.

Best Animated Short

Nominees: Dimanche (Sunday), The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, La Luna, A Morning Stroll, Wild Life

Improbably, animation juggernaut Pixar hasn't won this category in a decade, but 2012 looks to be the year to break the streak: Its work on the charming La Luna is on an entirely different aesthetic level than any of the competition. If the story is somewhat lacking, the character design is absolutely brilliant.

Best Live-Action Short

Nominees: Pentecost, Raju, The Shore, Time Freak, Tuba Atlantic

Two films appear to have the combination of heft, heart, and humor that elevates contenders in the feature categories: Tuba Atlantic, about a dying Norwegian man's contentious relationship with the teenage girl sent to care for him, and The Shore, about an Irish man reconnecting with the best friend he left behind when he fled "the Troubles." This should be a close race, but The Shore has a stronger pedigree (it was directed by Hotel Rwanda filmmaker Terry George) and a showier lead performance (from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy's Ciarán Hinds).

The Rest

Picture: The Artist. Actor: Jean Dujardin (The Artist). Actress: Viola Davis (The Help). Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer (Beginners). Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer (The Help). Director: Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist). Documentary: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory. Original Screenplay: Midnight in Paris. Adapted Screenplay: The Descendants. Animated Feature: Rango. Art Direction: Hugo. Cinematography: The Tree of Life. Costume Design: Hugo. Editing: The Artist. Foreign-Language Film: A Separation. Original Score: The Artist. Original Song: The Muppets. Visual Effects: Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

War Horse for Sound Editing. Trust us.
Dreamworks Pictures

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