Disclaimer: My predictions rely too much on logic. That's why I always lose my own pool. Heck, I picked Don Cheadle to win two years ago. (Yeah, I know.) But here are my picks. You'll see that I arrive at them with clarity of vision. Which is why I so often mis-forecast the tendencies of the Academy, which year after year has proven to have no imagination. But the biggest (and therefore the most volatile) voting block is the actors branch, and here's where they will really exercise some abandon.
LEADING ACTOR: Leonardo DiCaprio, Blood Diamond
If you were a voter, who would you want to hear on stage: Forest Whitaker, who had a quiet stroke at the Globes and who was just as unintelligible at the SAGs? Or Peter O'Toole, who included the phrase "As I totter into antiquity" in his 2003 honorary Oscar speech and is a superb raconteur? O'Toole, obviously. He's old, he's legendary, he's campaigned. He wants it. He's probably stolen a great deal of Whitaker's voting momentum, which will split the race and make way for Leo, whose film has a much deeper presence (four other nominations) than O'Toole's and Whitaker's (each is his film's sole nom). Plus, people who love The Departed have probably thrown more heft Leo's way. In all, Leo's movies have 10 nominations this year.
LEADING ACTRESS: Helen Mirren, The Queen
A couple weeks back, I brazenly predicted that Winslet would upset Mirren, who's been frontrunning for so long and at such a high level that it seems almost a given that there should be an unsightly upset. But I can't go around predicting major upsets in every category, so I must relent with this one. The Queen is a best picture nominee and it has across-the-board approval. My only hope is that Mirren has a couple drinks before she wins. (Also: I'm going to put my head in an oven if Winslet does pull it off.)
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Mark Wahlberg, The Departed
Dreamgirls is a bad movie musical. Thing is: Murphy's pretty good. In fact, he's the most interesting part of it. Too bad Norbit is everywhere (though I admire Murphy for sticking to his guns and being proud of the movie). And he's not exactly a loved figure in Hollywood. And he eschews the press. No "SNL" alum who's been nominated has won. There must be plenty of Hounsou-lovers, though. He popped up out of the blue for In America a couple years ago. And he won the very first award of the season (from the National Board of Review). But this category is really eating me up. It's the most volatile, I think. Arkin's nomination is kind of a joke, and would be more so if he won, but people love him. Wahlberg is a serious contender. Haley perhaps deserves it the most. I'm going with Wahlberg. He's proven himself before and is the sole nominee of a rip-roaring ensemble cast in a best picture contender.
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal
Dreamgirls is a bad movie musical. Jennifer Hudson is no actor and, despite her graciousness throughout this long awards season, I think people might be sick/jealous of her. Plus, she wants to be a recording star, not a movie star. Barraza and Kikuchi will split the Babel vote. Breslin is too young. Blanchett's is a strong lead performance and only Winslet is more beloved by her peers. Yes, Blanchett just won two years ago. While deserved, that award was compensation for the egregious oversight in 1999, when a burbling Gwyneth stole the Oscar Blanchett deserved for Elizabeth. This will be the Academy's chance to tell her they like her. And didn't you? She was terrific in Scandal (and she has some face time in Babel).
Now go ahead. Tell me how crazy I am. Expect multiple posts every day through Monday. The madness is here.