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And the Oscar goes to ...
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Only two of the six major categories, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, are considered "settled" as we head into the 83rd Annual Academy Awards. The other selections? There's a solid chance they will invite at least minor controversy. We're fortunate in that the volatile turf includes the granddaddy of them all, Best Picture, with the Best Director race also tilting unpredictable due to the instability at the top.

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"The Social Network" and "The King's Speech" are the co-frontrunners for Best Picture, though the preferential ballot does leave some room for intrigue when the awards are announced Sunday (7 p.m., ABC).

Other legitimate horse races include Annette Bening versus Natalie Portman and Melissa Leo versus herself.

Intrigue abounds, and it all adds up to what should be the most captivating Oscar telecast in years.

PICTURE

"The Social Network" earned huge praise from critics, but it doesn't look to have enough to hold off a furious lobbying campaign for "The King's Speech" by The Weinstein Company. To make matters more confusing, voters could seek refuge in "True Grit," a film that has managed to stay above the fray as the least polarizing frontrunner.

From The Academy's standpoint, the Best Picture race this year is largely introspective. Will Oscar choose a film about a couple of Harvard students creating Facebook? Or does the inspirational (albeit throwback) British period piece win over the older Academy demographic? The Academy is positioned to make a big call, just as they did last year when they gave the nod to smaller, less effects-driven cinema in the form of "The Hurt Locker" over "Avatar."

A Best Picture win for "True Grit" would simply be The Academy throwing up their hands in frustration, refuting the influence of both guilds and critics alike. Still, predicting against the gentlemen (Harvey and Bob Weinstein) who rode "Shakespeare in Love"

and "The English Patient" to Best Picture wins feels foolhardy.

SHOULD WIN: "True Grit"

WILL WIN: "The King's Speech"

DIRECTOR

Recent Oscar history reminds us that Ang Lee was given a consolation Best Director Oscar for "Brokeback Mountain" even though "Crash" was headed for an eventual Best Picture victory. Could the same fate await David Fincher and "The Social Network"? The major difference is Tom Hooper's recent Best Director victory from the Director's Guild of America for "The King's Speech." The Director's Guild is heavily predictive of the eventual Best Director winner, with only six exceptions occurring in more than 60 years. Once Christopher Nolan

("Inception") was brutally snubbed from this category, it became Tom Hooper's little golden man to lose.

SHOULD WIN: David Fincher, "The Social Network"

WILL WIN: Tom Hooper, "The King's Speech"

ACTOR

Colin Firth has had this category locked up for the past four months, his Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards only cementing his position as the man to beat. In true Academy fashion, this win also will be recognition of his work in last year's "A Single Man," an Oscar that went to Jeff Bridges under the historical "We owe you" rule. Here's hoping Firth has an inspirational speech at the ready; you only get one chance to win your first Academy Award.

SHOULD WIN: James Franco, "127 Hours"

WILL WIN: Colin Firth, "The King's Speech"

ACTRESS

This has become the toughest category to call because the momentum suggests a Natalie Portman victory, while the history of The Academy suggests Annette Bening is long overdue. After three prior nominations, Bening would be a sure thing if her young competition wasn't with child ... as well as being a 15-year veteran of the industry. Performance-wise, Portman's take on Nina Sayers in "Black Swan" was big and brassy while Bening's subtler work in "The Kids Are All Right" wouldn't generally fall into The Academy's wheelhouse, if not for the statement the film makes on same-sex unions. A complete coin flip, though Portman is beloved among her peers.

SHOULD WIN: Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"

WILL WIN: Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"

SUPPORTING ACTOR

Christian Bale is everything The Academy loves, and his performance in "The Fighter" was at once sublime and transcendent.

Boston accent? No problem. The mannerisms of a former drug addict? Child's play. You don't find many actors willing to act as a human teeter-totter where their weight is concerned, but Bale's emaciated portrayal of Dicky Eklund was about more than just losing the pounds. The surest call of the evening.

SHOULD WIN: Christian Bale, "The Fighter"

WILL WIN: Christian Bale, "The Fighter"

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

The only thing that could derail Melissa Leo's Academy Award win is the private campaign she's waging behind the scenes. Much like her take on Alice Ward in "The Fighter," she's her own worst enemy. If the voters tire of her self-promotion, where will they look? Perhaps the precocious Hailee Steinfeld? Her work in "True Grit" was delightfully underplayed, and she seems well positioned for a long and fruitful career.

SHOULD WIN: Hailee Steinfeld, "True Grit"

WILL WIN: Melissa Leo, "The Fighter"

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