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84th Academy Awards: How to Win Your Oscar Pool

It's like March Madness for us non-sporty types. Movie buffs everywhere will soon be filling out their Oscar pool sheets in hopes to win along with their favorite stars on Feb. 26, when the 84th Academy Awards airs on ABC.

The first rule of making your Oscar picks, of course, is NOT to vote with your heart. For instance, voting for George Clooney because you have a crush on him might mean that BOTH of you lose on Oscar night.

Here are our picks - based on statistics, previous winners and expert input - as well as some tips on how to win this year and every year. Like the televised show, we ran a bit over, so we couldn't fit in all the awards. We've included the awards you really need to make you a winner.

Best Picture

The Oscars are awarded by professionals in the industry. Statistician Nate Silver wrote last year for the New York Times that the key to winning the Oscar pool is knowing who is behind all the different awards given out this season: "In the best picture category, for instance, awards given out by 'outsiders' like critics tend to be far less reliable predictors than those given out by professionals like directors and producers."

Other variables like release dates and box office grosses don't matter very much (or else "Harry Potter" and "Twilight" would sweep the Oscars). And remember that Oscar voters get all the films sent to them on DVD, so they can see even the most obscure films.

For all those reasons, we pick "The Artist" for Best Picture winner. It's different than the other contenders, it's peaking at the right time and it just swept the BAFTAs, the British version of the Oscars.

- "The Artist" ***

- "The Descendants"

- "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"

- "The Help"

- "Hugo"

- "Midnight in Paris"

- "Moneyball"

- "The Tree of Life"

- "War Horse"

Best Director

Michel Hazanavicius won the Golden Globe and the Directors Guild of America award. It would take a big upset for Martin Scorsese to take the Oscar from him.

- Michel Hazanavicius, "The Artist" ***

- Alexander Payne, "The Descendants"

- Martin Scorsese, "Hugo"

- Woody Allen, "Midnight in Paris"

- Terrence Malick, "The Tree of Life"

Best Actor

Despite the fact that everyone seems to love George Clooney, he's been quoted a lot lately saying he doesn't really care about awards, so people may just take him at his word. Jean Dujardin is charming and touching in "The Artist." He also won the BAFTA, the Golden Globe the SAG and our hearts.

- Jean Dujardin, "The Artist" ***

- Demian Bichir, "A Better Life"

- George Clooney, "The Descendants"

- Gary Oldman, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"

- Brad Pitt, "Moneyball"

Best Actress

Hollywood has some tendency to "spread the wealth" - generally, it hurts a nominee's chances if she's won in her category before. This could mean handing the award to Glenn Close, who's been nominated six times with no win. But Viola Davis has more sympathy because of her much-loved role of maid Aibileen in "The Help."

- Viola Davis, "The Help" ***

- Glenn Close, "Albert Nobbs"

- Rooney Mara, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"

- Meryl Streep, "The Iron Lady"

- Michelle Williams, "My Week With Marilyn"

Best Supporting Actor

The supporting categories are where we usually see upsets, but Christopher Plummer gave a life-affirming and funny performance in "Beginners," and the awards have stacked up for him this year. We believe voters will hand him his first Oscar.

- Christopher Plummer, "Beginners" ***

- Kenneth Branagh, "My Week With Marilyn"

- Jonah Hill, "Moneyball"

- Nick Nolte, "Warrior"

- Max von Sydow, "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"

Best Supporting Actress

The exception to the Academy's stuffiness is in the supporting actor and actress categories. This is also the category where ingenues tend to succeed. However, this year, based on the previous awards, Octavia Spencer seems to have this locked up.

- Octavia Spencer, "The Help" ***

- Berenice Bejo, "The Artist"

- Jessica Chastain, "The Help"

- Melissa McCarthy, "Bridesmaids"

- Janet McTeer, "Albert Nobbs"

Best Original Screenplay

Woody Allen's got this one tied up so tight, the other nominees might as well stay home. (Just as Allen likely will. He is notorious for never showing up to accept his awards.)

- Woody Allen, "Midnight in Paris" ***

- Michel Hazanavicius, "The Artist"

- Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig, "Bridesmaids"

- J.C. Chandor, "Margin Call"

- Asghar Farhadi, "A Separation"

Best Adapted Screenplay

For this category, we sought out guidance from the odds experts at GoldDerby.com, who picked "The Descendants."

- Alexander Payne, Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, "The Descendants" ***

- John Logan, "Hugo"

- George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, "The Ides of March"

- Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian, "Moneyball"

- Peter Straughan and Bridget O'Connor, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"

Best Animated Film

The lack of a Pixar film makes this category wide open for the first time in a long time. Add in a couple of non-mainstream films, and you've got yourself a pool-breaker. GoldDerby.com says that if you want to go with the safe bet, cast your vote for "Rango."

- "Rango" ***

- "A Cat in Paris"

- "Chico and Rita"

- "Kung Fu Panda 2"

- "Puss in Boots"

Best Foreign Language Film

This one is normally a toss-up, except in a year where there's a huge amount of love state-side for a film, such as in 1999, the year that "Life is Beautiful" took it home to Italy. This year, that film is "A Separation."

- "A Separation" (Iran) *** 

- "Bullhead" (Belgium)

- "Monsieur Lazhar" (Canada)

- "Footnote" (Israel)

- "In Darkness" (Poland)

Best Cinematography

To determine the best pick for this award, think of the movie that sums up the term "cinematic"; in other words, the film that had the most overwhelming visual aesthetics. Past winners include "Braveheart," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Gandhi." If nothing else, "The Tree of Life" can be described as "overwhelming."

- "The Tree of Life" ***

- "Hugo"

- "The Artist"

- "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

- "War Horse"

Music (Original Song)

At least you have a 50-50 chance of picking the winner in this category. Everyone loves the Muppets, right?

- "Man or Muppet" from "The Muppets," Bret McKenzie ***

- "Real in Rio" from "Rio," Sergio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown and Siedah Garrett

Sound Editing

How, as a layman, to pick these technical categories? The best way to pick Sound Editing is select whichever movie makes the most noise. This year, that's got to be "Transformers."

- "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" ***

- "Drive"

- "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

- "Hugo"

- "War Horse"

Sound Mixing

Sound Mixing is more about subtlety - taking all the special effects and recorded sounds and making them seem natural. Here, we're going to go with "Hugo."

- "Hugo" ***

- "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

- "Monyeball"

- "Transformers: Dark of the Moon"

- "War Horse"

Visual Effects

Past winners include "Terminator 2" and last year's winner "Inception." The Academy tends to award serious movies that push the technical envelope. This year, the clear winner seems to be "Rise of the Planet of the Apes."

- "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" ***

- "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2"

- "Hugo"

- "Real Steel"

- "Transformers: Dark of the Moon"

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