Most years, the Oscars are a largely predictable affair, with some suspense in a few categories but most of the winners called back in December before the general public has even had a chance to see all the movies. (not to mention, before the nominees are even announced.)

But while there are a few likely Oscar-winners we saw coming from a mile away this year (got those speeches ready yet, Daniel Day-Lewis and Anne Hathway?), there is genuine suspense in many other categories in the 2013 Academy Awards race. Particularly in the biggest prize of all, there is a rare lack of consensus as to which film will take home Best Picture, a category that has only gotten more interesting as the Producers Guild Awards and Screen Actors Guild Awards have been announced.

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Back in December, Zero Dark Thirty was the most acclaimed movie of the year, placing on more critics’ Top Ten lists than any other film, while Les Miserables had the popular vote with Broadway-lovers swooning with adoration. Were these the Best Picture front-runners?

Maybe, but not for long. When the Oscar nominations were announced, both Kathryn Bigelow and Tom Hooper were snubbed in the Best Director category ― and that didn’t bode well for their Best Picture chances, since the last Best Picture winner whose director got snubbed was Driving Miss Daisy in 1990.

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The Best Directors and Best Pictures don’t always line up ― as they famously haven’t when Steven Spielberg got recognized for Saving Private Ryan but Shakespeare In Love emerged as Best Picture, or when Ang Lee won for Brokeback Mountain but the movie itself lost to Crash. Even so, the Best Picture winner tends to at least have a nomination for its director.

Now two directors from those past upsets are back in the race this year: Steven Spielberg and Ang Lee. The smart money might be on Spielberg and Lincoln to take home the big prize at the Oscars, but it’s far from a deal at this point ― and likely, no one will be too confident about which film will take Best Picture until the winner is announced on Oscar night.

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This weekend, Argo added two major awards to its Golden Globe and Critics Choice wins ― Best Ensemble from the SAG Awards and the Producers Guild’s Best Picture.

The SAG Award doesn’t essentially mean much ― recent winners of this award to miss out on Best Picture include Sideways, Little Miss Sunshine, Inglourious Basterds, and last year’s The Help. Argo’s win is something of an anomaly, since even fans of that movie don’t seem to be championing the strength of the performances. Many agree that Ben Affleck miscast himself as the Latino lead and gave a rather dull performance, and aside from scene-stealers Alan Arkin (nominated) and John Goodman (not nominated), other cast members barely have enough screen time to register as truly great.

Compare this to the pedigreed, thrice-nominated cast from Lincoln or Silver Linings Playbook, the first movie since Reds (31 years ago!) to have a nominee in all four acting categories. Or even Les Miserables, whose cast was faced with the difficulty of singing live and acting at the same time. How the hell did Argo best them? Good question.

Take a look at the film’s posters ― does this look like an ensemble to you?

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The PGA Awards are actually a much better prognosticator for Best Picture than the SAG ensemble award, having lined up with Best Picture every year since 2007 (after a three-year streak of missing the mark with The Aviator, Brokeback Mountain, and Little Miss Sunshine). This makes some sense, since it’s a film’s producers that win the award for Best Picture. And perhaps we can’t be surprised that the PGA awarded a film that features a bunch of wisecracking film producers playfully ribbing the entertainment industry while pretending to be hard at work on a fake movie.

The prestige of Lincoln may still carry it to an Oscar victory as a respectable and rather safe choice. You can’t go wrong with a Spielberg movie about one of the most beloved American icons. Silver Linings Playbook, meanwhile, has a strong cast and Oscar campaign wunderkind Harvey Weinstein on its side. Beasts of the Southern Wild’s surprise Best Director nomination also indicates that it has strong support in the Academy (arguably, stronger than Argo, as the Ben Affleck directing snub would suggest). But Argo is definitely with the movie with the most heat at the moment, while former contenders Les Miserables and Zero Dark Thirty are essentially out of the race.

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And how about those other categories? Daniel Day-Lewis and Anne Hathaway haven’t lost any steam as surefire Best Actor and Supporting Actress champs. There’s virtually no way they won’t repeat on Oscar night.

Best Supporting Actor gets slightly more interesting. Tommy Lee Jones is the sure frontrunner after his SAG victory, but Argo love could mean another win for Alan Arkin and there’s always a chance that Silver Linings Playbook could pull a victory for Robert DeNiro’s comeback to decent acting. Lincoln, Argo, and Silver Linings Playbook all have decent shots at Best Picture, so this award could be swayed by whichever one of those films ends up being the favorite.

And while Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain were at one point considered close rivals as Best Actress (they both finagled a Golden Globe), SAG’s pick of The Hunger Games star puts her further ahead in the race, making a Best Actress consolation prize for Zero Dark Thirty that much more unlikely.
 

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So here’s the Oscar forecast so far:

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis

Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence

Best Supporting Actor: Tommy Lee Jones

Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway

As for Best Picture, we can consider Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Argo about neck-and-neck in this race so far. Lincoln is still the safest bet, but in a year that’s held such surprises so far, a safe bet isn’t necessarily all that safe anymore.

Which category are you most looking forward to at the Oscars?