If last year’s Academy Awards represented a contest between competing visions of movie history in “The Artist” and “Hugo,” the 2013 Oscar lineup is about actual history — the topical events of then and now. Whether that history is portrayed (or misportrayed, depending on who’s talking) with epic sentiment (“Lincoln”), audience-pleasing savvy (“Argo”), or nonjudgmental cool (“Zero Dark Thirty”), it’s ultimately all about the craft, and these are three expertly crafted films. And don’t count out “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and especially “Amour” — two dark horses that may spoil a few races. Here are the picks of Globe movie critic Ty Burr.
Will win: “Argo”
Should win: “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
Shouldn’t be here: “Les Misérables”
Was robbed: “Moonrise Kingdom”
For a long stretch of the run-up to Oscar night, it seemed as if best picture would be Abraham Lincoln’s to lose. But momentum has shifted in recent weeks: The perceived snub of Ben Affleck in the directing category and his movie’s strong showing at the Golden Globes and elsewhere means that “Argo” now has the edge. “Beasts” won’t win but it’s still the year’s most startlingly original vision. “Les Miz” is more bizarre Broadway/CGI mutation than a movie.
Will win: Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln”
Should win: Benh Zeitlin, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
Shouldn’t be here: Ang Lee, “Life of Pi”
Was robbed: Kathryn Bigelow, “Zero Dark Thirty”
With Bigelow and Affleck out of the race, Spielberg should easily triumph, and in fact “Lincoln” is exactly the kind of movie the Academy likes to throw Oscars at: important, historical, good, good for you. “Lincoln” may ultimately be Daniel Day-Lewis’s and Tony Kushner’s film more than it is St. Steven’s, but Oscar periodically likes to show this director love, and here’s where it’ll happen. For all of Lee’s marvelous world-building in “Pi,” the film’s message is muddled.
Actor in a Leading Role
Will win: Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”
Should win: Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”
Shouldn’t be here: Hugh Jackman, “Les Misérables”
Was robbed: John Hawkes, “The Sessions”
The easiest money of the year: Day-Lewis has no serious competition for his uncanny, deeply personable reincarnation of a national icon. If more people had actually seen “The Sessions,” Hawkes might have been nominated for his quietly heartbreaking performance.
Actress in a Leading Role
Will win: Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Should win: Emmanuelle Riva, “Amour”
Shouldn’t be here: Naomi Watts, “The Impossible”
Was robbed: Marion Cotillard, “Rust and Bone”
Lawrence had a stellar year — a great performance in “Playbook” and a blockbuster hit with “The Hunger Games” — and she has the momentum. Still, don’t discount the Academy’s love of aging movie icons, even when they’re French. Quvenzhané Wallis may have been 6 when she made “Beasts,” but it’s a real performance; Watts, by contrast, delivers a triumph of technique that, like much else in “The Impossible,” has trouble touching the heart.
Actor in a Supporting Role
Will win: Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln”
Should win: Christoph Waltz, “Django Unchained”
Shouldn’t be here: none
Was robbed: none
A gathering of old pros. Every actor in this category has won before, each is beloved to one degree or another, so it’s just a matter of where the sentiment will land. Jones and Alan Arkin are neck and neck: The latter’s seedy Hollywood producer is a great inside joke but the former’s Thaddeus Stevens is a great performance, a great part, and great history, and it channels the actor’s legendary crankiness in delightfully fresh ways.
Actress in a Supporting Role
Will win: Anne Hathaway, “Les Misérables”
Should win: Amy Adams, “The Master”
Shouldn’t be here: Jacki Weaver, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Was robbed: Nicole Kidman, “The Paperboy”
Singing “I Dreamed a Dream” in quivering macro close-up while dying of Generic Tragic Wasting Disease: That’s acting. Not to me, but it is to a lot of people, and I’m guessing it’ll be to Oscar voters. And good for Hathaway, who’s deserving, if not for this. “The Paperboy” may be a modern camp classic, but Kidman does strange and wonderful things in it. Adams delivers the sneakiest, most subtle performance in “Master” — no way she’ll win.
Will win: “Zero Dark Thirty,” Mark Boal
Should win: “Zero Dark Thirty”
A tough category: Will the Academy recognize the precision eccentricity of “Moonrise Kingdom,” the hard truths of “Amour,” or the epic terseness of “Zero Dark Thirty”? If the torture controversy sinks the latter’s chances, look for “Amour” to win; otherwise, this should be the top prize of the night for “Zero Dark.”
Will win: “Lincoln,” Tony Kushner
Should win: “Lincoln”
It’s possible that the “Argo” groundswell could carry over to a win for Chris Terrio’s fine screenplay. But it’s much more likely that Kushner’s brilliant “Lincoln” script — a working definition of the power of words — will triumph.
Will win: “Frankenweenie”
Should win: “Frankenweenie”
Another tough call. Pixar usually wins, but “Brave” isn’t the studio’s best work; “Wreck-It Ralph” has a big fan base that may not include older Academy voters; “Frankenweenie” wasn’t a hit. But Tim Burton’s love for horror movie history may sit well with this crowd, and the industry may want to atone for snubbing the director when “Frankenweenie” was a 1984 short.
Foreign Language Feature
Will win: “Amour”
Should win: “Amour”
Maybe “Amour” and its stark depiction of a couple’s final months will hit too close to home for aging Oscar voters, who might prefer the comforting costume melodrama of “A Royal Affair.” But don’t count on it.
Will win: “Searching for Sugar Man”
Should win: “How to Survive a Plague”
Torn between competing real-world agonies — AIDS in “Plague,” military rape in “The Invisible War,” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in “The Gatekeepers” — Oscar voters may well settle for the feel-good musical comeback story of “Searching for Sugar Man.”
Will win: “Life of Pi,” Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer, and Donald R. Elliott
Should win: “Life of Pi”
All five nominees have excellent, state-of-the-industry special effects. Only one has respect. Unless the Academy’s knee jerks reflexively toward “The Hobbit,” the much-praised magical-realism of “Pi” should win.
Will win: “Life of Pi,” Claudio Miranda
Should win: “Skyfall,” Roger Deakins
The painterly lost-at-sea images in “Pi” are majestic indeed, but is it cinematography if so much of it comes from a computer? Discuss. Regardless of how you feel about the movie, there’s no denying that “Skyfall” is astonishingly shot by Deakins, a great DP who has never won an Oscar.
Will win: “Argo,” William Goldenberg
Should win: “Zero Dark Thirty,” Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg
I’m betting the pro-Affleck and anti-Bigelow camps will come together here, despite the incredible cutting by Tichenor and Goldenberg in the climactic Abbottabad sequence of “Zero Dark Thirty.”
Will win: “Zero Dark Thirty,” Paul N.J. Ottosson
Should win: “Zero Dark Thirty”
The Affleck effect may prevail here as well, so don’t rule out an “Argo” win. But this is also a good, safe place for voters to honor Kathryn Bigelow and company’s meticulous craft.
Will win: “Les Misérables,” Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson, and Simon Hayes
Should win: “Life of Pi,” Ron Bartlett, D.M. Hemphill, and Drew Kunin
The Academy is more likely to honor Tom Hooper’s “daring” in recording live vocals for “Les Miz,” but the otherworldly power of the castaway scenes in “Life of Pi” is as much aural as it is visual.
Will win: “Les Misérables,” Eve Stewart and Anna Lynch-Robinson
Should win: “Life of Pi,” David Gropman and Anna Pinnock
An embarrassment of visual riches, this category. “Anna Karenina” and “Life of Pi” are especially ravishing imaginary worlds, but look for the gargantuan set-pieces of “Les Misérables” to hold sway.
Will win: “Anna Karenina,” Jacqueline Durran
Should win: “Mirror Mirror,” Eiko Ishioka
The award will probably go to Durran’s luxuriously hyper-real czarist-era gowns for “Anna,” even if Ishioka’s costumes for the Snow White re-do “Mirror Mirror” are crazy-fantastic.
Makeup and Hairstyling
Will win: “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” Peter Swords King, Rick Findlater, and Tami Lane
Should win: “The Hobbit”
The running joke — because it’s true — is that the category should be called Most Makeup. Barring a “Les Miz” upset, this award should be Peter Jackson’s sole consolation.
Will win: “Life of Pi,” Mychael Danna
Should win: “Life of Pi”
Danna’s intoxicating score interweaves motifs from Indian, French, and classical-music traditions; it’s the most challengingly beautiful score of the bunch and has been recognized as such by film-score fans and the industry alike. Of course, the Academy could play it safe and just hand John Williams his sixth Oscar.
Will win: “Skyfall” from “Skyfall,” Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth
Should win: “Skyfall”
Amid the relentless revisionism of the new James Bond movie, Adele’s song stands out as a glorious throwback to Shirley Bassey and the spy series’ glory days. No contest.
Will win: “Open Heart”
Should win: “Inocente”
A lot of well-made heart-tuggers here, all deserving. I’d personally be happiest if “Inocente,” about a homeless teen artist, took the prize. But expect the young African coronary patients of “Open Heart” to win.
Will win: “Paperman”
Should win: “Paperman”
The most mainstream choice — Disney’s “Paperman,” about a young urban couple who meet cute via paper airplanes — is also the cleverest, funniest, and most affecting.
Live Action Short
Will win: “Curfew”
Should win: “Henry”
Pre-Oscar night buzz seems to be favoring “Curfew,” a ragged but mostly right tale of a recovering New York junkie baby-sitting his niece. But if voters aren’t exhausted after “Amour,” they might favor the haunting Alzheimer’s drama of “Henry.”Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.