Academy Awards winners all time

And the winners in all 24 Academy Award

There are a handful of things you can count on happening during Sunday's 88th annual Academy Awards telecast. For starters, Oscars host Chris Rock will most certainly level his scathing wit at the much-derided lack of diversity among this year's nominees.

Somebody will also probably make a Donald Trump reference. The night will definitely run long due to one too many montages and/or overproduced musical numbers.

Beyond that, though, not everything's so easy to predict. For the second consecutive year, two of the biggest awards of the night - those for best picture and best director - are neck-and-neck horse races with just a week to go, all but guaranteeing a measure of Oscar-night suspense.

Well, at least that will be true for the last 20 minutes of the night. Up until then, things should go pretty much according to plan, as clear front-runners have emerged in most other major categories, including all four acting races, as well as those for best animated film, best foreign film and best documentary feature.

That means most of your office Oscar pool shouldn't be too terribly difficult to fill out. If, that is, you've been paying attention to the months of pre-Oscar awards.

And if you haven't? Below are my annual Academy Award predictions in all 24 categories, based on hours of viewing, monitoring of pre-Oscar buzz and a bit of guidance from my trusty Magic 8-ball.

For the record, the 88th annual Academy Awards telecast will be Sunday Feb. 28, with red-carpet coverage starting at 6 p.m. CT on ABC and the show set to start at 7:30.

But no need to wait for the show to find out who will take home the gold. The winners will be ...

Best picture

The nominees: "The Big Short, " "Bridge of Spies, " "Brooklyn, " "Mad Max: Fury Road, " "The Martian, " "The Revenant, " "Room" and Spotlight"

What will win: "The Revenant." No, wait, "Spotlight." No, "The Revenant." Or maybe - OK, I'll stick with "The Revenant." But you get the idea. It's a neck-and-neck race between these two this year. In fact, it's so close that the Academy's complex preferential voting system - which has voters ranking the best picture nominees in order of preference, with points awarded to each film accordingly - could make room for one of the dark-horse candidates to emerge. (This year, "Mad Max: Fury Road" and the New Orleans-shot "The Big Short" are the two most likely films to stage such an ambush.) But "The Revenant" earned more overall nominations than any other film this year, which always suggests a leg-up in the best-picture race. What's more, it won the top Director's Guild award, a major Oscar indicator. That means it could - could - have the edge.

What should win: "Spotlight." Don't get me wrong: "The Revenant" is a fine, highly enjoyable film, and one with an Oscar-friendly epic sweep, to boot. In fact, it landed at No. 6 on my ranking of the top 10 films of 2015. But while "The Revenant" is a more traditional Oscar film, "Spotlight" is a sharp, unforgettable film that speaks to the times like few others do this year.

Ask the 8-ball: "The Revenant" director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Birdman" was named best picture last year. Might Academy voters blanch at honoring a film from the same filmmaker two years in a row? "Reply hazy, try again."

The nominees: Adam McKay, for "The Big Short"; George Miller, for "Mad Max: Fury Road"; Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, for "The Revenant"; Lenny Abrahamson, for "Room"; and Tom McCarthy, for "Spotlight"

Who will win: George Miller, for "Mad Max: Fury Road." Like the race for best picture, this one is tick-tight and it could go any number of ways. Most notably, Inarritu has a very realistic chance of winning his second straight Oscar for best director after taking home the gold for "Birdman" last year. But while Oscar voters might be OK with letting one of his films win the top prize for two years running, I've got a feeling they're going to want to spread the wealth a little bit when it comes to this category. If that's the case, Miller would be the mostly likely beneficiary. If you're looking for a dark horse, however, keep an eye on "Big Short" helmer Adam McKay, whose film has been enjoying some late-season momentum, including winning the coveted Producer's Guild Award last month.

Who win: Miller. Who could have seen this coming? Thirty years after the previous installment in the post-apocalyptic "Mad Max" franchise - and 36 years after the first - Miller delivered the best chapter yet. Not only was it tense and imaginative, but it was also one of the finest examples of world-creating to hit the big screens in some time. If you're intrigued by this race, you'll want to tune in early in the night. With every technical award "Fury Road" wins early in the night, Miller's chances of taking home the directing award will get more likely.

Ask the 8-ball: Please, please, please tell me we'll see a musical performance by the "Mad Max" Doof Warrior - that guy with insane the flame-thrower guitar. Any chance? "Concentrate and ask again."

Best lead actress

The nominees: Cate Blanchett, for "Carol"; Brie Larson, for "Room"; Jennifer Lawrence, for "Joy"; Charlotte Rampling, for "45 Years"; and Saoirse Ronan, for "Brooklyn"

Who will win: Brie Larson, for "Room." After two thoroughly unsettled awards in the best picture and director races, we finally get a fairly safe bet here. Larson's a new face on the Oscar scene, but after winning an armload of pre-Oscar awards - including the Golden Globe, SAG and Critics' Choice awards - she's the odds-on favorite to win the Oscar. In fact, if it would be nothing short of a shocker if anyone else takes home the gold.

Who win: Larson. I've made no secret of my fondness for Larson's talents. Not only did I rave about her in the 2012 indie "Short Term 12" (go rent it now), but her emotionally layered turn in director Lenny Abrahamson's "Room" landed in the top spot on my list of the best performances of 2015. She deserves this award, and I have a feeling it won't be her last time in the winner's circle.

Ask the 8-ball: Larson might have the inside track, but the Academy has proven that it looooves it some Jennifer Lawrence, nominating her four times since 2010. Any chance JLaw earns her second Oscar this year? "My sources say no."

Best lead actor

The nominees: Bryan Cranston, for "Trumbo"; Matt Damon, for "The Martian"; Leonardo DiCaprio, for "The Revenant"; Michael Fassbender, for "Steve Jobs"; and Eddie Redmayne, for "The Danish Girl"

Who will win: Leonardo DiCaprio, for "The Revenant." If Larson is a lock in the best lead actress category, DiCaprio is doubly so in the race for the best lead actor. After going home empty-handed four times previously (five if you count the best picture nod for "Wolf of Wall Street, " on which he was a producer), little Leo will finally break his streak this year. Not only does he deserve it for his anguished performance as a man who fights his way back from the brink of death in Inarritu's brutal survival drama, but all of his nominated performances - from 1993's "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" to 2004's "The Aviator" to 2007's "Blood Diamonds" to 2014's "Wolf of Wall Street" - have been terrific. Couple that with the fact that, like Larson, he's won all the key pre-Oscar awards, and it spells a sure victory.

Who win: DiCaprio, although Fassbender's chamelonic work in "Steve Jobs" comes a very close second in my mind.

Ask the 8-ball: Can we expect DiCaprio to get political with his acceptance speech? "It is decidedly so."

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