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As the stars are busily getting waxed and coiffed for this Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony, thousands of people across the country are faced with the same problem: Who the heck do they vote for in their Oscar pool? "Argo" or "Lincoln"? Hugh Jackman or Daniel Day-Lewis? Jennifer Lawrence or Jessica Chastain? The choices can be overwhelming. I don't claim to have any insider knowledge at Price Waterhouse, but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as a body, tends to vote in patterns. And knowing those patterns can give you a leg up on your friends, enemies, comrades-in-arms, and fellow cubicle dwellers in picking who wins Oscar gold.
1. Follow the Guilds
There are guilds for virtually every aspect of filmmaking in this town -- hello, Art Directors Guild -- and the people in these guilds tend to be the same people who vote for the Oscars. Note which movies are raking in the trophies, and vote accordingly. Thus, "Argo" won the Producers Guild award for best picture, along with a pile of other honors, so it's a pretty good bet that it's going to take the top prize. The American Society of Cinematographers handed Roger Deakins a trophy for his work on "Skyfall," so that's a good sign that he will win on Sunday too. The interesting category is Best Director: The guy who won the Directors Guild award, "Argo" director Ben Affleck, didn't even get nominated this year by the academy. What's up with that? Take a quarter; write Ang Lee on one side and Spielberg on the other. Flip. Make your decision accordingly.
2a. The Oldest/Youngest Rule
The prize Best Supporting Actor usually goes to the oldest guy nominated. Think of it as a sort of lifetime achievement award. Thus Tommy Lee Jones won for "The Fugitive" over Ralph Fiennes's hypnotic performance in "Schindler's List," and Alan Arkin won for "Little Miss Sunshine." This year, both Jones and Arkin are nominated once again for best supporting actor. At 78, Arkin might be the oldest, chronologically speaking, but Tommy Lee definitely feels like the oldest, and grumpiest, of the bunch.
2b. On the flip side, the award for Best Supporting Actress tends to go to the youngest -- and often most attractive -- woman nominated. Think Juliette Binoche in "The English Patient," Angelina Jolie in "Girl, Interrupted," and Mira Sorvino in "Mighty Aphrodite." This year, Anne Hathaway is the youngest actress nominated, for her turn as the doomed Fantine. She also lost a ton of weight, got cropped, and sang her heart out. The academy loves that kind of stuff.
3. Pick the Actor Whose Movie Was Also Nominated for Best Picture
Movies that get that coveted Best Picture nomination are more likely to bring the gold for their actors. Thus Tilda Swinton won for "Michael Clayton," even though that movie didn't take home any other trophies. Same goes for Philip Seymour Hoffman, who starred in "Capote." This bodes well for Anne Hathaway, Jennifer Lawrence, and Daniel Day-Lewis.
4. The Hoop Skirt Factor
The movie with the most hoop skirts almost always wins Best Costume Design.
5. The X Factor
Some stories are too good to pass up. Think of Daniel Day-Lewis returning to the film biz after years working as an Italian cobbler or Charlize Theron transforming for her role in "Monster." If the story is good enough, it pretty much trumps every other academy tendency. The best story this year seems to be Ben Affleck getting mysteriously shut out of the Best Director category. (Seriously, AMPAS, WTF?) Watch "Argo" win Best Picture based on a collective feeling of guilt.
6. The Panic Categories
No one knows much of anything about the Documentary Short and the Live-Action Short categories. Just close your eyes and select blindly.