As of press time, not even the accountants at PricewaterhouseCoopers know whose names will be in the envelopes torn open on Oscar night.

Still, Academy voters have left a lot of bread crumbs on the path to the podium on the Dolby Theatre stage, so their choices aren't that hard to predict. Here's who they will probably give the trophies to on Feb. 26 -- and who actually deserves them.

Best Supporting Actor
Like so many of this year's categories, this one comes down to just two choices: Mahershala Ali, who gives what is perhaps the flashiest performance in the otherwise unflashy "Moonlight," and Dev Patel, who's arguably a lead in "Lion" but whose studio wisely slotted him into a less competitive category.

Who Will Win: Ali, who's grabbed most of the available pre-Oscar awards.
Who Should Win: Ali, whose oddly warm and paternal drug dealer is a character you've never seen before.

Best Supporting Actress
This is a tough category, featuring five worthy actresses. Still, the Academy can pick only one, so...

Who Will Win:Viola Davis. There's the sense that it's finally her turn; she's won all the precursor awards, and she gives amazing speeches.
Who Should Win: Davis. Actually, the makers of "Fences" should have put her up for the lead, as her performance is just as big as Denzel Washington's. Oh well, a win is a win.

Best Animated Feature
It's a weird year when Pixar gets snubbed, but two artful foreign-language films get in. Still, amid this grab bag, there's a clear winner.

Who Will Win: "Zootopia." The Disney talking-animal comedy has won every award so far.
Who Should Win: "Zootopia." Its satirical points about xenophobia and political fear-mongering make it surprisingly topical for a kiddie film.

Best Documentary Feature
This is a very strong year, full of timely contenders taking on big issues. "13th" could make Ava DuVernay the first black woman to win this award. And she might, if not for one of the other two big documentaries about the black experience in America. That is...

Who Will Win: "O.J.: Made in America." Aside from its victories to date, its massive length (nearly eight hours!) makes it impossible to ignore.
Who Should Win: "O.J.: Made in America." Even after 20 years, and the successful dramatization of the events in the recent FX mini-series, Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow still bring more to the table in examining the full context of race, class, sports, sex, and fame that informed the Simpson case.

Best Foreign Language Feature
The competition was pretty much between Iranian drama "The Salesman" and German comedy-drama "Toni Erdmann." But then, a certain person threw a monkey wrench into the race with his travel ban, resulting in "Salesman" director Asghar Farhadi and his cast staying home from the ceremony. With Hollywood being a town built by immigrant moguls and directors, many Academy members seemed inclined to pick "Salesman" simply as a protest.

Who Will Win: "Salesman," which is actually a thoughtful, humane drama with a theme of cross-cultural understanding (it involves Iranians staging a production of Arthur Miller's classic American play "Death of a Salesman"). Plus, Farhadi is a known quantity among the nominees, having won five years ago for "A Separation."
Who Should Win: "Toni Erdmann." Not just because a German comedy seems such a rarity, but because this is an epic tale of a prankish old man and his exasperated daughter, a film so wild that it's prompted Jack Nicholson to come out of retirement to play the dad in the American remake.

Best Original Song
Normally, the Disney song -- in this case, "How Far I'll Go," from "Moana" -- would be the one to beat. Plus, "Hamilton" fans would no doubt like to see composer Lin-Manuel Miranda win an EGOT, that rare showbiz grand slam of Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. (So far, he has all but the Oscar.)

He'd probably get it, too, if he weren't up against not one but two songs from "La La Land."

What Will Win: "City of Stars," the wistful ballad that is the movie's most hummable tune.
What Should Win: "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)." It's the musical's most dramatic and emotional song, even if it lacks the earworm quality of "City of Stars."

Best Original Score
There's a lot of exciting new blood in this category. Four of the nominated instrumental scores are by first-time nominees, and three of the composers are under 40. The lone ringer is the innovative Thomas Newman, whose nod for "Passengers" is his 14th nomination; amazingly, he's never won before.

Who Will Win: "La La Land" composer Justin Hurwitz. It would be a shocker if the songwriter behind the biggest musical in years didn't also win for the movie's instrumental score.
Who Should Win:Mica Levi, not because she's (remarkably) only the third woman ever nominated in this category, but because her inventive and haunting music for "Jackie" is indispensable.

Best Original Screenplay
It's wonderful to see "The Lobster" and "20th Century Women" included here, but they have no shot. It's down to Kenneth Lonergan's "Manchester by the Sea" script -- so literate, so lived-in, so bleak -- and Damien Chazelle's fizzy "La La Land," which both honors and undermines conventional Hollywood storytelling.

Who Will Win: "La La Land," since the West Coast voting bloc it flatters is much larger than the East Coast bloc more likely to support Lonergan's tale of Massachusetts misery.
Who Should Win: "Manchester," for Lonergan's keen ear for dialogue and eye for detail.

Best Adapted Screenplay
It would be something if "Fences" playwright August Wilson won for adapting his own stage drama, since he's been dead for more than 11 years. And "Hidden Figures" and "Lion" tell incredible true stories. Nonetheless, there's really just one contender here.

Who Will Win: "Moonlight" co-writer/director Barry Jenkins and co-writer Tarell Alvin McCraney, who adapted McCraney's play about the Miami neighborhood where both men grew up. Jenkins will probably lose Best Director, so the Academy will want to honor him here instead.
Who Should Win: Jenkins and McCraney, for this year's most emotion-wrenching screenplay.

Best Actor
For a long time, this seemed like Casey Affleck's prize; his towering performance as an emotionally shattered man in "Manchester by the Sea" proved once and for all that he's not just Ben's kid brother. But support for Denzel Washington's bellowing reprise of his Tony-winning "Fences" role has all but evened up the race and made this category the toughest to call.

Who Will Win: Washington. Hollywood loves it when an actor turns a labor of love into a money-making film and a career cornerstone. Plus, there's the historical opportunity to make Washington the first black actor to win three Oscars.
Who Should Win: Affleck. His role is less showy and more internal; it may be too subtle to win him the prize.

Best Actress
Early on, it seemed like Natalie Portman had a shot for her uncanny Jacqueline Kennedy in "Jackie," but it's really come down to a two-actress race, between Emma Stone as the ambitious ingenue in "La La Land" and Isabelle Huppert as an enigmatic sexual assault survivor in "Elle."

Who Will Win: Stone, who has an armload of trophies and Oscar history (it prefers young starlets like Brie Larson and Jennifer Lawrence to veteran divas) on her side. Also, her performance isn't in French. Plus, there's her killer turn on the movie's climactic "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)" number, something every creative person in the Academy can identify with.
Who Should Win: Huppert. The iconic French star has never been nominated for an Oscar before, but she gives the performance of her career in "Elle."

Best Director
Director Damien Chazelle and Emma Stone on the set of LA LA LAND.Both top contenders, Chazelle and Jenkins, pulled off remarkable feats of staging, storytelling, and performance coaching, all with relatively limited budgets. So, who had the harder job?

Who Will Win: Chazelle, not just for his technical accomplishments, but also for bringing the musical back from the dead. He's already won the important precursor awards, so he seems like a sure thing.
Who Should Win: Jenkins; merely getting a movie financed and filmed about a gay black kid from the projects is arguably a bigger challenge than staging a song-and-dance number on a Los Angeles freeway ramp.

Best Picture
"La La Land" has been the favorite since it emerged from the festival circuit last fall. For months, its only serious rival was "Moonlight," which critics adored, even while it struggled to find an audience.

Months later, it's still pretty much a two-movie race, although there's been a surge of support for late release "Hidden Figures," a feel-good historical drama about racism that's safely set in the distant past, which is also the top-grossing film among the nine Best Picture nominees.

What Will Win: "La La Land." It's won nearly every precursor award, and its record number of nominations (14) gives it momentum. Plus, Hollywood has been fond of rewarding movies about show business in recent years ("The Artist," "Argo," "Birdman").
What Should Win: "Moonlight." For sheer lyrical artistry, and for proving Roger Ebert's maxim that "Movies are the most powerful empathy machine in all the arts."

categories Movies, Oscars, Awards