Think You Can Beat Beifuss?

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Unlike the Golden Globes, the Academy Awards don't include a distinct category for "Best Motion Picture - Drama."

Nevertheless, "drama" is the very quality that may distinguish Sunday night's Oscar ceremony from most previous telecasts.

A consensus is building around certain key awards, true (goodbye, "Lincoln"; hello, "Argo"). Yet the 85th awards ceremony of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences promises to be as surprising as any since 1998, when "Shakespeare in Love" was named Best Picture over "Saving Private Ryan."

I think every category except for Best Actor is up for grabs, due to the wide dispersal of nominations (12 for "Lincoln," 11 for "Life of Pi," eight for "Silver Linings Playbook," seven for "Argo" and "Les Misrables," and five for "Django Unchained," "Zero Dark Thirty," "Amour" and "Skyfall") and the surprising omissions (especially in the Best Director category).

In other words, the Oscar-prognostication margin for error is wide, which means this year's "Beat Beifuss" contest could result in a shellacking for yours truly, as I pit my (so-called) wits against the readers of The Commercial Appeal in 10 top Acadmey Award categories.

This is Year 17 of the Beat Beifuss contest. If you entered (the deadline was Friday) and your

predictions prove more accurate than mine, you could win 20 Malco movie tickets. (At today's prices, that's nothing to sneeze at, unless you're allergic to popcorn.)

My record in the first 16 years of the contest is 119-41. That includes my one Year of Perfection, the 10-0 year of 2009 ("Slumdog Millionaire" was Best Picture), as well as the 3-7 Years of Shame, 1999 ("Shakespeare in Love") and 2004 ("Chicago").

Monday, The Commercial Appeal's crack "Beat Beifuss" team will tabulate the ballots to discover how many of you (if any) beat me. If 10 of you succeed, you'll each get 20 Malco movie tickets. If more than 10 best me, we'll draw the 10 winners at random from the eligible ballots.

Names of the Beifuss-beaters will be published Thursday at and in the newspaper's M section.

Here are my picks:

Best Picture: The nominees are "Amour," "Argo," "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Django Unchained," "Les Misrables," "Life of Pi," "Lincoln," "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Zero Dark Thirty."

I still think "Lincoln" is a possibility. But wins for "Argo" from the major motion picture guilds (producers, writers, directors), plus Golden Globe and British BAFTA awards for Best Picture, suggest Ben Affleck's spy story has wide appeal for voters who want entertainment with their "art." The Oscar will go to "Argo."

Best Actor: The nominees are Bradley Cooper for "Silver Linings Playbook," Daniel Day-Lewis for "Lincoln," Hugh Jackman for "Les Misrables," Joaquin Phoenix for "The Master" and Denzel Washington for "Flight."

This may be the evening's only sure bet: Declared "The World's Greatest Actor" on the cover of the November issue of Time magazine, Daniel Day-Lewis will become the first three-time winner of the Best Actor Oscar. (He's already won for "My Left Foot" and "There Will Be Blood.")

Best Actress: The nominees are Jessica Chastain for "Zero Dark Thirty," Jennifer Lawrence for "Silver Linings Playbook," Emmanuelle Riva for "Amour," Quvenzhan Wallis for "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and Naomi Watts for "The Impossible."

Quvenzhan is cute, but I don't think the Academy wants the award to go to a 9-year-old. I would not be surprised if Chastain or the 85-year-old Riva wins, but I think this might be the category where "Silver" shines: I'm predicting Jennifer Lawrence.

Best Supporting Actor: The nominees are Alan Arkin for "Argo," Robert De Niro for "Silver Linings Playbook," Philip Seymour Hoffman for "The Master," Tommy Lee Jones for "Lincoln" and Christoph Waltz for "Django Unchained. …