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Oscars 2013: Predicting the winners with data and critics

By Sunday night, we'll know which film will join the canon of best-picture Oscar winners. And as the day draws near, "Argo" is surfacing as a favorite for the 2013 film of the year category.

At last check, the Ben Affleck-directed CIA movie had a 93 percent likelihood to win, according to PredictWise, a site that aggregates, analyzes and creates predictions in real-time.

"As the awards shows really coalesced around a few people in major categories we saw a major shift and it was fun to see how that progressed," said David Rothschild, an economist at Microsoft Research who analyzes data for PredictWise. "'Zero Dark Thirty' moved down a little bit. 'Lincoln' stabilized. We saw 'Argo' especially for best pictures and best adapted screenplay shoot up."

Other categories, including best supporting actor, are a little tougher to predict. In the end, we won't know the winners until the envelopes are opened Sunday at the Hollywood & Highland Center in Los Angeles.

So, before then, let's take a look at what a few movie insiders have come up with as potential winners for Sunday.

Best Picture

Having picked up many of this season's movie awards already, "Argo" is turning out to be the likely favorite to win the best picture trophy.

"'Argo' is a sure thing because it seamlessly blends Hollywood satire with thrilling action, and this industry loves to honor itself for teasing itself," said Associated Press movie writer Christy Lemire.

But it does have some stiff competition from "Zero Dark Thirty," "Amour," "Les Miserables," "Life of Pi," "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Silver Linings Playbook" and the evening's leading nominee, "Lincoln,"

Erin Carlson of The Hollywood Reporter pointed out how last year, "everyone predicted that 'The Artist' was going to win - and it did.'"

Best Director

The best directing category is an interesting case. The Academy neglected to nominate Ben Affleck for "Argo" and Kathryn Bigelow for "Zero Dark Thirty," largely considered this year's biggest "snubs." That leaves Steven Spielberg ["Lincoln"], Michael Haneke ["Amour"]; Benh Zeitlin ["Beasts of the Southern Wild"]; Angle Lee ["Life of Pi"] and David O. Russell ["Silver Linings Playbook"].

"My money is on Spielberg for 'Lincoln,'" said Carlson.

"Another win would put Spielberg in rare company, tying him with Frank Capra and William Wyler, who each won three directing Oscars, and putting him just behind record-holder John Ford, who won four," added David Germain, a movie critic for The Associated Press.

PredictWise's data reflects the movie writers' picks, putting Spielberg in the lead with 81.3 percent.

Best Actor

All eyes are on Daniel Day-Lewis for the lead acting honor.

Carlson expects the English actor to take the category for his title role in "Lincoln." "He's basically a lock to win best actor," she said of the two-time Oscar-winning actor, who's up against Bradley Cooper of "Silver Linings Playbook," Hugh Jackman in "Les Miserables," Joaquin Phoenix in "The Master" and Denzel Washington in "Flight."

Associated Press movie writer Christy Lemire agrees, noting, "From the first moment you see Daniel Day-Lewis on screen as the revered 16th president of the United States, it's clear he's destined to win the best-actor Oscar."

If Day-Lewis doesn't win, it will arguably be the biggest surprise of the Oscars; he has a 99.1 percent rating on PredictWise.

"We deal with a bunch of different data sources: polling, prediction markets, fundamental data, gross, and the ratings. Social media data, sentiment indexes, user-generated and experimental data," said Rothschild of Predictwise.

If Predictwise is right and Day-Lewis does walk away with a trophy, he will be the first to win three best-actor awards.

Best Supporting Actor

The best supporting actor winner may not be so clear. The nominees are: Alan Arkin, "Argo"; Robert De Niro, "Silver Linings Playbook"; Philip Seymour Hoffman, "The Master"; Tommy Lee Jones, "Lincoln"; and Christoph Waltz, "Django Unchained."

"This category is extremely competitive," said Carlson, who noted that De Niro "could reap a reward from his body of work, his prestige."

Germain of The AP, wrote, "The prize probably comes down to the two guys in Civil War-era times, Tommy Lee Jones as abolitionist firebrand Thaddeus Stevens and Christoph Waltz as a genteel bounty hunter."

A look at Predictwise tells the story, with Jones and Waltz neck and neck; Jones has a 45 percent likelihood of winning, with Christoph Waltz right behind at 40.6. According to the site, De Niro is at just 10 percent.

Best Actress

There are seemingly two front-runners in the best lead actress category, which features nominees Jessica Chastain, "Zero Dark Thirty"; Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook"; Emmanuelle Riva, "Amour"; Quvenzhane Wallis, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"; and Naomi Watts, "The Impossible."

"This is such a close call between Jessica Chastain, who's almost demonic as a CIA operative obsessively tracking Osama bin Laden, and Jennifer Lawrence, who's one of the most endearing damaged souls to hit the big-screen in ages," wrote Germain.

Carlson agrees, adding that Chastain is "the next Meryl Streep in terms of range," but noted that Lawrence's "flashier, more fun performance" in "Silver Linings Playbook" is also appealing.

A new poll, meanwhile, has Chastain narrowly edging out Lawrence for the win.

Best Supporting Actress

Carlson thinks Anne Hathaway, who portrayed Fantine in "Les Miserables," is a slam-dunk for a best supporting actress. "'I Dreamed a Dream' was remarkable. She stole that song from Susan Boyle and made everyone cry in the process," Carlson told

Lemire added, "It sounds so cynical to suggest that if you cut all your hair off, lose a bunch of weight AND play a prostitute, you're guaranteed to win an Academy Award. But Anne Hathaway does indeed do all of this -- and she sings!"

Despite all of the attention surrounding Hathaway's performance, there are other very well-respected nominees in the category: Amy Adams, "The Master"; Sally Field, "Lincoln"; Helen Hunt, "The Sessions"; and Jacki Weaver, "Silver Linings Playbook."

Some of the best-picture nominees could also luck out in the screenplay categories.

"Best original screenplay is an interesting one because 'Django Unchained,' which has been getting a lot of press, actually shot ahead of 'Zero Dark Thirty,' Rothschild told "In the beginning it was showing really heavy for 'Zero Dark Thirty' and it has become a real dog fight between 'Django Unchained' and 'Zero Dark Thirty.'"

The Show

No matter who wins on Sunday, the 85th Academy Awards, hosted by Seth MacFarlane, will feature plenty of stars.

Presenters include Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, Jane Fonda, Jennifer Garner, Kristen Stewart, Kerry Washington, Jennifer Aniston, Michael Douglas, Jamie Foxx, Paul Rudd, Salma Hayek Pinault, Melissa McCarthy, Liam Neeson, John Travolta, Ben Affleck, Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Mark Wahlberg, Ted and "Marvel's The Avengers" cast members Robert Downey Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner and Mark Ruffalo; returning 2011 Oscar winners Jean Dujardin, Christopher Plummer, Octavia Spencer and Meryl Streep; "Chicago" cast members Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones; special guests Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Daniel Radcliffe, Channing Tatum and Charlize Theron; and performers including Kristin Chenoweth, Jennifer Hudson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, Aaron Tveit and Helena Bonham.

Adele, Dame Shirley Bassey, Norah Jones and Barbra Streisand will perform. MacFarlane and Kristin Chenoweth will close the show.

Check back here on Sunday for complete Oscars coverage. And click here for our downloadable Academy Awards ballot.

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