Beat Beifuss: Is the movie critic in for a beating?

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 Misérables,” 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 gomemphis.com 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 Misérables,” “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 Misérables,” 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,” Quvenzhané Wallis for “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and Naomi Watts for “The Impossible.”

Quvenzhané 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.”

Both Jones and De Niro are scene-stealing people-pleasers this year. Jones hasn’t won since “The Fugitive” (Best Supporting Actor, 1994); De Niro hasn’t won since “Raging Bull” (Best Actor, 1981) and hasn’t even been nominated since “Cape Fear” (1991). Flipping a mental coin, I pick Tommy Lee Jones.

Best Supporting Actress: The nominees are Amy Adams for “The Master,” Sally Field for “Lincoln,” Anne Hathaway for “Les Misérables,” Helen Hunt for “The Sessions” and Jacki Weaver for “Silver Linings Playbook.”

If screen time and importance to the story determined the winner, Helen Hunt would walk away with the award: “The Sessions” couldn’t exist without her (frequently nude) sex-therapist character, while the other nominees portray people who arguably are extraneous to their stories. But significance never has been paramount; after all, Judi Dench earned her Supporting Actress Oscar for only eight minutes of screen time in “Shakespeare in Love.” Making a big impression is more important than having a big part, which is why the Academy will give its love to Anne Hathaway as the teary-eyed, Falconett-coiffed seamstress-turned-prostitute whose showstopping solo rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” is the most emotionally wrenching in-your-face moment in a movie filled with looming close-ups.

Best Director: The nominees are Michael Haneke for “Amour,” Ang Lee for “Life of Pi,” David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook,” Steven Spielberg for “Lincoln” and Benh Zeitlin for “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

This is the Snub Category. Affleck would be the front-runner, but he wasn’t nominated. Other surprising omissions include Kathryn Bigelow (“Zero Dark Thirty”), Quentin Tarantino (“Django Unchained”) and Tom Hooper (“Les Misérables”). I think anyone other than Haneke (and, to a lesser extent, Zeitlin) has a chance. Ang Lee might be a smart dark horse choice, but I predict Steven Spielberg.

Best Adapted Screenplay: The nominated films are “Argo,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Life of Pi,” “Lincoln” and “Silver Linings Playbook.”

The Writers Guild of America gave the award to “Argo.” I prefer a screenplay rife with such words as “mephitic” and “pettifogging.” I’m going to predict a win for Tony Kushner and “Lincoln.”

Best Original Screenplay: The nominated films are “Amour,” “Django Unchained,” “Flight,” “Moonrise Kingdom” and “Zero Dark Thirty.” The choice is between two controversial films: “Django,” which Spike Lee (among others) accused of turning slavery into a joke, and “Zero,” which became a political football for critics on the right and the left. I have a sense that people respect but don’t really like “Zero,” and are wary of yet genuinely enjoy “Django.” I think the Oscar will go to Quentin Tarantino and “Django Unchained.”

Best Original Song: The nominees are “Before My Time,” from the global-warming documentary “Chasing Ice”; “Everybody Needs a Best Friend,” co-written by Oscar ceremony host Seth MacFarlane, from the raunchy teddy bear comedy, “Ted”; “Pi’s Lullaby,” from “Life of Pi”: “Skyfall,” from the James Bond movie; and “Suddenly,” a new Oscar-bait number added to the film version of the Broadway musical “Les Misérables.” The Academy’s inexplicable love for “Les Mis” could give “Suddenly” a win, but I’m going to predict that Paul Epworth and Adele will win for “Skyfall.”

Best Animated Feature: The nominees are “Brave,” “Frankenweenie,” “ParaNorman,” “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” and “Wreck-It Ralph.” Disney trumps Pixar: The Oscar will go to “Wreck-It Ralph.”

The Oscars

Hosted by Seth MacFarlane, at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, ABC-TV (WPTY Memphis). Red Carper coverage begins at 6 p.m.

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