And the winners will be….

Only a few weeks until the Academy Awards and even less time than that for Jay Leno to kiss the butts of nominees who guest on “The Tonight Show.”

You don’t have to see all the movies and performances nominated to have a good idea who will win. Word of mouth is essential. Awards shows prior to the Oscars more often than not signal what will likely happen. Also, watch how many times a nominated film is advertised on TV — that’s key as to what movie distributor is spending the most money and probably has the better PR campaign.

This year there are several sure bets to take home their good friend Oscar:

Supporting actor: Heath Ledger as the Joker in “The Dark Knight.” Why? Because he’s dead. “Dark Knight” and its visionary director Christopher Nolan were snubbed in the best picture and director categories primarily because Ledger — especially in death — stole the show and the headlines and in the process put thekibosh on the movie itself.

Supporting actress: Penelope Cruz in “Vicky Christina Barcelona.” Why? Because actresses nominated in supporting categories in Woody Allen films have a winning track record. The parts are always well-written and the actresses, as Cruz did this year, rise to the occasion.

Director: Danny Boyle for “Slumdog Millionaire.” Why? He won the Directors Guild Award. Film is still a director’s medium — and even though only directors vote for the DGA, everyone from composers to cinematographers to actors all vote for the Oscar and will fall in line — as if they’re all still on the set looking for motivation. Besides, Boyle is a foreigner: directors from other countries have won a lot of directing Oscars. Think David Lean, Milos Forman, Roman Polanski, Richard Attenborough, and Ang Lee.

Actress: Every year in this category there are four nominees and a slot reserved for Meryl Streep. But this year it’s going to be Kate Winslet for “The Reader.” Why? It’s her turn. She’s been nominated five other times without a win. In the film she has ties to Nazis and Hollywood loves movies that feature Nazis — from “Casablanca” to “Schindler’s List” they’re the ultimate villains. And, oh ya, one very extra added attraction for Winslet: She has sex scenes with a 15-year-old boy, which ought to seal the cougar vote for her. That Sarandonite voting bloc is huge within the Academy.

Actor: Sean Penn in “Milk.” Why? Oscar loves actors in biopics — doesn’t matter how obscure, as is the case with martyred gay activist Harvey Milk. And since the film won’t win, Penn will be the beneficiary of the whole Prop 8 setback.

Picture: “Slumdog Millionaire.” Why? Too much momentum going for it not to wn. It has won every other award of importance leading up to Oscar. But then again. so did “Brokeback Mountain” a few years ago and “Crash” snuck in and won. If there is an upset, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” will win. It has the most nominations with 13. Only two other movies in Oscar history had that many nominations and lost: “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” (1966) and “Mary Poppins” — which, technically anyway, was the “Benjamin Button” of its day in 1964. Also, “Benjamin Button” has big name stars and is produced by Spielberg alumni Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy. “Slumdog” has no stars and is essentially a foreign movie. But Oscar could never be accused of xenophobia.

“Benjamin Button” will likely take home the most Oscars, like cinematography, editing and special effects. Likely 6 in all. But “Slumdog” will take home the the big prizes, 5 in all: best picture, director, screenplay adaptation, original music score and best song (it has 2 nominated in this category, so flip a coin. However, “Jai Ho” seems to be its anthem.)

Ron Howard’s “Frost/Nixon” is nominated for 5 Oscars and will be shut out. Howard will have to wait a while longer to join that elite company of directors who have won two Oscars in that category.

Personal favorites:

Besides Kate Winslet and Penelope Cruz, it would be cool to see Mickey Rourke win best actor for “The Wrestler” and Robert Downey Jr. win for best supporting actor in “Tropic Thunder.” Both guys came to prominence in the 1980s (we won’t hold that against them.) And both have made dubious lifestyle choices that helped them fall out of favor. But they came back. They survived. Ah, redemption!

Too bad — if they wanted to win this year, they would have been better off dead.

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