That time of year again….

Yep, Oscar time. In little less than a month, all the speculation and guesswork will come to an end, but for now, let the fun begin with predictions of the big eight categories.

Best Picture
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“The Reader”
“Slumdog Millionaire”

I think the smart money is on a ‘Slumdog’ sweep, and well, I can’t really blame people for getting behind a feel-good picture in our troubled times. Sure, I’d like to see a ‘Frost/Nixon’ upset, but it’s ‘Slumdog’ for the win.

Best Director
Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”)
Stephen Daltry (“The Reader”)
David Fincher (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”)
Ron Howard (“Frost/Nixon”)
Gus Van Sant (“Milk”)

This one’s a bit of a toss-up, but I’m going to go wild and pick Gus Van Sant; “Milk” probably isn’t going to win much else on Oscar night, and I could easily see Van Sant winning for his biopic.

Best Actress
Anne Hathaway (“Rachel Getting Married”)
Angelina Jolie (“Changling”)
Melissa Leo (“Frozen River”)
Meryl Streep (“Doubt”)
Kate Winslet (“The Reader”)

Kate Winslet. It’s her year, even if she got nominated for a movie that just sounds awful (I’m not kidding either; I know how it ends). I’ve loved her since “Heavenly Creatures,” she’s been nominated six times with no wins, so I have no problems with an ‘enough already’ award.

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams (“Doubt”)
Penelope Cruz (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”)
Viola Davis (“Doubt”)
Taraji P. Henson (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”)
Marisa Tomei (“The Wrestler”)

Tough call here, but I’m going to go with Viola Davis; from what I’ve read, “Doubt” is a somewhat stagy, but still engrossing little picture, and she’s one of the best things in it. Good enough for me, but if there’s a dark horse here, I’d watch out for Marisa Tomei. She’s upset this race before; she could do it again. And from what I’ve heard, this time she would deserve it.

Best Actor
Richard Jenkins (“The Visitor”)
Frank Langella (“Frost/Nixon”)
Sean Penn (“Milk”)
Brad Pitt (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”)
Mickey Rourke (“The Wrestler”)

For me, this is the toughest race to call. I’m reasonably certain that, like the Golden Globes, Mickey Rourke is going to win (after all, Hollywood loves triumphant comeback stories), but really, all of these actors could win, and all of them (yes, even Pitt) are deserving (so I here anyway). I’m going down the road most traveled with Rourke, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he lost.

Best Supporting Actor
Josh Brolin (“Milk”)
Robert Downey Jr. (“Tropic Thunder”)
Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Doubt”)
Heath Ledger (“The Dark Knight”)
Michael Shannon (“Revolutionary Road”)

Before the Golden Globes, I made a somewhat foolish quarter bet with my colleague John Bruno that Ledger would lose, and even though he graciously offered to let me out of the bet, I paid up. And I learned my lesson; I have my misgivings about this prediction, but Ledger (RIP) all the way.

Best Screenplay (Adapted)
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“The Reader”
“Slumdog Millionaire”

I’m going with ‘Slumdog’ again. Seems the safe bet.

Best Screenplay (Original)
“Frozen River”
“In Bruges”

The screenplay categories seem to be the one place where the Academy is open to offbeat winners, and in that thinking, I’m backing “Frozen River.” Probably a dark horse, but I can live with that.

Well, that’s all I got for this year; see you for the post game wrap-up Feb. 23.