Performance by an actor in a leading role:
Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Capote" (I think that PSH is going to win and I think he deserves it too. Every time I see the scenes, I think of Truman Copote. He was perfect in the role. :)
Terrence Howard in "Hustle & Flow"
Heath Ledger in "Brokeback Mountain" (Heath would be my second guess at who is going to get it.)
Joaquin Phoenix in "Walk the Line"
David Strathairn in "Good Night, and Good Luck."
While Heath Ledger's performance surpasses all of his competition by leaps and bounds, Oscar always loves imitations of real people (hence three noms for embodying historical figures), and Hoffman's been on a roll this season. That said, Phoenix, Strathairn, Hoffman and Howard are all long overdue for recognition by the Academy.
Performance by an actor in a supporting role:
George Clooney in "Syriana"
Matt Dillon in "Crash"
Paul Giamatti in "Cinderella Man" (I hear that this is the way to go.)
Jake Gyllenhaal in "Brokeback Mountain"
William Hurt in "A History of Violence" (He was only in the movie for about 20 minutes and every single second counted. He was fantastic and I hope he gets it, but I don't think he will.)
With the exception of Hurt, whose nomination seems to be more of an homage for his years of excellent contributions (he hasn't won since 1985's Kiss of the Spider Woman) than a truly worthy performance, all of these nods are well-deserved. Gyllenhaal won't win, though his tightrope-walking performance as Ledger's lover in Brokeback provided a terrific dramatic fulcrum for his co-star; Giamatti and Dillon, meanwhile, have both been unsung industry heroes for virtual decades, though I'd personally like to see Giamatti win even if it's merely to atone for his '04 snub for Sideways. Clooney, of course, was terrific, but Syriana is about the material, and he's only a single part of a larger tapestry; then again, that might be what makes his performance so damn good.
Performance by an actress in a leading role:
Judi Dench in "Mrs. Henderson Presents"
Felicity Huffman in "Transamerica" (I saw her in the previews and didn't even know it was her. She's excellent in the role. I think I'm rooting for her.)
Keira Knightley in "Pride & Prejudice"
Charlize Theron in "North Country"
Reese Witherspoon in "Walk the Line"
I'm embarrassed to say I've only seen one of these films, but Witherspoon's performance in Walk the Line finally earns her some well-deserved recognition as a real actress rather than a Julia Roberts-style purveyor of populist garbage. Though the character seems to skew very close to her own career, much less her personality, she does such a wonderful job bringing to life the reluctant romance that blooms between June Carter and Johnny Cash. The only other likely candidate for a win is Huffman for Transamerica, since she so seamlessly transforms herself (another Oscar fave), but the remaining candidates are either workhorses (Dench) or promising newcomers (Knightley) who will enjoy their shots again in the coming years.
Performance by an actress in a supporting role:
Amy Adams in "Junebug"
Catherine Keener in "Capote" (I'd like to see her win, but don't think she will.)
Frances McDormand in "North Country"
Rachel Weisz in "The Constant Gardener" (Everyone says this is the girl to beat.)
Michelle Williams in "Brokeback Mountain"
2005 seemed to be the year of Keener, an impeccably reliable character actress who burst onto the mainstream in not one but four different films, so a win for her terrifically understated turn in Capote would be well-deserved. But Williams will likely never get another role this good again, and Weisz has made a career out of transforming her characters into challenging and sometimes unsympathetic figures of femininity, epitomized by her superlative turn in Constant Gardener as an activist whose politics get her killed. Adams is a dark horse, but every once in a while, Oscar likes to offer a surprise or two (remember Anna Paquin's win for The Piano?).
Achievement in directing:
"Brokeback Mountain" Ang Lee (I think this is a safe bet)
"Capote" Bennett Miller
"Crash" Paul Haggis
"Good Night, and Good Luck." George Clooney
"Munich" Steven Spielberg
Munich is by far Spielberg's most unsentimental movie, but it's also slightly overlong; Capote is a promising debut by Miller, but it's also a fairly conventional tale, told very well; and Haggis pushes all the right (and wrong) buttons with Crash. But Clooney and Lee prove to be far more surprising for their versatility and cinematographic expertise than even familiar audiences might expect; Lee pretty much has this one clinched, but Clooney's work on the black and white film is fantastic and this recognition, however dubious it might become with a loss, heralds him as a real director, not one of those actor-guys who happens to like what goes on behind the camera too.
"Brokeback Mountain" Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana
"Capote" Dan Futterman
"The Constant Gardener" Jeffrey Caine
"A History of Violence" Josh Olson (I would love to see them take this one.)
"Munich" Tony Kushner and Eric Roth
Kushner and Roth's work on Munich is undeniable, but Brokeback will likely take no prisoners by the time awards get handed out for this category. That said, Olson's work on Violence is a marvel of understatement.
"Crash" Screenplay by Paul Haggis & Bobby Moresco; Story by Paul Haggis
"Good Night, and Good Luck." Screenplay by George Clooney & Grant Heslov
"Match Point" Written by Woody Allen
"The Squid and the Whale" Written by Noah Baumbach
"Syriana" Written by Stephen Gaghan
Gaghan already won once for this script when it was called Traffic... so count him out; but the rest have a basically equal shot at winning - that is, if Crash weren't in the running. Haggis' win last year for Million Dollar Baby might hurt his chances slightly, but this category is stacked with legitimate entries.
Best motion picture of the year:
"Brokeback Mountain" Diana Ossana and James Schamus, Producers (My choice)
"Capote" Caroline Baron, William Vince and Michael Ohoven, Producers
"Crash" Paul Haggis and Cathy Schulman, Producers
"Good Night, and Good Luck." Grant Heslov, Producer
"Munich" Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg and Barry Mendel, Producers
If the world is fair, much less has a sense of irony, Brokeback will win since it's both the most deserving and most controversial movie of 2005; otherwise, Capote is out and Munich and Good Night are unfortunately too political (that's not my criticism, but Oscar's). Crash, meanwhile, has a left-field shot, but even as a fan of the movie, I don't think it's by and any stretch immaculate enough to win in this category; besides, it's got to beat the power of two cowboys in love, which ain't likely to happen.