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A few months ago, this column suggested a sure-fire way to boost the sagging television ratings for the Academy Awards telecast: announce beforehand that "Black Panther" will win 17 Oscars.

There was reason for this madness: Traditionally, the highest-rated Oscar telecasts have tended to be the ones that serve as coronations for a wildly popular movie — think "Titanic" or "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King."

Well, Oscar voters did what they could, handing "Black Panther" seven nominations, and the movie has a shot at best picture, if enough Academy members are sufficiently ticked at Netflix, the streaming service that bankrolled the favorite, Alfonso Cuaron's "Roma."

That all goes to show that this year's Academy Awards are unusually unpredictable, and although that probably won't translate into huge TV ratings, it presents challenges for your Oscar pool. 

As part of my commitment to offer full service to my readers, each year the column lists predictions in all 24 Oscar categories. Before you ride these to glory in your pool, you should know that I am in no way qualified to make these predictions. But in a typical year, I'll get 17 or so right. (Last year, I was 20-4, a good year.)

And here's a challenge to readers: Email your predictions to me at mike.mcinally@lee.net. After the show ends, I'll take the submissions that performed better than I did, and choose one of them at random to win a $25 gift card to the local movie house of your choice. Submissions must be received by 5 p.m. today, when the show starts. Last year's contest included an entry from a high school student who went 21-3. In other words, the year in which I debuted this contest, I lost.

Keep that in mind as you peruse these predictions:

Picture: You can make a case for any of five flicks — "Roma," "Black Panther," "Green Book," "The Favourite" and "BlacKkKlansman." Complicating matters is the Netflix factor: How much animosity do academy voters hold against the disruptive streaming service? And the ranked choice voting system the academy uses could mean a film that gets a lot of No. 2 or No. 3 votes on ballots could sneak through to victory. The safe vote here is "Roma," and that's my hunch. But it's hard to go wire-to-wire as the Oscar front-runner, so I wouldn't be surprised by a win for "Panther" or "Green Book."

Director: Cuaron, for "Roma." 

Actress: The seventh nomination is the charm for Glenn Close, for "The Wife." But Olivia Colman, from "The Favourite," is making a charge.

Actor: Rami Malek, who was great in "Bohemian Rhapsody," a terrible movie that actually could win as many as four Oscars.

Supporting actor: Even people who despised "Green Book" liked Mahershala Ali's performance. But would it be so bad to honor veteran Sam Elliott for "A Star is Born" or to give plaudits to Richard E. Grant, so good in "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" 

Supporting actress: Regina King, "If Beale Street Could Talk."

Original screenplay: Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, for the deliciously deadpan "The Favourite." A win here for "Green Book" could mean it's on its way to Oscar domination.

Adapted screenplay: "BlacKkKlansman." Spike Lee wins his first competitive Oscar. 

Animated feature: Normally, the Pixar entry ("Incredibles 2") wins, but this year, all the momentum is with "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse."

Documentary feature: A tough call between "RBG" and "Free Solo." "Free Solo," the thrilling climbing feature, is the better film, which usually doesn't count for much at the Oscars, but it's swept the earlier awards and has emerged as the slight favorite.

Editing: Another tough call. People say "Bohemian Rhapsody" was saved in the editing room after director Bryan Singer was fired, and the film's producer, Graham King, is well-liked in Hollywood. But the swaggering editing style of "Vice" is central to the movie. Go with "Vice."

Cinematography: Cuaron, "Roma."

Foreign-language film: "Roma." But this is an exceptionally strong field of films. Go see one.

Costume design: I lean toward "Black Panther." But Oscar voters typically prefer lavish costume dramas, so "The Favourite" could win.

Production design: Again, a tight race between "Panther" and "The Favourite," but this time "The Favourite" wins.

Makeup and hairstyling: "Vice."

Song: "Shallow," from "A Star is Born."

Score: "If Beale Street Could Talk." But "Black Panther" is closing fast.

Sound design: "A Quiet Place" should win, and could win. "Bohemian Rhapsody" could win as well. My hunch is that "First Man" wins. 

Sound mixing: "Bohemian Rhapsody."

Visual effects: "Avengers: Infinity War."

Live action short: "Marguerite."

Documentary short: "Period. End of Sentence."

Animated short: "Bao."

We'll gather next week to compare notes and lick our wounds. Don't forget to save me an aisle seat. (mm)

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Mike McInally is editor of the Albany Democrat-Herald and the Corvallis Gazette-Times. Email him at mike.mcinally@lee.net. A somewhat expanded version of this column appears online. 

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