This has the chance to become the most exciting Oscar night ever.

Why?  Because nobody seems to have any real clue as to which movie will win Best Picture.  “Avatar” seems like a good choice – it made $700 Million, changed movies, James Cameron directs, yada yada yada – but so does “The Hurt Locker” with its crazy critical raves and industry buzz.  Compounding the problem is the Weinstein-backed “Inglorious Basterds” which has been gaining momentum all month.  It’s a logjam at the top.

This is created not only by the fact that we have ten Best Picture nominees this year, but because the new voting process really puts it up for grabs.  Here’s a quick breakdown of how the Best Picture votes works this year:

The way it works, is kind of like a process of elimination.  Voters list their top ten movies in order, and from those ballots, the accountants will go over the lists and eliminate the film with the fewest first place votes.  Ballots with the eliminated film in first place will have their second place film listed in first.  This process continues until one movie has amassed 50% of the first-place votes.

In this process it may matter more which films Academy members list second more than which films the list first.  This makes for a truly up-for-grabs Best Picture race.

Of course, there are also many other categories to hand out, many of which are not nearly so up-for-grabs.  Let’s check them out with a little round of everyone’s favorite game – Who Will Win and Who Should Win:

Best Actor

The Nominees:

  • George Clooney, "Up in the Air"
  • Jeff Bridges, "Crazy Heart"
  • Colin Firth, "A Single Man"
  • Morgan Freeman, "Invictus"
  • Jeremy Renner, "The Hurt Locker"

Who Will Win:  Jeff Bridges

He's the fortunate recipient of the "it's his time" love.  Nothing is going to get in his way at this point, he's got the precursors and the lifetime achievement factor on his side.

Who Should Win: Morgan Freeman

This was far more than imitation (something that frequently wins Oscars – see Cotillard, Mario and Blanchett, Cate). Freeman went beyond mere mimicry, capturing the charisma, and the lighthearted charm of Nelson Mandela. He did more than make you believe he was Mandela through his voice and physicality: he did through the gravitas of his performance. A monumental achievement.

Best Actress:

The Nominees:

  • Meryl Streep, "Julie & Julia"
  • Sandra Bullock, "The Blind Side"
  • Gabourey Sidibe, "Precious: Based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
  • Helen Mirren, "The Last Station"
  • Carey Mulligan, "An Education"

Who Will Win:  Sandra Bullock

Every way I looked at this, Sandra's going to win.  It seemed like maybe, just maybe, there could be a backlash against this movie - but you simply cannot ignore the fact that its Best Picture nomination means that people like the movie itself enough for there to be no ill will towards it.  That, and all those precursors on Bullock's trophy shelf, means she is going to win.  There's a chance Streep slips in, but it doesn't seem likely.  Still, this is the only acting category with the chance of an upset.

Who Should Win:  Carey Mulligan

Remember when this movie came out and everyone proclaimed her an easy Oscar winner, raving about her performance to no end? Well, I don’t know how exactly her performance changed over the last few months, but in my eyes it’s just as good as ever. She expertly captured the naivete of youth that often masquerades itself as worldliness, all while looking effortless onscreen.

Best Supporting Actor

The Nominees:

  • Matt Damon, "Invictus" 
  • Woody Harrelson, "The Messenger" 
  • Christopher Plummer, "The Last Station" 
  • Stanley Tucci, "The Lovely Bones"
  • Christoph Waltz, "Inglourious Basterds

Who Will/Should Win:  Christoph Waltz

If anybody's going to topple Waltz it will be Plummer, who is enjoying his first Oscar nomination.  That will get him a few votes, but not nearly enough to overtake Waltz.  And This is an absolute no-brainer. Nobody has ever played a charming monster as masterfully as Waltz did in this film, in four languages no less.

Best Supporting Actress

The Nominees:

  • Vera Farmiga, "Up in the Air"
  • Mo'Nique, "Precious"
  • Anna Kendrick, "Up in the Air"
  • Penelope Cruz, "Nine"
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal, "Crazy Heart"

Who Will/Should Win:  Monique

If you look at the Oscars like a horse race (which it is), Monique’s role kind of played out like this: She stayed at the head of the pack for most of the movie, masterfully controlling her monster of a character with Kathy Bates in Misery-like terror. Then, when she hit her final monologue, she took off like Secretariat at the Belmont and absolutely dusted everybody.

Best Director

The Nominees:

  • Quentin Tarantino, "Inglourious Basterds"
  • Kathryn Bigelow, "The Hurt Locker"
  • James Cameron, "Avatar"
  • Lee Daniels, "Precious: Based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
  • Jason Reitman, "Up in the Air"

Who Will Win:  Kathryn Bigelow

This was a close race for awhile between Cameron and Bigelow, but the buzz has swung Bigelow's way mightily in the last few weeks, and she's actually approaching lock status.  It's a help that Cameron has endorsed her to win.

Who Should Win: Quentin Tarantino

Just like his brilliant screenplay, Tarantino’s direction is incredibly tight. He manages to never let his story lose momentum despite the myriad plots he introduces and the crazy digressions the film takes. All that, plus the extreme suspense he creates in each chapter and the quality of performances he coaxed out from top to bottom. This is a masterwork.

Best Picture

The Nominees:

  • "Avatar"
  • "The Hurt Locker"
  • "Precious: Based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
  • "Up in the Air"
  • "Inglourious Basterds"
  • "Up"
  • "The Blind Side"
  • "District 9"
  • "An Education"
  • "A Serious Man"

What Will Win: "The Hurt Locker"

This is a very tight three-way race between "Avatar", "The Hurt Locker" and "Inglorious Basterds".

You know it's tight when the biggest film of all time is the third most likely to win.  Why so low?  Because while "Avatar" may top a lot of ballots, there are going to be just as many casting a backlash vote, and putting far down their lists.  That means it probably won't pick up as many votes as "Basterds" and "Locker" during the elimination process and will ultimately come up short, though not by much.

It could be going out on a limb to include "Basterds" in the top three, but if there's one thing the Weinsteins do well, it's run an Oscar campaign - and when they say they're going to get "Basterds" a win, I believe them.  This film is not only going to top a lot of ballots, but will probably be second and third on the ballots of eliminated pictures as well.  It's got a real shot at winning - this is very tight among the top three.

Having said all that, it still looks like "The Hurt Locker's" race to lose.  This is a film everyone will have in their top three so it will be helped by the elimination process greatly.  And don't let the meager box office fool you - everyone in the industry has seen this movie and seems to love it.

What Should Win: "Inglorious Basterds"

This was essentially a perfect movie. It flowed seamlessly, each scene built on its predecessor, and every character was drawn with richness and depth. There simply wasn’t a hair out of place on its cinematic scalp – making it a blast to watch the whole way through.

And Now, The Lightning Round!

Best Original Screenplay:

Will/Should: "Inglorious Basterds"

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Will Win: "Up in the Air"

Should Win: "In The Loop"

Best Animated Feature:

Will/Should Win: “Up”

Best Original Song:

Will/Should Win: “The Weary Kind” from “Crazy Heart”

Best Cinematography:

Will Win: “Avatar”

Should Win: “The White Ribbon”

Best Film Editing:

Will Win: “The Hurt Locker”

Should Wind: “Inglorious Basterds”

Best Art Direction:

Will Win: “Avatar”

Should Win: “Sherlock Holmes”

Best Visual Effects:

Will/Should Win: “Avatar”

Best Makeup:

Will/Should Win: “Star Trek”

Best Original Score:

Will/Should Win: “Up”

Best Sound Editing:

Will/Should Win: “Avatar”

Best Sound Mixing:

Will/Should Win: “Avatar”

Best Costume Design:

Will Win: “The Young Victoria”

Should Win: “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

And, now, Part II – Featuring films I haven’t seen and therefore I cannot have an opinion on whether or not they should win.

Best Foreign Language Film:

Will Win: Un Prophete

Best Documentary Feature:

Will Win: “The Cove”

Best Animated Short:

Will Win: “A Matter of Loaf and Death”

Best Live Action Short:

Will Win: “The Door”

Best Documentary, Short Subject:

Will Win: “China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province”

That’s it for the predictions.  Check back Monday for our Mega-Oscar Diary and see how I did.

Story by Andrew Payne

Starpulse contributing writer