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84th annual Academy Awards: And the Oscar should go to...

Brad Pitt is more than just an aging pretty boy with great hair and a beautiful baby mama.

He’s also one of Hollywood’s most prominent power players, a well-respected actor, producer and philanthropist with a stake in several hot properties.

This year, Pitt garnered Oscar nominations as the star and producer of the sports drama “Moneyball,” about Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane. He could have just as easily earned another nomination for his role in the sprawling arthouse epic “The Tree of Life.”

Then there’s George Clooney, who snagged an acting nod as a beleaguered father in “The Descendants.” He also helped write the Oscar-nominated screenplay for the political drama “The Ides of March,” which he directed.

Meanwhile, “Midnight in Paris” director Woody Allen and “The Artist” director Michel Hazanavicius are competing in three separate Academy Award categories: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. (Hazanavicius is also nominated as one of “The Artist’s” film editors.)

Along with Martin Scorsese, who directed and produced Best Picture nominee “Hugo,” they’ve got a good shot at some Oscar gold.

All will be decided during the Academy Awards ceremony, broadcast live from Hollywood on Feb. 26.

Below are my guesses regarding this year’s probable Oscar winners:

BEST PICTURE

With nine nominees this year, the Academy has its work cut out.

Best Picture candidates include two tributes to the silent film era (“The Artist” and “Hugo”), a sentimental equine drama (“War Horse”) and a nostalgic love letter to the City of Lights (‘‘Midnight in Paris”).

There’s also an interesting take on the business of baseball (“Moneyball”) and a coming-of-age tale that revolves around the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks (“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”).

Although “The Help,” “The Descendants” and “The Tree of Life” have their supporters, my money’s on “The Artist,” a beautifully crafted, lovingly acted portrait of the end of the silent film era.

Few films appeal so effectively to Hollywood’s sense of history.

WHO SHOULD WIN: “The Artist” WHO WILL WIN: “The Artist”

BEST DIRECTOR

Hollywood’s top directors showed some daring this year.

Famously reclusive filmmaker Terrence Malick plumbed life’s deepest mysteries in “The Tree of Life.” Woody Allen combined romantic comedy and time travel in “Midnight in Paris.”

Meanwhile, “Hugo” helmer Martin Scorsese, who’s spent most of his career crafting brutal, bloody dramas such as “The Departed” and “Raging Bull,” made a 3-D children’s movie. Even Alexander Payne ventured out of his comfort zone, heading to Hawaii for the island dramedy “The Descendants.” However, it was Michel Hazanavi cius who risked the most by filming “The Artist” in black and white without the benefit of spoken dialogue.

Making a silent movie in the 21st century? That takes guts.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Michel Hazanavicius WHO WILL WIN: Michel Hazanavicius

BEST ACTOR

Although I would have loved to see “Drive” hunk Ryan Gosling and “Shame” star Michael Fassbender nominated, there’s no denying the number of acting powerhouses in this category.

In addition to dark-horse contender Demian Bichir, a surprise standout in the immigrant drama “A Better Life,” the best actor candidates include two middleaged matinee idols (“The Descendants” dad George Clooney and “Moneyball” maven Brad Pitt), an exceptional character actor (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” star Gary Oldman), and a charming newcomer (“The Artist” leading man Jean Dujardin).

Although I loved Oldman’s turn as a mild-mannered spy, Clooney’s pitch-perfect performance in “The Descendants” prompted both laughter and tears.

Who should win: Gary Oldman Who will win: George Clooney

BEST ACTRESS

Glenn Close donned drag to portray a 19th-century waiter in “Albert Nobbs.”

Rooney Mara dyed her hair, pierced her eyebrow and dropped a few pounds to play “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Meanwhile, Michelle Williams went platinum blonde as legendary sex symbol Marilyn Monroe in “My Week with Marilyn.”

Despite their startling transformations, those actresses can’t compete with Viola Davis, who wowed critics as a Mississippi maid in the 1960s in “The Help,” and Meryl Streep, who commanded the screen as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.” (Fun fact: Both received Oscar nods for the church drama “Doubt.”)

Although Davis has a good shot, I predict perpetual nominee Streep, who previously won Oscars for “Kramer vs. Kramer” and “Sophie’s Choice,” will take home the gold.

Who should win: Viola Davis Who will win: Meryl Streep

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

I never thought I’d see Jonah Hill, better known as the fat kid from “Superbad,” nab an Oscar nomination.

Yet here he is, vying against grizzled pros like Nick Nolte, who plays the father of two fighters in “Warrior,” and Max von Sydow, who portrays a kindly New Yorker in “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.”

Hill is surprisingly strong as a statistics whiz in “Moneyball.” His performance rivals Kenneth Branagh’s terrific turn as British thespian Laurence Olivier in “My Week with Marilyn.”

However, I have to hand it to “Beginners” actor Christopher Plummer, who’s utterly charming as an elderly man who embraces his gay identity after his wife’s death.

Who should win: Christopher Plummer Who will win: Christopher Plummer

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

As much as I wish Melissa McCarthy would snag a statuette for her memorable turn in “Bridesmaids,” she’s facing some pretty stiff competition in this category.

Her competitors include Bérénice Bejo, who plays an up-and-coming starlet in “The Artist”; Janet McTeer, a housepainter with a secret in “Albert Nobbs”; and Jessica Chastain, a shunned socialite in “The Help.”

Chastain’s “Help” co-star, Octavia Spencer, demonstrates the perfect blend of toughness and tenderness as a feisty domestic worker in the civil rights era South. She’s a shoo-in for this prize.

Who should win: Melissa McCarthy Who will win: Octavia Spencer

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