With the state of the writers' strike in such flux these days, it seems kind of pointless to include the usual "The Oscars may not even happen this year, but if they do..." caveat. Let's just assume the show will be going on somehow, and if it doesn't, this will be akin to the acceptance speech that never gets read. Lost to history.
As for the usefulness of these predictions in informing your Oscar pool ballots, look: you're on your own with Best Animated Short and the indistinguishable Sound Design and Sound Editing categories (bet on Transformers in the latter two, is all I can say). But as for the categories you really care about (and a handful of the ones you don't -- hello, Best Art Direction!), here's where things stand as to who should be winning, and who will be winning.
No Country For Old Men
There Will Be Blood
Should Win: No Country For Old Men. It should be noted that this is an uncommonly strong Best Picture lineup, probably one of Oscar's best in a long time. But No Country is ultimately better scripted than Juno, more visually audacious than Michael Clayton, more lasting a contribution to the zeitgeist than Atonement, and doesn't go completely off the rails in the final act like There Will Be Blood.
Will Win: After wins at the Director's Guild, Producer's Guild, and SAG, all signs point to No Country For Old Men.
George Clooney -- Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis -- There Will Be Blood
Johnny Depp -- Sweeney Todd
Tommy Lee Jones -- In The Valley Of Elah
Viggo Mortensen -- Eastern Promises
Should Win: The alphabet has helped us out here by gathering the three strongest performances of the year right at the top. I'd be more inclined to get on board with Daniel Day-Lewis if his excesses and slobberings weren't quite so emblematic of most of my problems with There Will Be Blood. I think I'd give it to George Clooney, who unfortunately gave the best performance of his career two years after his Oscar win, so he's an afterthought this time around.
Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis. His milkshake brings all the boys to the...et cetera.
Cate Blanchett -- Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Julie Christie -- Away From Her