The craft awards often don't get enough attention from the media, but this year a number of the races deserve the spotlight, mostly because they are just too close to place money on.  Two exceptions, however, are art direction and make up where it will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen the nominations list already that those statues are already earmarked for "Avatar" and "Star Trek" respectively.  As for cinematography and costume design?  That's another matter entirely.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

A tough one. Through year-end critics' awards and Oscar precursor shows, not one single film has dominated the cinematography race even though the nominees themselves have been amazingly consistent.  Christian Berger's work on "The White Ribbon" won the American Society of Cinematographer's Award, but Barry Ackroyd and "The Hurt Locker" won the BAFTA while Maurice Fiore's "Avatar" was honored with the Critics' Choice Award. Now, you can easily debate who should win this category on merits alone.  Purists will say "Ribbon" or "Locker" deserve it for the intricate skill in their lighting and camerawork, but there is a strong contingent who believe Fiore's contributions were integral to allow director James Cameron to create the world of "Avatar."  Fiore is lucky here, because the entire Academy can vote for this one and the drumbeat for "Avatar" is so strong they will easily check the film off as they go down their ballot.  It may seem surprising to simplify a vote that way, but sometimes it really is that easy.  However, if "Locker" ends up winning this early award, it could also mean Best Picture is in its sight as well. So, happily, this one actually means something to more than the D.P's in question.

The nominees:

“Avatar” Mauro Fiore
“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” Bruno Delbonnel
“The Hurt Locker” Barry Ackroyd
“Inglourious Basterds” Robert Richardson
“The White Ribbon” Christian Berger

Who Will Win: "Avatar"
Who Should Win: "The Hurt Locker"
Upset Contender: "The Hurt Locker," but it's so close it really wouldn't be a shocker.  Now, if "Ribbon" wins?  Considering how few in the Academy have actually seen the foreign language contender?  That would be a real surprise.

BEST ART DIRECTION

Like visual effects this year, even having a race for art direction is a little unfair to all the nominees but "Avatar."  Cameron and his team of Rich Carter, Robert Stromberg and Kim Sinclair literally created a brand new world from nothing.  Moreover, they convinced audiences across the globe it could be real.  That's no small feat.  The work in "Parnassus," "Sherlock Holmes," "Nine" and "Young Victoria" is all award-worthy, but this year they face landmark competition that will be truly difficult to beat.

The nominees are:

“Avatar” Art Direction: Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg; Set Decoration: Kim Sinclair
“The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” Art Direction: Dave Warren and Anastasia Masaro; Set Decoration: Caroline Smith
“Nine” Art Direction: John Myhre; Set Decoration: Gordon Sim
“Sherlock Holmes” Art Direction: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
The Young Victoria” Art Direction: Patrice Vermette; Set Decoration: Maggie Gray

Who Will Win:
"Avatar"
Who Should Win: "Avatar"
Upset Contenders: "Sherlock Holmes" or "Nine," but only in an alternate universe.


BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Oh my, we have a race!  There is certainly no clear frontrunner in this year's costumes competition.  Sandy Powell's "Young Victoria" and Monique Prudhome's "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" split the Costume Designer's Guild Awards, but they face two-time Oscar winner Colleen Atwood's work in "Nine" and four-time nominee Janet Patterson's return with "Bright Star."  What makes things even more difficult is that both "Star" and "Victoria" are the sort of period films Academy members seem to gravitate too, even if the work isn't that exemplary.  Case in point?  Last year's winner Michael O'Connor for "The Duchess." Is 18th Century period costume that difficult? Not really (dirty little secret, many of the costumes come from previous productions and warehouses), but considering the two previous winners were "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" and "Marie Antoinette" you can see a pattern developing here.  That's why, the safe bet is two-time winner Powell for "Victoria."  Yawn.

The nominees are:

“Bright Star” Janet Patterson
“Coco Before Chanel” Catherine Leterrier
“The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” Monique Prudhomme
“Nine” Colleen Atwood
“The Young Victoria” Sandy Powell

Who Will Win: Powell for "The Young Victoria"
Who Should Win: Leterrier for "Coco Before Chanel"
Upset Contender: The beloved Atwood could certainly sneak by on the strength of her notoriety in the industry.  Patterson should have already won at least once, but its unclear how many members realize this is her fourth nomination.

BEST MAKE UP

It's true Trekkers, J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek" is going to win an Academy Award.  And while many fans held out hope the popular summer flick could sneak into the Best Picture race, it appears make up is where its Oscar moment will occur.  Why you ask?  Well, let's just say the competition isn't that impressive or well known.  Most members will have no clue what "Il Divo" is and if this journalist can't remember any special makeup moments in "Victoria," will the Academy?  No, updated Romulans, Vulcans and space critters should give Kirk and Spock their Oscar moment.



The nominees are:

“Il Divo” Aldo Signoretti and Vittorio Sodano
“Star Trek” Barney Burman, Mindy Hall and Joel Harlow
“The Young Victoria” Jon Henry Gordon and Jenny Shircore

Who Will Win: "Star Trek"
Who Should Win: "Star Trek"
Upset Contender: There really isn't one. Really.

All Academy Award predictions will be posted by mid-day Friday.  For previous predictions, click the links below.

Best Original Score, Best Original Song

Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Screenplay

Supporting Actor

Supporting Actress

Best Director

Best Editing


Best Animated Feature, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Documentary Feature

Live Action, Animated and Documentary Shorts
*Upcoming

Actor
Thursday, March 4

Actress
Thursday, March 4

Picture, Sound
Friday, March 5
 

For a list of all the 82nd Academy Award nominees, click here.

For the latest Oscar and Entertainment news, follow Gregory Ellwood on Twitter @HitFixGregory.