Simply by virtue of being the last televised precursor stop en route to the Academy Awards, the BAFTA Awards attract far more eyeballs, and provoke far more speculation, than they would at any other point in the calendar -- as an Oscar bellwether, they're somehow as encouraging to win as they are irrelevant to lose.

On the occasions that they anticipate sharp left-turns in the Oscar race -- Marion Cotillard and Tilda Swinton's wins in 2007, Roman Polanski's out-of-nowhere triumph in 2002 -- people look back and credit the Brits for their influence. On the occasions they go off on their own, often parochial, tangent -- Colin Firth and Carey Mulligan's wins in 2009, for example -- people shrug their shoulders and say, "What did you expect? It's the BAFTAs." 

This year, BAFTA seems poised precisely between those two courses of prediction and self-assertion: between the two leading nominees, "The Artist" and "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," they can either rubber-stamp the all-but-assured Oscar champion or defensively side with their own neglected pet. Recent BAFTA history points to the former option as the likelier one. For the last three years running, they've sided with the eventual Oscar winner -- even if, on two of those occasions, they got to keep the home fires burning in the process.

The Best British Film award gives BAFTA voters the get-out clause of exporting their top trophy while still handing a major honor to the home favorite. Formerly an award that routinely recognized offbeat independent fare over nomination-guzzling prestige items (see the victories of "This Is England" over "Atonement," or "Fish Tank" over "An Education," as examples), this consolation prize has been defanged now that BAFTA has ditched the select jury that used to choose the winner, and handed the task instead to the general membership: as they automatically check off 11-time nominee "Tinker, Tailor" in the British race, many voters will thus feel liberated to succumb to the suave charms of the French silent.

BAFTA voters have also been offered an easy outlet for their national pride in the Best Actress category -- look for Meryl Streep, an honorary Brit this year for her pointed Maggie Thatcher impression, to beat comfortable Oscar frontrunner Viola Davis, even if the voters felt sufficiently cowed by US hype to nominate "The Help" for Best Picture, in spite of its tepid commercial and critical reception on this side of the pond.

More telling, however, will be their choice in the Best Actor race, currently the most malleable of Oscar fields. Gary Oldman's recently mooted uptick in the race pretty much lives or dies by his countrymen's vote on Sunday; it seems likelier, however, that they'll shadow SAG, and thereby foreshadow Oscar, by indulging their Jean Dujardin crush. And if it seems vulgar to relate BAFTA's choices on Sunday directly to the Oscar derby, without even the briefest pause to consider their own prestige -- well, they're the ones who moved their show to mid-February.

With that, my picks and tips for Sunday's ceremony:

Best Film
Will win: "The Artist"
Should win: "Drive"

Best British Film
Will win: "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"
Should win: "We Need to Talk About Kevin"

Best Director
Will win: Michel Hazanavicius, "The Artist"
Should win: Lynne Ramsay, "We Need to Talk About Kevin"

Best Actor
Will and should win: Jean Dujardin, "The Artist"

Best Actress
Will win: Meryl Streep, "The Iron Lady"
Should win: Tilda Swinton, "We Need to Talk About Kevin"

Best Supporting Actor
Will win: Kenneth Branagh, "My Week With Marilyn"
Should win: Christopher Plummer, "Beginners"

Best Supporting Actress
Will win: Octavia Spencer, "The Help"
Should win: Jessica Chastain, "The Help"

Best Original Screenplay
Will and should win: "The Artist"

Best Adapted Screenplay
Will and should win: "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"

Best Foreign Language Film
Will and should win: "A Separation"

Best Documentary
Will and should win: "Senna"

Best Animated Film
Will win: "The Adventures of Tintin"
Should win: "Rango"

Best Art Direction
Will and should win: "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"

Best Cinematography
Will win: "The Artist"
Should win: "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"

Best Costume Design
Will win: "Jane Eyre"
Should win: "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"

Best Film Editing
Will win: "Senna"
Should win: "Drive"

Best Makeup
Will win: "The Iron Lady"
Should win: "The Artist"

Best Music
Will win: "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"
Should win: "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

Best Sound
Will win: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2"
Should win: "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"

Best Visual Effects
Will win: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2"
Should win: "The Adventures of Tintin"

Best British Debut
Will and should win: Paddy Considine, "Tyrannosaur"

Rising Star Award
Will and should win: Chris O'Dowd 

Remember to keep track of the ups and downs of the 2011-2012 film awards season via The Circuit

For more views on movies, awards season and other pursuits, follow @GuyLodge on Twitter.

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