(Welcome to the Oscar Guide, your chaperone through the Academy’s 24 categories awarding excellence in film.  A new installment will hit every weekday in the run-up to the Oscars on February 24, with the Best Picture finale on Friday, February 22.)

FINALLY! The music branch smartened up about this category, changed its rules and put together five entirely respectable nominees. Two major Best Picture contenders with prominently placed songs managed to score, as did a haunting new tune for a documentary, the sultry and epic opening credits title song to a major franchise movie and the cute, somewhat tongue-in-cheek opening credits title song to a comedy about a potty-mouthed, pot-smoking teddy bear.

Old favorites such as Paul Williams (“Still Alive” from “Paul Williams: Still Alive”) and Dolly Parton (“From Here to the Moon and Back” from “Joyful Noise”) must be disappointed to miss the cut. Ditto for a big younger star like Keith Urban (“For You” from “Actor of Valor”). But perhaps the most obvious surprising omission is Ennio Morricone and Elisa for “Ancora Qui” from “Django Unchained”; who knows if there will be a chance to honor Morricone again? But this category has a heavy favorite, and justly so. An upset would be disconcerting to a lot of people, for a lot of reasons.

The nominees are…

Before My Time” from “Chasing Ice” (Music and Lyric by J. Ralph)
Suddenly” from “Les Misérables” (Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg; Lyric by Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boubil)
“Pi’s Lullaby” from “Life of Pi” (Music by Mychael Danna; Lyric by Bombay Jayashri)
“Skyfall” from “Skyfall” (Music and Lyric by Adele Atkins and Paul Epworth)
Everybody Needs a Best Friend” from “Ted” (Music by Walter Murphy; Lyric by Seth MacFarlane)

I can’t get too excited about this category and am not losing any sleep over any omissions (like, say, Bruce Springsteen for “The Wrestler”). Even so, I for one for was sad to see Morricone miss for his song, which fit perfectly into Tarantino’s demented vision and was the best sort of homage to the great Italian composer, coming from the source himself. Also, while I didn’t think “Brave” was a great movie, I can’t deny that I thought both “Learn Me Right” and “Touch the Sky” fit in perfectly. I do love Celtic music.

J. Ralph’s nomination for “Before My Time” from “Chasing Ice” resulted in the film becoming a rare documentary to be nominated in a non-documentary category. Performed by Scarlett Johansson of all people, the song fits well into the film. But while I’d say the other three nominees have about equal chances of pulling an upset on the favorite, this very surprising nominee would become a truly shocking winner. It doesn’t have any of the factors going for it that its fellow nominees do.

Nominating Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boubil for “Suddenly” from “Les Misérables” is a great tip of the hat to their amazing accomplishments. The song also fits well into the narrative as director Tom Hooper has crafted it. But I think it’s going the way of the newly contributed songs to “Chicago” and “Dreamgirls.” There’s a mammoth hit from a major star in the running that feels like a winner for so many reasons. Plus, when people look back on the film, is this really the song they’re most going to remember?

After years on the outside looking in, hard-working Canadian Mychael Danna placed for “Pi’s Lullaby” from "Life of Pi," the song which plays over the movie’s opening credits. Interestingly, with his pair of nominations this year, he is the only contender to have more than one career nomination. (The percentage of new nominees in this category is the highest this year outside of the short categories.) Carnatic vocalist Bombay Jayashri both wrote the lyrics and performed the song. It is well-placed and the Academy clearly liked this movie so they probably have as good a chance as the “Les Mis” group to upset. But I’m not banking on an upset.

“This is the end. Hold your breath and count to ten.” As soon as Adele’s voice hits the soundtrack in “Skyfall,” you know you’re in for a great opening credits song that will set the stage for the rest of the movie. Giving an Oscar to this big hit from the private superstar seems the perfect way to acknowledge the film. To be fair, no Bond song has ever won here, despite the franchise producing such classics as “A View to a Kill,” “Live and Let Die,” “Nobody Does it Better” and “For Your Eyes Only.” But no Bond film has ever received five nominations before, either. Nor has a 50th Anniversary Tribute made a win feel so…right. The fact that Adele won both the BFCA and Golden Globe (who didn’t love that speech?) and will be performing makes her triumphing seem very likely indeed.

Frankly, if there were an upset in this category on Oscar night, I might look to “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” from “Ted.” This is not a “joke” song like, say, “Blame Canada.” But I’m of the view that it is meant to be taken in a tongue-in-cheek way given the film’s overall tone. That could result in different sets of people voting for it. Norah Jones will undoubtedly appeal to many Oscar voters, as does the chance to cite host Seth MacFarlane, to say nothing of music industry veteran Walter Murphy. But who am I kidding? We know who is winning this category.

Will Win: “Skyfall” from “Skyfall”
Could Win: “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” from “Ted”
Should Win: “Skyfall” from “Skyfall”
Should Have Been Here: “Ancora Qui” from “Django Unchained”

Skyfall

Will your jaw drop if Adele doesn’t win? What will her fans do? Do you think she deserves it? Who could snatch it away?