Perhaps I should have given each of these categories its own piece, but I don't think you can separate them, and also, we're running out of time here. Let's take cinematography first.
I don't see anyone on the list who doesn't belong, although The Artist's nom is kind of cheap, but I'd have liked to see Tinker Tailor get some photography/art recognition. You could practically smell the Soviet tobacco, even watching it on a screener.
Should win: The Tree of Life
Will win: The Tree of Life
I can't say whether it's more challenging to direct actors with no audible dialogue. Hazanavicius may get extra credit for that, and various other quirks of the production. Again, that's rewarding the concept, not the execution, and I liked the execution well enough -- but Hugo's is, well, harder, and as I've said elsewhere, the results are more universally appealing. The Tree of Life…I can see the argument. It's very ambitious, it gets good performances (out of children as well), it's gorgeous, and the issues I had with it are probably at the script/editing levels. But you can say the same things about Hugo, without as many problems. But I would watch TToL again, and I don't think I would "need" to revisit Hugo. So, as always, it depends on what we think should be rewarded here. I'd be very surprised if Malick won, but encouraged at the same time.
Woody Allen shouldn't have made this list, nor Payne -- not if they're taking a spot from David Fincher, Asghar Farhadi, or another director who wasn't so by-numbers.
Should win: Hugo
Will win: The Artist
Sarah D. Bunting co-founded Television Without Pity.com, and has written for Seventeen, New York Magazine, MSNBC.com, Salon, Yahoo!, and others. She's the chief cook and bottle-washer at TomatoNation.com. For more on how the Oscars Death Race began, click here.