A 24-karat gold Oscar statuette stands among unfinished bronze Oscar statuettes January 13, 2017 at Polich Tallix Foundary in Rock Tavern, Upstate New York. 
A stylized figure of a knight holding a crusader's sword standing on a reel of film with five spokes signifying the five original branches of the Academy (actors, directors, producers, technicians and writers) is widely considered the most prestigious cinema award trophy. / AFP / Don EMMERT        (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
DON EMMERT/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
A 24-karat gold Oscar statuette stands among unfinished bronze Oscar statuettes January 13, 2017 at Polich Tallix Foundary in Rock Tavern, Upstate New York. A stylized figure of a knight holding a crusader's sword standing on a reel of film with five spokes signifying the five original branches of the Academy (actors, directors, producers, technicians and writers) is widely considered the most prestigious cinema award trophy. / AFP / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
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(CNN) —  

The Academy Awards can be perplexing, unless you’re especially well versed in the difference between “sound editing” and “sound mixing.” But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a competitive advantage with your Oscar ballot, even if you don’t have money riding on it.

Those who really want to master an Oscar-pool ballot are advised to study earlier award shows, especially the guild honors handed out by actors, directors, writers and producers. Even then, there are categories like short films that often amount to pool tiebreakers, where the winner probably has just as good a chance by throwing darts as educated guessing.

With that in mind, here’s a handy cheat sheet on how to follow the show, and perhaps fill out a bracket (predicted winners indicated in bold). And if you don’t win, well, there’s always the NCAA basketball tournament in March. (Oh, and as simply as possible, “sound editing” refers to sounds that are created for a movie, while “mixing” describes how the various sounds are put together and assembled, including those recorded live on-set.)

BEST PICTURE

“Arrival”

“Fences”

“Hacksaw Ridge”

“Hell or High Water”

“Hidden Figures”

“La La Land”

“Lion”

“Manchester by the Sea”

“Moonlight”

Despite the inevitable “‘La La Land’ was overrated backlash,” the City of Stars – which has a history of honoring showbiz-related fare – is virtually certain to make the musical’s best-picture dreams come true.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in 'La La Land'
Dale Robinette/Lionsgate
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in 'La La Land'

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Casey Affleck in “Manchester by the Sea”

Andrew Garfield in “Hacksaw Ridge”

Ryan Gosling in “La La Land”

Viggo Mortensen in “Captain Fantastic”

Denzel Washington in “Fences”

This ranks as one of the few major categories that’s genuinely suspenseful. Affleck seemed like a sure thing early on, but controversy surrounding past sexual-harassment allegations and Washington’s showy performance in “Fences” – which he also directed – have pushed him up into serious contention. Neither would be a surprise, but the latter seems like the more likely and sentimental choice.

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Jeff Bridges in “Hell or High Water”

Mahershala Ali in “Moonlight”

Lucas Hedges in “Manchester by the Sea”

Dev Patel in “Lion”

Michael Shannon in “Nocturnal Animals”

Picking one actor from “Moonlight” is actually no mean feat, but Ali has dominated early awards and had a standout year, with his supporting role in “Hidden Figures” as well. Plus, he’s charmed voters at other awards with his acceptance speeches, which doesn’t hurt.

Mahershala Ali in 'Moonlight'
David Bornfriend
Mahershala Ali in 'Moonlight'

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Isabelle Huppert in “Elle”

Ruth Negga in “Loving”

Natalie Portman in “Jackie”

Emma Stone in “La La Land”

Meryl Streep in “Florence Foster Jenkins”

There might not be a surer thing this year than Stone’s Oscar – she’s already had multiple opportunities to thank everybody – despite a strong lineup of contenders that includes Huppert’s Golden Globe win on the drama side for the controversial “Elle.”

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Nicole Kidman in “Lion”

Viola Davis in “Fences”

Naomie Harris in “Moonlight”

Octavia Spencer in “Hidden Figures”

Michelle Williams in “Manchester by the Sea”

Who can deny that Viola Davis has award winning snot? Her crying scene in “Fences” (complete with the runny nose) had Oscars written all over it. It’s not easy to share a spotlight with Denzel Washington, but Davis not only showed up for their scenes, she showed out. The other ladies in this category are extraordinary, but Davis acted her role from the top of her head to the tips of her toes and that’s also where audiences felt it.

Viola Davis in 'Fences'
david lee/paramount pictures/imdb
Viola Davis in 'Fences'

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

“Kubo and the Two Strings”

“Moana”

“My Life as a Zucchini”

“The Red Turtle”

“Zootopia”

It’s two little movies against two Disney-released blockbusters, with “Zootopia” expected to come out on top. Let’s just hope they don’t let the sloth that works at the DMV accept the award, or the Oscars will run into Tuesday.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

“Arrival”

“La La Land”

“Lion”

“Moonlight”

“Silence”

“La La Land” should take this for the opening scene alone. The way the entire film is shot treats the city of Los Angeles as an additional character. As it should.

COSTUME DESIGN

“Allied”

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”

“Florence Foster Jenkins”

“Jackie”

“La La Land”

“Fantastic

All of the nominees in this category are worthy. But the costumes in “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” were magical.

Eddie Redmayne in 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them'
warner brothers
Eddie Redmayne in 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them'

DIRECTING

“Arrival” - Denis Villeneuve

“Hacksaw Ridge” - Mel Gibson

“La La Land” - Damien Chazelle

“Manchester by the Sea” - Kenneth Lonergan

“Moonlight” - Barry Jenkins

Chazelle has received a lot of love for “La La Land” – he’s likely to receive more on Sunday. Barry Jenkins, however, could pull an upset with his deft handling of the extremely poignant, heartbreaking and raw “Moonlight.”

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

“Fire at Sea”

“I Am Not Your Negro”

“Life, Animated”

“O.J.: Made in America”

“13th”

“O.J. Made in America” managed to be as much a statement about celebrity and race relations in the United States as it was about a high profile murder case. It was incredibly compelling and almost literary in its storytelling. The doc deserves an Oscar.

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)

“Extremis”

“4.1 Miles”

“Joe’s Violin”

“Watani: My Homeland”

“The White Helmets”

The short doc about the Syrian Civil Defense, otherwise known as the White Helmets, has been touted as a frontrunner since almost the beginning. There couldn’t be more drama than a story about a group of people who rush in after bombing to try and rescue survivors.

FILM EDITING

“Arrival”

“Hacksaw Ridge”

“Hell or High Water”

“La La Land”

“Moonlight”

Assuming that “La La Land” has a big night, it figures to clean up in most of these technical categories, and has already earned honors from the editors’ guild.

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

“Land of Mine”

“A Man Called Ove”

“The Salesman”

“Tanna”

“Toni Erdmann”

An interesting category, and potentially one of the night’s most political ones. Based on critical praise, Germany’s “Toni Erdmann” would be the odds-on favorite. But President Trump’s travel ban has thrust Iran’s “The Salesman” into the news, with the director’s decision to boycott the ceremony.

A scene from 'Toni Erdmann'
Sony Pictures Classics
A scene from 'Toni Erdmann'

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

“A Man Called Ove”

“Star Trek Beyond”

“Suicide Squad”

Have you seen the Swedish film “A Man Called Ove?” Most of the academy probably hasn’t either. So “Star Trek” beams up the award, aided in no small part by the fact people must have admired the makeup in “Suicide Squad” better than most of them liked the movie.

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)

“Jackie”

“La La Land”

“Lion”

“Moonlight”

“Passengers”

As Oscar equations go, a no-brainer: Best picture + musical = best score.

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

“Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” from “La La Land”

“Can’t Stop The Feeling” from “Trolls”

“City Of Stars” from “La La Land”

“The Empty Chair” from “Jim: The James Foley Story”

“How Far I’ll Go” from “Moana”

Although there’s a way-outside chance that the two nominations from “La La Land” could split the vote, “City of Stars” is the odds-on favorite. That said, parents with young kids can testify just how hard it is to get “How Far I’ll Go” out of their heads.