Oscar pro tips: Here’s how to tell the Best Picture winner ahead of time

We won’t know for sure what film is going to win the Academy Award for Best Picture until the final envelope is opened on Sunday night at the Dolby Theatre.

But attentive viewers should have a pretty good idea which film has the upper hand, because the first 23 categories to be handed out will be dropping plenty of clues.

At the beginning of the night, I’d say that five films have a chance to win. They are, in this approximate order of likelihood, “The Shape of Water,” “Get Out,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “Dunkirk” and “Lady Bird.”

And as the show unreels over the next three hours plus, these categories will start to tell the story:

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: If Willem Dafoe beats the favored Sam Rockwell, the chances that “Three Billboards” can win Best Picture will take a big hit.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: If Laurie Metcalf beats front runner Allison Janney (“I, Tonya”), the Best Picture hopes for “Lady Bird” will get a definite boost.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: “Get Out,” “Lady Bird” and “Three Billboards” all need to win this. Whichever one does is still in the Best Picture game; the other two are in trouble. If “Shape of Water” wins, it’s over.

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Oscars 2018: Best Actor and Actress Nominees
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Oscars 2018: Best Actor and Actress Nominees
Sally Hawkins for "The Shape of Water"
Frances McDormand for "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"
Margot Robbie for "I, Tonya"
Saoirse Ronan for "Lady Bird"
Meryl Streep for "The Post"
Timothee Chalamet for "Call Me By Your Name"
Daniel Day-Lewis for "Phantom Thread"
Daniel Kaluuya for "Get Out"
Gary Oldman for "Darkest Hour"
Denzel Washington for "Roman J. Israel, Esq."
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BEST FILM EDITING: “Dunkirk” will probably win — and if it doesn’t, its chances of scoring an upset Best Picture victory are probably dead. If “Three Billboards” wins, on the other hand, its chances of winning Best Picture will get a lot better.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY, BEST FILM EDITING, BEST COSTUME DESIGN: “The Shape of Water” can increase its chances of winning Best Picture with upset wins in any of these categories.

BEST SOUND EDITING, BEST SOUND MIXING: If “The Shape of Water” wins one of these categories, it’s probably winning Best Picture. If it wins both of them, it’s definitely winning Best Picture.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: If “Dunkirk” beats “The Shape of Water” for original score, that’ll be a sign that it could do the same for picture.

BEST ACTOR: If Daniel Kaluuya somehow scores an upset victory over Gary Oldman, look for “Get Out” to win Best Picture.

BEST DIRECTOR: If anybody other than Guillermo del Toro wins, “The Shape of Water” will lose Best Picture. But to what?

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Prettiest Oscars dresses of all time
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Prettiest Oscars dresses of all time
Cate Blanchett in Armani (2016) 
Jennifer Lawrence in Dior (2016) 
Amy Adams in Oscar de La Renta (2013)
Audrey Hepburn in Givenchy (1954)
Lupita Nyong'o in Prada (2014)
Anne Hathaway in Giorgio Armani (2009)
Nicole Kidman in Armani (2017)
Reese Witherspoon in Tom Ford (2015) 
Octavia Spencer in Tadashi Shoji (2012)
Sarah Jessica Parker in Dior (2009)
Naomi Watts in Armani (2016)
Reese Witherspoon in Dior (2006)
Grace Kelly in Edith Head (1955) 
Julia Roberts in Valentino (2001)
Octavia Spencer in Marchesa (2017)
Gwyneth Paltrow in Ralph Lauren (1999)
Salma Hayek in Prada (2005)
Viola Davis in Armani (2017)
Cate Blanchett in Armani (2014) 
Charlize Theron in Dior (2013)
Kate Winslet in Ben de Lisi (2002)
Sandra Bullock in Alexander McQueen (2014)
Jennifer Aniston in Valentino (2009)
Cate Blanchett in Givenchy (2011)
Julianne Moore in Chanel (2015)
Naomi Watts in Armani Prive (2013)
Sandra Bullock in Vera Wang (2011)
Meryl Streep in Lanvin (2013)
Brie Larson in Gucci (2016)
Sandra Bullock in Marchesa (2010)
Penelope Cruz in Versace (2007)
Amy Adams in Gucci (2014)
Emma Stone in Elie Saab (2015)
Halle Berry in Versace (2017)
Julianne Moore in Chanel (2016) 
Mila Kunis in Elie Saab (2011)
Freida Pinto in John Galliano (2009)
Helen Mirren in Christian Lacroix (2007)
Jennifer Lawrence in Dior (2013)
Hilary Swank in Versace (2008)
Hilary Swank in Gucci (2011)
Halle Berry in Marchesa (2011)
Salma Hayek in Alexander McQueen (2017)
Actress Penelope Cruz in vintage Balmain (2009)
Kate Hudson in Versace (2014)
Jennifer Garner in Oscar de la Renta (2003)
Beyonce in Giorgio Armani Prive (2007)
Michelle Williams in Louis Vitton (2012)
Natalie Portman in Rodarte (2009)
Angelina Jolie in Versace (2012) 
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