Well, it all comes down to this. Our prediction for the biggest award of the night, in the most closely contested Best Picture race in decades. Over the past few weeks, we have narrowed it down to “Little Miss Sunshine” and “The Departed.” We have considered everything that has occurred throughout this awards’ season. We have analyzed past trends and consulted with other experts and insiders in the industry. This is what we have arrived at. You may be surprised.

First, let’s do a quick review of what has transpired this year. This should really put things in perspective. From the summer of 2006, the frontrunner appeared to be “Dreamgirls.” Thanks for a 20 minute clip at Cannes, it became the talk of the town. All the way into December, it remained the film to beat, that is, until the National Board of Review announced their top ten list. “Letters From Iwo Jima” took down the top prize and then a week later, triumphed at the LA Film Critics Awards. Suddenly, it became a three way logjam at the top among “Dreamgirls,” “Letters,” and “The Departed,” which was probably the best reviewed film of the year up to that point.

“The Departed” gained momentum a week later by taking Best Picture from the Broadcast Awards, but a few days later, “Babel,” edged it out at the Golden Globe awards, officially making this the most unpredictable race in ages. Everyone widely anticipated the Guilds, which would hopefully shed some light on the entire picture. In early 2007, the PGA came back with “Little Miss Sunshine” winning its big award. Wow. Suddenly, it became the talk of the town. Could such a small indie film with a minuscule budget that seemingly came out of nowhere actually win Best Picture? Meanwhile, “Letters From Iwo Jima” was shut out from all the Guilds, making its winning prospects seem less and less likely.

Finally, the Oscar nominations came out. “Dreamgirls” got the most nominations, but amazingly and outrageously, no nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. For the first time in as long as we could remember, there was no definitive frontrunner. Expert consensus seemed to have “The Departed,” “Babel,” and “Little Miss Sunshine” a step above the rest, but really, it seemed like any of the five could win. It would all depend on the campaigns and the next few weeks.

The first major break was the SAG Awards, where “Little Miss Sunshine” won the ensemble award. Now the buzz around “Sunshine” was intensifying, since last year’s winner “Crash” also captured the same award. The ads for “Sunshine” also seemed fresh and creative, focusing on the iconic symbol of the little yellow bus and highlighting the film’s subtle themes of individuality and humanity. “Sunshine” became the clear frontrunner and many experts predicted it for the the win.

Not much happened in the next week, except “The Queen” seemed to pick up traction, thanks to a prestigious and ubiquitous campaign from Miramax. Using images of Princess Diana and portraying the film as a showcase of the relationship between Tony Blair AND the Queen seemed to be a brilliant tactic. For some reason, “Letters” still was not generating much talk. It just appeared that very few people had actually seen the film.

In the last two weeks, there was a noticeable shift in the buzz from “Sunshine” to “Babel” and “The Departed.” People started getting more serious. They questioned whether a quirky comedy like “Sunshine” could actually be crowned Best Picture. A timely DVD release on the part of “The Departed” and a huge advertising campaign in its promotion seemed to lift its profile. “The Queen” triumphed at the BAFTAS, but did not sweep as many categories as many experts thought it would. “Babel” and “The Departed” tied for the ACE Eddie award (for editing), the last big indicator for Best Picture.

So here we are. There are many questions and considerations and we have tried to sort through most of them. First of all, when do most Academy voters turn in their ballots? A lot of people believe it’s in the first week or so. If this is the case, the race is over and “Little Miss Sunshine” is your winner. But because this year was unusually close and interest in the race seemed to be at an all-time high, we’re guessing that many people held off until later.

The next question is, did “Babel” and “The Departed” split the anti-“Sunshine” vote? This is a HUGE point here. Remember, “Little Miss Sunshine” really did become the frontrunner shortly after the nominations came out. That means, for it to lose, another film must become the alternative. We think the “Sunshine” phenomenon faded, but if both “Babel” and “The Departed” came out equally strong, then it’s moot. “Sunshine” takes it anyway. This is a really, really close call, but we ultimately believe the support for “Babel” was overhyped, therefore “The Departed” got most of those votes.

The final question is, how big is the love for Martin Scorsese? Because when it all comes down to it, he may be the biggest factor in this year’s race. If voters are undecided about Best Picture and think it’s a toss-up, they might as well check off “The Departed” after checking Scorsese’s name for Best Director. Is this the kind of scenario that unfolded at a significant rate? We’ll answer that question shortly.

Let us be clear about something. Contrary to what everyone on the internet and all these Oscar experts are saying, “The Departed” is not the frontrunner. Read our lips, it’s not. It’s a violent, vulgar film, that’s a remake of a Hong Kong action thriller, that ultimately has no real grand theme or message. It appeals pre-dominantly to men. Sure, it’s extremely well done and entertaining, but it doesn’t feel like a Best Picture winner. “Sunshine,” on the other hand, has that special Oscar quality to it. It’s heartwarming, it’s got some terrific emotional scenes, and it’s about something we can all relate to. It’s about the world we live in, where people judge each other so much based on traditional notions of success and failure. And it tells us that we shouldn’t give a damn about all that. We should be ourselves and do what we want. And we should stick together, as a family, for better or for worse.

That being said, we’re going to pick “The Departed.”

Why? Because we’re not so sure the average voter got that same message out of “Sunshine.” And we’re still wary about a film winning Best Picture when it has no director nomination. That has only happened once in Oscar history. You’ve got to respect the trends to some extent. Most of all, we’re picking “The Departed” because of Scorsese. People really seem to want to honor him this year, and the greatest way to do so is to award him Best Director AND Best Picture. If the final tally is revealed this year, we think it would be something like “The Departed” 51%, “Little Miss Sunshine” 49%. It’s that close. But all that matters is who ends up on top.

In mid-December, we predicted “The Departed” for Best Picture and we’re sticking with it. But we’ll have our fingers crossed when the envelope is opened just like you. What an incredible year it’s been. Let’s hope the show lives up to the hype and provides us with some thrilling and memorable moments. Stay tuned. Our final, FINAL predictions are revealed tomorrow.Rosemary’s Baby move