And now for the main course. Or as it’s been for the last few years, the boring categories. With the exception of Best Picture, which we’ll unveil on Friday, the other major categories have been as predictable as they come. Consider this. When is the last time we had a competitive race for lead actor or actress? You would have to go three years back to 2004, when Sean Penn and Bill Murray slugged it out for Best Actor. Even the supporting categories have been a no-brainer recently, with a hint of suspense last year between golden boy George Clooney and the well-respected Paul Giamatti.

Are the heavyweight showdowns in the acting categories a thing of the past? Will we ever see another Jack Nicholson vs. Daniel Day-Lewis, Hanks vs. Crowe, or even Zellweger vs. Kidman? Perhaps if these dozens of critics groups learn to think on their own we might. We’ve mentioned this before, but does every major critics or awards expert really believe Helen Mirren is the Best Actress of the year? Where is the so-called minority report? And last but not least, where is the love for actors and actresses who choose to create characters on their own? Whitaker and Mirren played real-life individuals, much the same way past winners Jaime Foxx, Charlize Theron, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman have. Now ask yourself this, is it more difficult to do an imitation of a famous person, or create a memorable character from scratch, like Kate Winslet’s bad mother in “Little Children” or Leo DiCaprio’s cynical smuggler from “Blood Diamond?” Well, enough with the digression. Let’s get down to the predictions.

BEST ACTOR:

The nominees are Forest Whitaker, “The Last King of Scotland,” Leonardo DiCaprio, “Blood Diamond,” Ryan Gosling, “Half-Nelson,” Will Smith, “The Pursuit of Happyness,” and Peter O’Toole, “Venus.”

This award goes to Forest Whitaker, who is deserving, even though everyone is right in saying that his role is actually a supporting one. All the experts who are predicting an O’Toole victory are living in a dream world. As Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chroncile keenly noted, the Academy has stopped giving out acting awards over the age of seventy, unless it’s an honorary one.

Our pick: Forest Whitaker, “The Last King of Scotland”

BEST ACTRESS:

The nomnees are Penelope Cruz, “Volver,” Judi Dench, “Notes on a Scandal,” Helen Mirren, “The Queen,” Meryl Streep, “The Devil Wears Prada,” and Kate Winslet, “Little Children.”

Mirren wins. No further analysis necessary.

Our pick: Helen Mirren, “The Queen”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

The nominees are Alan Arkin, “Little Miss Sunshine,” Jackie Earle Haley, “Little Children,” Djimon Hounsou, “Blood Diamond,” Eddie Murphy, “Dreamgirls,” and Mark Wahlberg, “The Departed.”

Bored prognosticators have tried desperately to make a contest out of this category. But there’s no real drama. This award will go to Eddie Murphy. He’s won the Broadcast award, the Golden Globe, and the SAG. Case closed. Some think Alan Arkin has a shot because he won the BAFTA. But Murphy wasn’t even nominated by the BAFTAS, so it wasn’t a head to head win. Arkin’s role in Sunshine is so minimal that many voters may forget about him alltogether. If anything, the real alternative is Mark Wahlberg, who steals the show from the likes of Damon, DiCaprio, and Jack! But Murphy’s got too much starpower, and the backlash isn’t nearly big enough to derail this soul train.

Our pick: Eddie Murphy, “Dreamgirls”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

The nominees are Adriana Barraza, “Babel,” Cate Blanchett, “Notes on a Scandal,” Abigail Breslin, “Little Miss Sunshine,” Jennifer Hudson, “Dreamgirls,” and Rinko Kikuchi, “Babel.”

Why is Barazza nominated? She was terrible. Regardless, she’ll split the “Babel” vote with Kikuchi. Breslin seemed like a contender a month ago, but praise for “Little Miss Sunshine” has wilted since. The bottom line is, the Academy will not be able to resist giving the award to American Idol runner-up Hudson. It’s a true Cinderella story. Besides, Hudson was the driving force behind “Dreamgirls” and has won every major award to date.

Our pick: Jennifer Hudson, “Dreamgirls”

BEST DIRECTOR:

The nominees are Clint Eastwood, “Letters From Iwo Jima,” Stephen Frears, “The Queen,” Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, “Babel,” Paul Greengrass, “United 93,” and Martin Scorsese, “The Departed.”

Every single voters recognizes just how due Marty is. The fact that he’s completely refused to campaign for the award only makes him more attractive. Sure, Clint’s beat him before, as everyone will remember, but “Letters From Iwo Jima” is no “Million Dollar Baby.” It’s hardly even a “Last Samurai.” Mark our words, Marty’s your man this year and we can’t wait to see that standing ovation.

Our pick: Martin Scorsese, “The Departed”