We begin the first of our category previews with two of Oscar’s more artistic awards. In years past, Art Direction and Costume Design have been among the easier categories to predict. There are several reasons for this. First of all, the same film almost always wins both. For five years running, this has been the case, a fairly amazing trend. Secondly, these awards are likely to get swept up by an epic, such as “The Aviator” or “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.” There have been few upsets throughout the years in these two categories, although you never know when will be a first. Let’s take a closer look.

For Best Achievement in Art Direction this year, the nominees are:

“The Good Shepherd”
“Pan’s Labyrinth”
“Pirates of the Carribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”
“The Prestige”

This race boils down to “Dreamgirls” and “Pan’s Labyrinth” and could be one of the closer contests of the evening. At first glance, “Dreamgirls” has got to be your favorite. It’s a musical and musicals have historically fared well in this category. Both “Chicago” and “Moulin Rouge” won in their respective years. But “Pan’s Labyrinth” has a shot for a simple reason. The Art Direction award is broken down into two components: art direction (which refers mostly to style) and set direction. “Pan’s Labyrinth” has some of the most creative and imaginative sets we’ve seen in a movie in years. It possesses some of the same feel as “Sleepy Hollow,” which also won Art Direction many, many years ago. If voters get tired of musicals and feel like embracing something different, it is certainly a worthy selection.

So what will be the difference maker? Generally, the more traditionally artistic films (as in musicals, costume dramas) have prevailed over fantasy pictures. The first two “Lords of the Rings” failed to win this category despite having incredible sets. Same goes for “Gangs of New York.” That was a more of a historical period piece, but it also featured amazing sets, but eventually lost out to “Chicago.” We’ll go with the frontrunner for now, but this is a category we’ll likely revisit.

Our Pick – “Dreamgirls”

Moving on to Costume Design, this one may be a little less complicated. Here is your list of nominees.

“Curse of the Golden Flower”
“The Devil Wears Prada”
“Marie Antoinette”
“The Queen”

If you go back to 1999, you’ll remember that “Shakespeare in Love” took home costume design, so that might be a positive sign for “The Queen.” But in all likelihood here, there is no competing with “Dreamgirls.” The sheer volume of costumes featured in “Dreamgirls” may be enough to convince some voters that the designers are deserving. As with Art Direction, recent musicals have never lost Costume Design and since the “Dreamgirls'” duds are more than impressive, we think the award swings their way. As a final consideration, we think that with “Marie Antoinette” (a royal period piece) also nominated in this category, the possibility of a split vote with “The Queen” dooms both of their chances.

Our Pick – “Dreamgirls”

Well, if you’re keeping count at home, that’s two (projected) wins for “Dreamgirls” with six more nominations to go. How many more can they take down? We shall see.