We have seen the future...and it's time to take our crystal ball in for a tune-up. With some of the tightest races in recent memory, the 71st annual Academy Awards has even the most seasoned prognosticators playing 52 pickup with their tarot decks. Despite the cloudiness, we've managed to sift through the hoopla of critics' prizes, secondary awards shows, and straight-up politics to fearlessly predict the fates of Gwyneth Paltrow, Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Billy Bob Thornton, Shakespeare, and the rest of the nominees in all 24 categories. Should the events of March 21, 1999 surprise the entire world, we'll throw up our hands like the rest of you. But should we prove uncannily correct, you know where to send a cut of those Oscar-pool winnings.
For Her: Elizabeth may have its detractors, but there's virtual unanimity that her fiery, intelligent, nuanced portrayal of the Virgin Queen is the best thing about the movie and heralds a major new talent.
Against Her: If the Shakespeare in Love juggernaut extends to Gwyneth Paltrow, Blanchett could be demoted to lady-in-waiting.
For Her: Unknown in the U.S. a year ago, the veteran Brazilian stage and TV actress took home a bushel of critics' prizes as the hard-bitten, softhearted ex-schoolteacher of Central Station. If Paltrow and Blanchett end up splitting the vote, she could sneak through.
Against Her: If Paltrow and Blanchett end up splitting the vote, one of them could still win.
For Her: With her vibrant, versatile performance in Shakespeare in Love, she erased her tempest-in-a-tabloid rep and cemented her cred as a leading American actress. Extra points for the accent and the scenes in drag.
Against Her: She's 26, beautiful, dated Brad Pitt and Ben Affleck...do the words ''Too much too soon'' mean anything?
For Her: The category is called Best Actress. She's had two wins and 11 nominations in 20 years (the latest for her knockout dying-mom turn in One True Thing). Put simply, there's no one better.
Against Her: Forget the competition: Streep's foe is her own daunting Oscar history. To get a third award, she may have to wait...and wait...and wait.
For Her: She proved that her performance in 1996's Breaking the Waves was no fluke by winning her second nomination in three years, as the high-strung musical genius Jacqueline du Pre in Hilary and Jackie.
Against Her: Given the tantrums-and-tiaras emoting of conominees Blanchett and Paltrow, it's probably not her year.
The Lowdown: Paltrow's British accent seems poised to beat out Blanchett's.