Hollywood's biggest night of the year is almost here. Film critics seem certain about who will win Oscar gold. But the night could hold some surprises. Here are a few that could make the 84th Academy Awards on CTV something to remember.

Five sure bets

The Artist leads the pack for Best Picture

When "The Artist" screened at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, no one could have predicted that a silent, black-and-white tale set in 1920s Hollywood would become an Oscar contender. But this underdog film from French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius became the surprise success of the year, winning three Golden Globes, a Screen Actors Guild award and a whopping seven BAFTAs.

Some may call it luck. Others might say that "The Artist's" story about a silent film superstar (Jean Dujardin) whose fame fades pays homage to Hollywood's glory days. But there's one other reason why this comic melodrama has become a favourite to win an Academy Award for Best Picture.

In today's age of economic uncertainty, where millions of people have lost their jobs and their hopes for the future, seeing Dujardin's character lose everything feels real to modern moviegoers.

When he walks the streets, looking in windows and imagining what he once was, moviegoers who have seen their own careers crumble know what is in this man's heart. That connection is what will earn "The Artist" an Oscar for Best Picture.

Long shot we'd like to see:

According to the buzz on Twitter, the Woody Allen romcom "Midnight in Paris" is the film fans are rooting for to win Best Picture. However, what flies with fans and Oscar voters are two different things. Charming though it may be, "Midnight in Paris" lacks the originality and daring of "The Artist." Only "The Tree of Life" can top that claim, though its odds of winning are 33/1 according to the British betting giant William Hill. Call it weird or wonderful, if you will. But Terrence Malick's film is an experience. That's what Oscar winners should be.

And the Best Actor prize will go to…George Clooney

George Clooney is a charming guy. But charm has little to do with Clooney's frontrunner status in this year's Oscar race for Best Actor. Clooney ditches every trace of his superstar self in "The Descendants," the poignant drama from director Alexander Payne. He becomes, instead, an ordinary Joe with real problems that millions of people can understand. His wife is in hospital and is about to die. He's failed as a husband and father. His life is lying in the proverbial trash heap. Yet somehow, this shaken, uncertain man musters up the courage to see him through. It's not the man of action we're used to seeing from Clooney. But the risk Clooney takes in "The Descendants" reveals a new range to moviegoers -- and to Oscar voters. That should carry Clooney on to his second Oscar win for Best Actor.

Long shots we'd like to see:

Gary Oldman and Demián Bichir may not be Hollywood titans such as Clooney and Brad Pitt. But if either one of these actors walked off with an Oscar for Best Actor it would be a well-deserved win. Moviegoers always know they're watching Clooney and Pitt on screen. By contrast, Oldman melts away into the figure of a world-weary secret agent in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." Mexican film star Bichir also dissolves into his role of an East L.A. gardener in the drama, "A Better Life." Bichir puts a real, human face on the struggle of illegal immigrants and tears our hearts out with his portrayal of a Mexican father trying to raise his wayward son.

Meryl Streep -- a winner again

Meryl Streep may have lost her Golden Globe for Best Actress to Viola Davis earlier this year. But it will be time for payback on Oscar night.

As deserving as Davis was for her performance in "The Help," Streep's a shoo-in to win thanks to her bigger-than-life portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady." At 62, Streep has received 17 Oscar nominations and won two awards. That kind of Hollywood credibility should prove too powerful for Davis to beat.

Long shot we'd like to see:

The Glenn Close film "Albert Nobbs" may have been shortchanged by critics. Close, too, has clearly been overshadowed by Streep and Davis in this year's race for Best Actress. But make no mistake: Close's portrayal of a woman living as a man in 19th-century Ireland is superb. She may lack Streep's Oscar track record and Davis's momentum. The 64-year-old actress may also lack the obvious sex appeal of Best Actress rivals Michelle Williams ("My Week with Marilyn") and Rooney Mara ("The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"). But Close's acting chops in this movie are Oscar worthy.

Christopher Plummer -- an Oscar winner at last

At 82, an Oscar would cap an illustrious career for Canadian actor Christopher Plummer. A win for Best Supporting Actor is practically a done deal for Plummer, who delivered a subtle, yet brave performance in "Beginners." In the film, Plummer portrayed a man in his seventies who comes out of the closet to his son (Ewan McGregor). It's a long-time coming, to be sure. But a win would put Plummer's name into the history books, making him the oldest actor in Oscar's history to walk off with this prize.

Long shot we'd like to see:

By slipping into this year's race, Max von Sydow has earned a long-overdue Oscar nomination. He's also presented Christopher Plummer with some unexpected competition. At 82, von Sydow's career has been just as venerable as Plummer's, including such iconic films as "The Seventh Seal" and "The Exorcist." At 20/1 odds, von Sydow's win would stun North American moviegoers. But it would come as not surprise to his fans.

Michel Hazanavicius -- the man to beat for Best Director

Movie critics can be wrong. But according to the experts at the Los Angeles Times, Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, Indie Wire and The Gold Derby, French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius will win this year's Academy Award for Best Director.

That prediction is a logical one, given Hollywood's love affair with the silent film, "The Artist."

Buoyed by recent award show wins, "The Artist" will, most likely, become the only silent film to win an Oscar for Best Picture in the last 83 years.

That momentum should be strong enough to carry Hazanavicius -- a filmmaker known for spy parodies – to the Oscar podium.

Long shot we'd like to see:

It's hard to imagine Woody Allen as a long shot in any filmmaking contest. Even so, Allen is at the back of the pack next to Hazanavicius, Martin Scorsese ("Hugo"), Terrence Malick ("The Tree of Life") and Alexander Payne ("The Descendants"). Allen's odds of winning this race are 50/1 according to the British betting giant William Hill.

Allen's romcom, "Midnight in Paris," boasts none of Malick's intellectual grandeur in "The Tree of Life," or Scorsese's adoration of cinema in "Hugo." Its power lies in Allen's wistful commentary on life. That just might be enough to earn Allen a surprise victory and his second Oscar for Best Director since "Annie Hall."