My co-worker decided to run an Oscar pool this year. I’m the reigning office champion, but he’s new and he’s eager to take me on. I think he got nervous when he saw everyone in the office making a pilgrimage to ask me what I was picking. The last two times we’ve done Oscar pools in the office, I’ve won.

To avoid inter-office cribbing, I’ll be keeping my picks close to the vest until my annual live-tweeting of the ceremonies. However, sites like movieretriever are handicapping the Oscars in detail to help people out.

Maybe I’ve only been lucky, and I don’t work in a big office. But in case I’m onto something, I thought I’d share some general tips…

1. See as many of the nominees as you can.

It helps to start early — and there are some movies that you probably won’t be able to see because they are released so late and so narrowly — but like an SAT question, you can improve your percentages dramatically the more answers you can rule out. And even if you still can’t decide which category the voters will pick, at least you’ll know who you’re personally rooting for.

2. Put yourself in the mental space of an average Academy voter.

Academy members are older, on average, than the general population. Many reports guess the average age to be 57, but certain categories (Animated Short Film, Live Action Short Film, Documentary Feature, Documentary Short Subject, and Foreign Language Film) can only be voted on by members who have seen all the nominated movies — so this weights the voting for those categories even further toward retirees with lots of time on their hands vs. working professionals.

The membership is made up of savvy filmmgoers, who watch a movie with an eye towards the history of cinema and the technical challenges that faced the filmmakers. While pretty much every movie job is represented among members, the largest contingent is the actors. A Best Picture choice like Crash is almost certainly aided by it being considered ‘an actor’s movie.’

3. Factor in the new voting rules.

Along with the addition of five more Best Picture nominees this year, the Academy decided to move the final vote to a preferential system.

In a preferential voting system, votes for the least popular first choice movie are eliminated and those members’ second choices are taken into account. The process continues until a nominee receives more than 50% of the votes.

Company Town

This means that polarizing movies that get lots of 1 votes and 10 votes won’t necessarily beat consensus picks that have a lot of twos and threes.

4. Star power still matters.

When a category is tough to call, I give the edge to a well-liked Hollywood insider vs. a performance from a newcomer. This rule of thumb hasn’t been perfectly true for the supporting statues, but lead roles require a certain glamor, and Hollywood’s court likes glamorous royalty.

5. Best Original Screenplay is the place to recognize quirky indies.

Juno, Little Miss Sunshine, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, ’nuff said.

6. Editing, Sound Editing and Mixing are for blockbusters.

Mostly unfairly, the Academy membership thinks bombastic action movies deserve more honors in the post-production categories. While the process for these movies may have more moving parts, it certainly doesn’t mean it’s more creative. But razzle-dazzle really counts here. Likewise with Costume Design, which frequently goes to a lush period film.

7. Visual Effects can reward Davids over Goliaths.

In recent memory this category has had some “upsets” that, in retrospect, are not upsetting. Benjamin Button beat out The Dark Knight and Iron Man; The Golden Compass topped Pirates 3 and I’ll never forget when The Matrix beat out Star Wars: Episode 1, probably the most lavish special effects movie up to that point. The Academy is not afraid to reward more poetic effects, and effects used in new storytelling ways, as with the seamless digital makeup in Benjamin Button.

Good luck on your picks. And be sure to come back for the liveblog Sunday night!