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Gambling On The Oscars? Here's A Guide Of What To Look At!

CUE THE MUSIC!

The Oscars are here once again and the hype is as low as ever it seems! But guess what, that doesn't mean you can't take a chance at trying to make some money off of Hollywood's biggest night.

MAJOR DISCLAIMER: I am not calling any of these locks, which I assume most people know. Predicting award shows can be difficult, betting on them is even harder. Think “low risk, high reward” when it comes to the Oscars. The odds are crazy high in some categories, so a light sprinkle is usually all you need. As always, bet with caution and HAVE A GAMBLING PROBLEM? CALL 1-800-GAMBLER. You must be 21+ years old, and in Arizona, Indiana, Michigan, or New Jersey. These odds are also from around 2:00e on Oscars Sunday.

Returning to help me break things down once again is Walt Hickey, whose website awards.substack.com is the best out there when it comes to Hollywood Awards Season analysis and breakdown. I sent him a few questions, which he will answer below, and will reference his charts, which show the wins for each nominee throughout the award season.

There are five movies worth betting on for BEST PICTURE this year, but let's talk about how this category works first. Back in 2019, Walt wrote a piece called "THEY HAVE THE VOTES," which broke down the shifting landscape of the voting process for Best Picture (CLICK HERE TO READ). The voting pool for the Academy continues to diversify in many ways, especially age, so the chance for upsets, as we saw in 2020 with PARASITE beating 1917, is greater every year.

My favorite description of the Best Picture category is when people say it is basically "Least Disliked Picture." If you're really interested in the process even further, this is another great run-through of how it all works… 

Walt went into the process a little more back in 2020, when we labeled PARASITE as a great bet…

When I talk to folks about how the Oscar voting shakes out, the question tends to be something like, “I know 1917 won a lot, but I really like Parasite and I think that a lot of the Academy probably also does, and I wonder if the weird voting thing that they do means that the movie I like has a shot?”

Ranked choice is a process where people rank the Oscar movies on their ballot. The votes are all counted up, and if one movie has more than 50 percent of votes, that movie wins. If a movie doesn’t have 50 percent of votes, all the ballots that voted for the movie with the lowest votes get moved to their second choice. Then the process repeats until some movie breaks 50 percent.

The objective is to find the film most amenable to the largest number of people. As a result, it’s nice but not all that critical to get a massive pile of #1 rankings. Realistically, a nine-nominee field is not getting settled on the first ballot. What competitive movies need is to simply be ranked better than their top rivals. Last year, the fact is that a majority of the Academy ranked Green Book above Roma. It’s that simple.

I say all of this to make the process a little clearer, but to also note that we truly don't know what to expect in the BEST PICTURE category. Going into last week, THE POWER OF THE DOG (+115) was the odds on favorite win BEST PICTURE, with director Jane Campion the heavy favorite to win BEST DIRECTOR. It is also the leader in the model from Walt Hickey, as shown above. But the odds have shifted in the last few days, as the momentum has been growing stronger for CODA (-134), which is now the betting favorite to take home the award. I actually called into Picks Central on Thursday of last week to suggest folks look at CODA, which was sitting at +120 at the time.

While those two movies are the clear favorites, I do think there are two others to look at if you're trying to grab a huge upset. Because you can look at this category as a "Least Disliked" award, the movie BELFAST (+1700) is worth taking a look at. Kenneth Branagh has never won at the Oscars, and the director-writer-producer of the much-beloved movie has a good chance to finally get some recognition this year. In terms of super-longshots, WEST SIDE STORY (+5000) and DUNE (+4000) would have pretty easily-explained reasons for pulling off a huge upset. With the re-make of West Side Story, you have a Steven Spielberg project, and one that is a re-make of a movie that also won BEST PICTURE back at the 1962 Oscars. As for Dune, the sequel(s) will likely get the stronger BEST PICTURE push, but the movie has a shit load of nominations, is clearly loved by the Academy, and might clean up tonight in all of the technical categories.

This race is the tightest, actually the only close one, of the night when it comes to the acting categories. JESSICA CHASTAIN (-167) is still the favorite for the award, but this category could be ripe for an upset. She got lost in her role in THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE, and has the SAG under her belt, which is a great indicator for the Oscars. PENELOPE CRUZ (+250) is surging late for her role in PARALLEL MOTHERS, the critically acclaimed Spanish drama. Those odds are more than worth a sprinkle in this unpredictable category, and the same can be said for NICOLE KIDMAN (+600), who is my favorite pick in this category. Those are great odds for an actress recognized during the award season, especially for a role as Hollywood icon Lucille Ball. Nobody loves Hollywood as much as Hollywood! At one point it looked like KRISTEN STEWART (+800) might end up being the awards season favorite for her role in SPENCER, and while that is a thought of the past, I wouldn't be shocked if she pulled off a longshot upset, given who she is portraying (also, for what it is worth, I thought it was an incredible performance).

THE DUNE CATEGORIES

Tonight you can expect to hear the name DUNE quite a bit, even if it will likely not happen during the big categories. The movie will clean up in the technical space, but there are a few categories where the odds are still attractive. Anything as low as (-118) should be scooped up for Dune, and that is what it is sitting at currently in the BEST EDITING category. It isn't the favorite in BEST MAKEUP (+500) or BEST COSTUMES (+325), but those are juicy odds if you believe in a Dune wave tonight.

SCREENPLAY CATEGORIES

More than ever, it seems as though the screenplay categories are going to be wide-open tonight in Los Angeles. The ADAPTED SCREENPLAY category has a decently firm favorite with CODA (-225), as it would be a bit of a consolation prize for the movie, and its writer Sian Heder. Here's what Walt Hickey had to say…

Jane Campion got the Critics’ Choice Award here for writing The Power of the Dog, but writer-director Sian Heder won the BAFTA and WGA for adapting CODA. (The Power of the Dog was ineligible at WGA.) Campion is a pretty sure bet for directing, where Heder isn’t even nominated, so if voters want to spread out awards to different people, Heder makes sense. (via Numlock Awards)

With that said, THE POWER OF THE DOG (+150) doesn't look bad here at all, as it could also have a huge night.

Meanwhile, the ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY category is a little more open, with LICORICE PIZZA (-118) sitting in the driver's seat after winning the BAFTA, and having a notable writer in Paul Thomas Anderson. But I love BELFAST (+125) as one of my favorite bets of the night. I talked earlier about Kenneth Branagh possibly breaking through this year with an Oscars win, and this category might make the most sense. Don't look past DON'T LOOK UP (+550), which took home the WGA honor this year during awards season.

ANIMATED FEATURE; DISNEY SPLIT?

It would seem as though ENCANTO (-1430) will have no trouble winning tonight, but it is worth noting that there are three Disney movies up for the award tonight. What happens if Encanto, LUCA, and RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON split the votes? Well, that leaves an opening for the excellent MITCHELLS VS. THE MACHINES (+550) movie from Netflix. Phil Lord & Chris Miller already won once with INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE, and probably should have won for THE LEGO MOVIE, which wasn't nominated for bizarre rules reasons.

Q&A WITH WALT HICKEY

AS HAS BEEN THE CASE IN RECENT YEARS, THE BEST PICTURE CATEGORY IS WIDE OPEN. WHILE THE POWER OF THE DOG IS THE CLEAR FAVORITE, CODA IS ALSO MAKING A RUN. IS THIS A TWO-HORSE RACE RIGHT NOW, REALISTICALLY?

WALT: 100%, it's a two horse race. The Producer's Guild is the only precursor that we still have a great deal of confidence in over the past couple of years, and CODA just won there. They vote the same way as the Academy does through ranked choice, lots of the branches that have expanded in the past couple of years in the Academy are the same branches that would be represented in an organization like the PGA, and they tend to have most of the Oscar field as nominees. That said, Power of the Dog has had a stellar season, with wins at DGA, Critics Choice, Golden Globe, and BAFTA. It's a tight race and it's a toss up, super exciting year. 

OUTSIDE OF CODA AND POWER OF THE DOG, DO ANY OTHER MOVIES STICK OUT TO YOU, SUCH AS BELFAST OR WEST SIDE STORY?

WALT: Belfast does pop, it's gotten a lot of nominations from a lot of different shows, but the thing is it hasn't really logged any wins of note so it's tough to make a case for the Academy seeing something in it that none of the guilds have. That said, incredible film. West Side Story will get love, in the form of an Ariana De Bose win: i'd be frankly shocked if she loses, she's had a real tour de force awards season. 

DUNE IS GOING TO CLEAN UP IN ALL THE TECHNICAL CATEGORIES, RIGHT?

WALT: It better, that movie was gorgeous. I'd say the technical categories are a great chance to also really look at it category-by-category, though, so don't just make a sandy ballot because you think Dune's gonna crush it everywhere. I like a movie like Cruella in Costumes, or Eyes of Tammy Faye in makeup for example; even though the stillsuits were incredible pieces of visual technology, any film that unambiguously centers one of the crafts is going to have a really great year in contention. 

DOES DUNE HAVE ANY SHOT AT BEST PICTURE?

WALT: Unless the Bene Gessereit have successfully seeded this prophecy among the Academy voters, I don't see it happening this year. That said, I'm calling Denis Villenueve as the Kwizatz Haderach to clean up in awards season for the sequel, this is clearly a work that has some affection from the Academy even if it's not their year this time. Get Zendaya more than ten minutes of screen time, then we'll see about your Oscar. 

BEST ACTRESS IS THE ONLY MAJOR CATEGORY OUTSIDE OF BEST PICTURE WITH AN OPEN RACE. WHO DO YOU VIEW AS THE FAVORITE, AND IS ANYONE A TRUE DARK HORSE IN YOUR EYES OUT OF THE NOMINEES?

WALT: I love Best Actress this year. I have to give Jessica Chastain the edge, absent a BAFTA race the SAG is always going to be queenmaker. Chastain's got a great case: she produced this movie, she fought for this part, she's got a track record that people like, two previous Oscar nominations, she's really outstanding in this role, and Oscar's a sucker for actors portraying real people. That said, Olivia Colman's pulled off an upset before, and Nicole Kidman's got a constituency here. The Spencer stans can't get enough of Kristen Stewart, but I personally don't see it. It's going to be a hell of a race, as it should be. 

LOOKING AT THE OTHER CATEGORIES, ARE THERE ANY LONGSHOTS WORTH TAKING A LOOK AT ON OSCARS NIGHT?

WALT: Best Animated Feature is exciting. Three Disney-owned movies are up, and you could be looking at a split vote for the Mouse bloc. In these situations, tie usually goes to the Pixar, but I tell you what I like Mitchells vs. The Machines here, if anyone's got a track record at beating Disney in this category it's Lord & Miller, and the combined might of Sony Pictures Animation and Netflix might be enough to push this over the top. 

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As always, thank you for reading this breakdown, and thanks to Walt Hickey for joining in again. The Oscars absolutely could stink this year, but my word am I excited!

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