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How to Win Your Oscar Pool

28 Feb, 2010 By: John Latchem

Everyone who watches movies likes to speculate as to the Oscars, whether or not they want to admit it or not. Most of the people I talk to dismiss the Academy Awards as a bunch of elitists who don't really know anything and pick stupid movies to win. But let's get real, as a marketing tool, the Oscars are invaluable, and deep down we all acknowledge they mean something. After all, those same people who like to tell me the Oscars suck are always the first to exclaim they can't believe so-and-so lost, or are so happy that such-and-such won.

And, for those of you who like to partake in unsanctioned activities related to the Oscar ceremony March 7, I give you my guide to navigating the nominees and picking the winners, based on my own observations and experiences of watching these things play out through the years.

'Regular' Categories

Best Picture

The favorite is The Hurt Locker, which has swept through most of the preliminary awards (DGA, WGA, Producers Guild). Though the film wasn’t a strong entry at the box office ($12.7 million), it was limited to a release of only 535 theaters (compared to 2,500-4,000 for most mainstream films). But it has been a strong performer on the DVD and Blu-ray charts, and its early availability on disc (since Jan. 12) should help its profile with Academy voters. Remember when Crash won in 2005 after being the only best picture nominee on disc during the voting rounds?

Of course, this year a number of nominees are on disc by now, and a lot of the buzz lately centers on a late surge by Inglourious Basterds, winner of the SAG ensemble award. The theory goes that more voters have general affection for Basterds, whereas other movies on the list are either loved or not, and with the Academy’s weighted scoring system, a film that consistently earns more second- and third-place votes could sneak into the top spot.

Personally, my affections are torn between Basterds and Up in the Air, and since I most recently saw Up in the Air, I’ve been leaning toward that one. But I’d love to see Basterds win.

For the record, if Avatar wins, it will be among the worst best pictures ever. It’s easily the worst of the best picture candidates I’ve seen (I’ve yet to view The Blind Side and An Education). Avatar may have won the Golden Globe for best picture — drama, but I tend to discount the Globes as a predictor of Oscar success since they have a limited voting pool and quirkier-than-Hollywood-normal tastes. And this year was an anomaly, since the HFPA doled out all their awards to the box office winners (best comedy GG winner The Hangover earned zero Oscar nominations).

It’s worth noting that Inglourious Basterds was somehow left off the American Film Institute top 10 films of 2009 list. In the eight previous years the AFI has honored top films, only The Departed (2006) and Slumdog Millionaire (2008) won the Oscar without a corresponding AFI nod. (Slumdog Millionaire is not an American film and thus it wasn’t eligible for AFI consideration).

Prediction: The Hurt Locker, Summit
Dark Horse: Inglourious Basterds, Universal

Best Actor

The award is Jeff Bridges’ to lose. The sentimentality factor will kick in here, as it has done with the earlier award shows, since Bridges has been around forever, is well liked, and rarely wins anything.
Prediction: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

Best Actress

Sandra Bullock has won all the other awards, so she’s the favorite. I haven’t seen The Blind Side, but in the previews she seems a bit over-the-top, but maybe that’s because she’s been stereotyped in the cutesy comedy roles. The only reason she wouldn’t win is the kind of snobbery that cost Eddie Murphy an Oscar for Dreamgirls. Otherwise, Meryl Streep will win.
Prediction: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Dark Horse: Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

Best Supporting Actor

This seems to be a lock for Christoph Waltz as the Nazi baddie in Inglourious Basterds. He clinched the Oscar in the first five minutes of the movie, and the rest is just candy.
Prediction: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Best Supporting Actress

I questioned how someone who broke up their name with an apostrophe would win an Oscar, but after seeing Precious I understand the hype. Mo’Nique’s character may be detestable, but the actress plays her with so much conviction and against type it’s impossible for voters not to take notice.
Prediction: Mo’Nique, Precious

Best Director

The Academy will not sacrifice a chance at history, especially when the nominee is deserving. Kathryn Bigelow will become the first woman to win best director.
Prediction: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker

Best Original Screenplay

This is a tricky one. The two that stand out are The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds. Screenplay is sometimes seen as a consolation prize, so the Academy could give this award to the movie that doesn’t win best picture, if it is indeed between Hurt Locker and Basterds. Since I picked Locker to win best picture, I’ll take Quentin Tarantino here, but if you don’t have Hurt Locker winning best picture, you may want to take it in this category, or to hedge your bets, pick Hurt Locker in both. Hurt Locker also won the Writers Guild Award in this category. A long shot is A Serious Man, with the Coen Brothers swinging serious cred at awards time.
Prediction: Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Dark Horse: The Hurt Locker or A Serious Man

Adapted Screenplay

This is an easy call. Since Up in the Air will be shut out of the other major categories after spending the early part of the awards season as the frontrunner, the Academy will have no trouble giving Jason Reitman an Oscar for adapting Walter Kirn’s novel. Sheldon Turner shares the credit for penning an early draft of the script.
Prediction: Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air

Animated Feature Film

OK, this one seems like an easy call. Since Up was also nominated for best OVERALL picture, it seems like a no-brainer to take this category. In fact, if a nominee in this category is nominated for the bigger prize as well, is there really a need for the formality of this category at all?
Prediction: Up, Disney/Pixar

Original Score

The Academy has tended to defy logic in the music category the past few years, honoring quirky scores by composers nobody has heard of. This year seems to be a departure. I wouldn’t be surprised to see James Horner win for Avatar, but I think the frontrunner is Michael Giacchino for Up, which already won the Golden Globe, BAFTA and a Grammy in the category.
Prediction: Michael Giacchino, Up
Dark Horse: James Horner, Avatar; Alexandre Desplat, Fantastic Mr. Fox

Original Song

The Princess and the Frog has two songs here, neither of which I consider the best of the movie. Of the two that are nominated, I think “Down in New Orleans” has the best chance in a category Disney once owned, but I suspect the statuette will go to “The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart to cap off the Bridges win for actor.
Prediction: The Weary Kind, Crazy Heart
Dark Horse: “Down in New Orleans,” The Princess and the Frog

Documentary Feature

Prediction: The Cove
Dark Horse: Food Inc.
(Hollywood loves advocacy films)

Foreign-Language Film

Prediction: The White Ribbon, Germany
(It seems to have the most exposure, but to vote in this category, members have to sit and watch all five nominees, so if you haven’t seen ’em, pick ’em.)

Other Categories


Prediction: The Hurt Locker
Dark Horse: Avatar

Film Editing

Prediction: The Hurt Locker


Prediction: Star Trek

Costume Design

Prediction: The Young Victoria

Visual Effects
Art Direction
Sound Editing
Sound Mixing

Prediction: Avatar
(cleaning up the technical categories)

Short Subjects

I know nothing of these movies, so your guess is as good as mine. These are usually tie-breaker categories in most Oscar pools, since it’s blind stinking luck if you manage to pick a winner.

Documentary Short

The first rule is to look for the movies about the Holocaust. Since there aren’t any this year, I’ll go with the one about the Chinese earthquake, which resonates with the recent disaster in Haiti.
Prediction: China’s Unnatural Disaster

Live-Action Short

No idea, so go with the one about Chernobyl.
Prediction: The Door

Animated Short

Prediction: A Matter of Loaf and Death
(Wallace & Gromit always win this category)

For a complete list of nominees, visit oscars.org.

So there you have it. Going into this year's Oscars, it seems to be the easiest ceremony to predict in a while. But if I'm wrong, then hey, what do I know?


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