It's that time of year again when good shows will be pre-empted for the Oscars telecast. To most people who don't care about movies they generally consider this night a nuisance, but far more people do enjoy the Oscars telecast, particularly if they're in a pool or wagering on the event online. Earlier this month I posted some early predictions for the main categories but things have changed since then plus in this article I'll be looking at all competitive categories. It should be noted that I will not be looking at categories like Best Actress or the Supporting Actor/Actress categories where the betting odds are 1 to 50 or thereabouts on the more or less sure winners. While I've received emails in the past suggesting that bets at these odds are worthwhile since it works out to better interest than one would receive at a bank nowadays, it's safe to say that most Oscar bettors are looking for enjoyment and not a 2% dividend. For that reason I'm ignoring all films at 1 to 5 odds or less unless I believe an underdog can beat it.
Best Picture: Boyhood was the clear cut favorite to win the award until the SAG and PGA Awards but was still a slight favorite after the surprising win by Birdman at both those Award ceremonies. In my last article I suggested that Boyhood should still win Best Picture and that odds on the movie would decline once Richard Linklater won the Director's Guild Award. To everyone's shock, however, Birdman's director won that award too. As a result Birdman became the overwhelming favorite and rightly so. Boyhood subsequently won the British Film Award (BAFTA for Best Picture as did the film's director and given that the last 6 years the winner of that award has gone on to win Best Picture at the Oscars, the race has tightened up once again. Nevertheless, BAFTA voters constitute a much smaller percentage of voters at the Oscars than do PGA voters or SAG voters.
So do I still predict Boyhood to win Best Picture? Yes, for 2 reasons. First, the new voting process at the Oscars for Best Picture means that the film with the most #1 votes starting out won't necessarily win. For Best Picture the Oscars uses a complicated ranked voting system whereby everyone ranks all films from best to worst and the film with the least first place votes drops out and the ballots that chose that film get redistributed with the #2 film on that ballot moving up to #1. This process goes on until one film has 50% +1 of the first place votes. And while Boyhood is likely in the top 2 or 3 on everyone's ballot there's a good chance that Birdman is well down on the list of many voters. It seems Birdman is one of those love it or hate it movies while Boyhood is pretty much loved by everyone. There are also suggestions that while Birdman won the SAG and PGA awards the vote was extremely close but at the BAFTA awards and the other highly regarded critic's awards the vote wasn't remotely close. So seeing Boyhood now available at odds of 3 to 2 makes the film far too tempting to avoid and is worth a decent bet for a movie that was 1 to 6 odds only a month ago.
Best Director: Richard Linklater seemed like a sure thing in this category after winning almost every single award until last week but he was upset at the DGA awards by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for Birdman. As a result Inarritu has gone from a big longshot to a favorite and he is hard to go against. Aside from 2013 when Ben Affleck was snubbed by the Oscars and the award went to Ang Lee despite Affleck winning the DGA award and pretty much all others for Argo, the Best Director award almost always goes to the DGA award winner. In fact one can count on one hand the number of times the winner of the DGA award didn't win the Oscar too. And from what many insiders have told me a large number of voters actually wait until the DGA awards to cast their vote because they don't want to disrespect an organization that they feel understands directing better. It would have been nice to get the 8 to 1 or so odds that Inarritu was available for prior to the PGA and SAG Awards but even at odds of about 1 to 2 he still looks like good value. It should also be noted that there have been several years where the Best Director and Best Picture have gone to different films. The last one as mentioned was Ang Lee winning Director while Argo won best film but ironically prior to that it was when Ang Lee won Best Director for Brokeback Mountain but Crash won the Best Picture award.
Best Actor: This was always a 2 horse race between Eddie Redmayne for his performance in the Theory of Everything and Michael Keaton for his performance as Birdman. Keaton seemed to be the choice for a while since he was more well-known and seemed to be the choice of his fellow American actors but Redmayne has won absolutely everything in the last 2 months. He won the SAG Award, the BAFTA Award, the more prestigious Actor award at the Golden Globes, almost all the critic's awards and as a result he is hard to oppose. In fact there have been more rumblings of late for Bradley Cooper in American Sniper than there has been for Keaton. What looked like a really close race is now looking like a runaway. Redmayne at 1 to 4 odds just looks too hard to pass up.
Best Animated Film: It seems every year there is one animated film that runs away with the Oscar. Last year it was Frozen and this year it looks to be How to Train Your Dragon 2 at about 1 to 5 odds. But there has been a lot of late support for Big Hero 6 which many animators are calling better animated, more technical and just a better film. I put on both films for a young relative and asked what he thought and he said Big Hero 6 was "way way better." No doubt a lot of voters did something similar. I have no idea which film will win. It's the classic Dreamworks vs. Walt Disney battle but for times like this I look at the odds and at 3 to 1 odds it's just too hard to pass up Big Hero 6 for a small wager.
Best Original Screenplay: While Boyhood could win Best Picture it won't win Best Screenplay simply because the script isn't all that impressive. This award should be between The Grand Budapest Hotel and Birdman both of which have won for the category at various critic awards. The Grand Budapest Hotel actually beat Birdman for the comedy category at the Golden Globes but Birdman won the Best Screenplay. Ironically the Academy Awards tend to work the same way and unless a film is an absolute standout the awards are usually split for screenplay and best film. With Birdman the favorite to win Best Picture I suspect many voters will want to award The Grand Budapest Hotel with a relevant award and screenplay is the obvious choice. The Grand Budapest Hotel's win in the category at the BAFTAs also should help its chances. At odds of about 1 to 2 The Grand Budapest Hotel looks like a good value wager.
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Imitation Game is the 2 to 5 favorite but I'll be looking to beat it. The only 2 real challengers are Whiplash at 5 to 2 odds and The Theory of Everything at 5 to 1. Why Whiplash is such low odds is confusing. The movie has been nominated for Best Screenplay (both original and adapted) at most critic awards and won very few. JK Simmons is a sure thing for Best Supporting Actress which I believe many voters will deem enough reward for the film. The Theory of Everything is very well received, has gotten quite a bit of support for Best Picture and like is the case with The Grand Budapest Hotel I believe the voters will try to reward it in this significant category. At 5 to 1 odds it's certainly worth a play.
Best Film Editing: Surprisingly of all the categories at the Oscars this category is the best indicator of the Best Picture winner. As several movie pundits have pointed out this isn't too surprising since a movie has to be edited well to be deemed a superstar. Birdman isn't nominated which clearly gives the big advantage to Boyhood. Boyhood has also won most of the other awards in this category. At odds of about 4 to 7 Boyhood seems to be a lock.
Best Original Score: This seems to be between The Theory of Everything at 5 to 8 odds and The Grand Budapest Hotel at 7 to 5. Both films have been winning awards but The Grand Budapest Hotel won the Grammy Award for best score soundtrack beating Frozen and Gravity. That's good enough for me. At the odds it's certainly worth a wager.
Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing: While these are two separate awards they generally go to the same movie which is why some are calling for the two categories to be merged to Best Sound. For that reason I've always eliminated movies that are only nominated in one of the categories and it has proved me well. That leaves out The Hobbit and Whiplash. The 3 choices therefore are Interstellar, American Sniper and Birdman. Birdman will get its share of awards but I doubt this will be one of them. American Sniper has been all the talk of late and particularly because of its soundtrack and intensity. My hunch is it will beat Interstellar which is a less well received movie. At 1 to 2 odds for Best Sound Editing and 8 to 5 odds for Best Sound Mixing it seems like a good bet.
Best Visual Effects: This award almost always goes to a major contender for the big awards which leaves out everything but Interstellar. Interstellar has also won almost every award in this category leading up to the Oscars. It's hard to believe that the movie is available at odds of 2 to 5 as movies like the Planet of the Apes and X-Men have no shot. This could be the easiest money at the Oscars this year.
Best Foreign Film: While I refuse to attend any movie that I have to read subtitles to follow, Best Foreign Film almost always produces the biggest upsets. I still recall Amelie and Pans Labyrinth losing at odds of 1 to 20 each and I recall several other movies losing at odds of less than 1 to 5. This is an indication that it's not a category most in the Academy take seriously and more importantly is a category most don't even vote on. It's also a political category and there are some countries Academy members just won't vote for. Ida is the favorite from Poland at odds of 4 to 9 while Leviathan from Russia is around 9 to 5. There's no doubt that Russia's actions in the Ukraine will cause a lot of dissenters to vote against it and Poland has been nominated numerous times for the award but has won squat. No doubt many still have resentment towards Poland for its part in World War 2. Argentina, however, has won the award 4 times including 2 recently which is why Wild Tales at around 9 to 1 odds is worth a bet. It may not be the most scientific way to analyze this category but with the category a crapshoot one may as well go for the big odds and a country that is a proven winner.
Best Animated Short: Because these films are so short I decided to watch them online and was surprised to see Feast as the favorite. The short film is likely favored because it was made by Disney but it wasn't all that entertaining. The Boston Terrier that starred in the movie was cute but the plot was lame and there were better options out there. At 1 to 4 odds it was certainly one to pass up. My choice goes to the British animated short The Bigger Picture which is about 2 brothers who basically struggle and fight as their mother ages and requires more care. It's a situation many baby boomers can identify with and it won the BAFTA Award recently. It's also more intriguing. At 6 to 1 odds it's certainly worth a bet.
Best Live Action Short: The Phone Call is the favorite at 1 to 2 but again I like Bugaloo and Graham which recently won the BAFTA Award at odds of 4 to 1. The short film about 2 brothers who raise baby chicks that they name Bugaloo and Graham was cute and will win the hearts of many Academy voters. The odds are certainly right.