Looking for Value at the Oscars

The SAG awards have always proven to be a good predictor of winners in the acting categories although the BAFTA awards have proven to be an even better indicator in many categories. Look inside for value bets for this Sunday's Academy Awards.

As late as January it seemed that Lincoln was a virtual lock to sweep the best picture award in the 85th Academy Awards. When Lincoln lost to Argo at the Golden Globes, however, it seems that the admiration for Lincoln dissipated faster than a Kim Kardashian romance. Critics started having second thoughts and numerous sites pointed out mistakes in the movie. At the same time Argo gained all the momentum that Lincoln lost and the movie began sweeping all the major prizes. It won best cast at the SAG awards, it won the BAFTA award for best picture and Ben Affleck won best director at both BAFTA and at the DGA awards. This has left the Academy of Arts and Sciences with egg on their face.  For some unexplained reason Affleck was left off the ballot for best director as was Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty. And since only a handful of DGA award winners lost the best director Oscar most in the industry believe this year's winner for best director will have won a tainted victory. If Affleck had indeed been nominated his odds would probably be about 1/10 to win the award. The SAG awards have always proven to be a good predictor of winners in the acting categories although the BAFTA awards have proven to be an even better indicator in many categories. For all those reasons the following are sure things in this year's Oscars but are not bettable at their current odds:

Argo for best picture
Daniel Day Lewis for best leading actor
Anne Hathaway for best supporting actress
Amour for best foreign language film

That said, my goal here is not to find the sure winners but rather to look for value bets for the upcoming Oscars..

Best Director – Ang Lee at 4/1.

As was mentioned Affleck should have won this and if he were nominated he would have been about a 1/10 favorite. With his name out of contention, however, the heavy favorite at about 1/3 odds is Steven Spielberg for Lincoln. With Lincoln's quick decline in popularity, there is an excellent chance the majority of Academy voters will shy away from the movie altogether and give the award to a lesser known director or one that is more well liked than Steven Spielberg. For that reason my money will be to bet against Spielberg. Benh Zeitlen for Beasts of the Southern Wild won't win but any of the other 4 can. Ang Lee is loved by most in the Academy and while his win for Brokeback Mountain in 2006 was scoffed by many who disapproved of the content, it seems everyone loves the Life of Pi. This will give the academy a chance to thank him for a movie with a plot more in line of the more religious Oscar voters. That said, Silver Linings Playbook has been highly acclaimed by all critics and Amour seems to have gotten a lot of interest of late. If one is betting with an exchange like Betfair or Matchbook the bet would be to bet against Spielberg to win but at a traditional sportsbook I'd apportion the bets with 4 units for Ang Lee at 4/1 odd and 1 unit each on David O. Russell and Michael Haneke at 16/1 apiece. The odds on Spielberg simply make no sense.

Best Supporting Actor – Christoph Waltz at 3/2.

Tommy Lee Jones was the lukewarm favorite for this award from the beginning over Philip Seymour Hoffman and his odds dropped more after his SAG award win. But Hoffman was never going to win for his roll in an unheralded movie and any wagers on him are wasted. The actor overlooked, however, was Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained.  At the Golden Globes Leonardo di Caprio was actually given more of a chance than Waltz but DiCaprio's roll in the movie was so small, his nomination made little sense and Waltz's win at the Golden Globes made many take a look at his roll again. Waltz wasn't nominated at the SAG awards but he won the BAFTA award which now makes him the favorite. Aside from winning 2 of the most prestigious awards, Django Unchained is probably the one movie that received almost as many acclaims as Argo from both critics and movie goers. Waltz was a steal after the Golden Globes to win the award at 4/1 odds but even now at 3/2 odds he represents excellent value.

Best Actress – Jennifer Lawrence at 2/3.

This seemed to be a 2 woman race from the beginning between Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook and Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty. Both actresses won their respective awards at the Golden Globes but Lawrence gained a huge advantage over Chastain after she won the SAG award. Things changed, however, after the BAFTA awards when Emanuelle Riva won the best supporting actress award for her roll in Amour. Widely unnoticed (she wasn't nominated for a Golden Globe or SAG), Riva became the media darling after her win. Her age (she turns 86 on Oscar night), her demeanor and the fact that BAFTA has an impeccable record at predicting Academy Award winners in this category, Riva became the second choice to Lawrence for the award. But this is one time where BAFTA will be wrong. Most votes were already recorded before the BAFTA awards and it seemed like everyone was reveling at Lawrence's performance in Silver Linings Playbook. Riva will get her share of votes but in the end Lawrence will take the well deserved victory.

Best Adapted Screenplay – Argo at 5/4.

When I first started my write-up Argo was actually 3/1 to win this award as everyone thought Lincoln was a sure thing. But the odds have dwindled and in some places Argo is now the favorite. While it's true that the Academy often splits the award between screenplay and picture, it's just hard to see anyone voting against the much better adaptation of Argo than Lincoln. Inconsistencies in Lincoln and the fact that the Academy will want to give Affleck as much due as possible after being shunned for the Director's award will compel them to vote for Argo in this category. Argo won the BAFTA and will win here too.

Best Original Screenplay – Django Unchained at 3/2

This is listed as a 3 way race between Django Unchained, Zero Dark Thirty and Amour. Forget the latter. Amour's reward will be in the foreign language category and this award will go to an American. The only question is whether it will go to Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained or Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty. Both directors were shunned by the Oscars so there's no bias there and both movies are well heralded but Django Unchained won both the Golden Globe and BAFTA awards and as mentioned it just seemed to be better liked by movie goers and I assume Academy voters too. As well, the Osama Bin Laden assassination is so recent that many are still wondering if the movie has all the facts correct. Bigelow won recently for the Hurt Locker which was a better movie so look for Django Unchained to get the Oscar.

Best Hairstyle and Makeup – Les Miserables at 5/2

It seems that in this minor category there's always some film that gets a big nod in odds and then craps out. It happened with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows last year, Hellboy II a few years ago  Revenge of the Sith in 2005. This year's huge favorite that will lose is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. If it was facing nothing then it would possibly win but it's up against best Oscar nominee Les Miserables. The Academy will want to give Les Miserables an award for something other than Anne Hathaway and this is the best opportunity. Les Miserables also won the award at the BAFTAs. At 5/2 odds, the bet is a steal.

For a breakdown of currrent Oscar Odds at sportsbooks around the world, click here.

Contact Hartley via email at Hartley[at]osga[dot]com.

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