For several years, I kept on the bulletin board in my home office a note I received from my editor during my stint as entertainment writer for the Dallas Morning News. It was an answer to a note I’d sent her to suggest we run, on the day of that year’s Oscarcast, my interview with the director of a Best Picture nominee — because I had a hunch that his film might score an upset win over two more heavily hyped front-runners.
Her response: “Don’t bother. There’s no way his movie will get the award.”
So we didn’t run my interview with Hugh Hudson. And that was a pity, because the underdog flick he directed, Chariots of Fire, did indeed bring home the Oscar gold.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping for an equally dramatic, similarly unexpected turn of events – or several such twists – during this Sunday’s presentation of the 82nd annual Academy Awards. (For the record: I’d give the Big Enchilada to Up in the Air, and anoint Texas’ very own Woody Harrelson as Best Supporting Actor for The Messenger.) But if you’re looking for tips regarding your dip into any Oscar pools this weekend, I’d also be lying if I told you to expect the unexpected.
The folks over at Bodog.com – a popular sports book Web site that offers odds on everything from Super Bowl match-ups to American Idol sing-offs — have already posted their handicapping prognostications. And, much to my surprise, I find myself agreeing with each of their picks in the so-called “major” categories. If you’re planning to make any friendly wagers on Academy Award races, you might consider heeding their advice – and mine – for fun and profit.
BEST PICTURE: AVATAR
Forget all the loose talk you’ve heard in recent weeks about a come-from-behind win by The Hurt Locker, the critically acclaimed Iraq war drama that, alas, never managed to attract the audience it deserved. (Probably because it was — well, you know, an Iraq war drama.) Even before Kathryn Bigelow’s edgy indie production began to garner bad press — thanks to a producer who violated Academy rules for Oscar campaigns, and a real-life bomb-disposal expert who claimed Hurt Locker is more or less his unauthorized biography — the clear-eyed realists among us knew Avatar could not, and would not, be denied.
Bodog Line: Avatar (4/7), The Hurt Locker (4/5), Inglourious Basterds (12/1), Up in the Air (30/1), Precious (50/1), The Blind Side (50/1), A Serious Man (75/1), An Education (75/1), District 9 (75/1), Up (75/1).
BEST DIRECTOR: KATHRYN BIGELOW for THE HURT LOCKER
On the other hand, this won’t be the year filmmaker James Cameron reclaims his Titanic crown as "King of the World." If she wins — no, make that when she wins, because she’s earned it — Kathryn Bigelow will be the first woman ever honored by Academy voters as best director. As I noted here a few weeks ago: When enough voters fall in love with the idea of making history, history is made. Just ask Barack Obama.
Bodog Line: Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), 2/7; James Cameron (Avatar), 5/4; Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds), 22/1; Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), 25/1; Lee Daniels (Precious), 50/1.
BEST ACTOR: JEFF BRIDGES for CRAZY HEART
It always helps to give a great performance. It helps even more to have given lots of other great performances throughout a career of four decades or so, all the while earning respect and generating good will among your peers, the press and the general public. If you’ve done all that, and yet you still haven’t won the grand prize, despite many previous, much-deserved nominations, chances are that Academy voters will think it’s your time. This year, it is Jeff Bridges’ time.
Bodog Line: Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart), 1/7; George Clooney (Up in the Air), 4/1; Colin Firth (A Single Man), 15/1; Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker), 12/1; Morgan Freeman (Invictus), 12/1.
BEST ACTRESS: SANDRA BULLOCK for THE BLIND SIDE
Unless this is the first Oscar preview story you’ve read this year — and if it is, thank you, I truly appreciate it — you already know that Meryl Streep has more Oscar nominations to her credit than any other thespian in the entire history of Academy Awards. And yeah, sure, no doubt about it, she’s a widely respected and much beloved screen icon who is some kind of wonderful in Julie & Julia. But here’s the thing: Despite all those nominations, Streep has scored only two wins. And I don’t think this is the year she brings home Oscar No. 3. Sandra Bullock has a hit movie and hot momentum going for her in this race. And, well, it’s her time.
Bodog Line: Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side), 2/5; Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia), 7/4; Gabourey Sidibe (Precious), 17/2; Carey Mulligan (An Education), 9/1; Helen Mirren (The Last Station), 30/1.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: CHRISTOPH WALTZ for INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS
This race was over… what, last August?
Bodog Line: Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds), 1/18; Any Other, 9/1.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: MO’NIQUE for PRECIOUS
Only Christoph Waltz is more of a mortal lock.
Bodog Line: Mo’Nique (Precious), 1/10; Any Other, 6/1.
Of course, all the really serious Oscar pools — i.e., the ones that involve serious money — and quite a few not-so-serious ones require participants to predict winners in less prominent categories. You know, the awards that are announced while the non-cineastes in your circle are in the kitchen to grab a snack, or on their way to or from the bathroom.
My advice? It’s probably not wise to bet against Avatar in any of the technical categories. (One glaring exception: Best Cinematography, where The Hurt Locker could eke out a win.)
It would be an upset of Truman-beats-Dewey proportions if Up isn’t named Best Animated Feature. And, trust me, this year’s Oscarcast isn’t expected to have many upsets.
The Oscars for screenwriting likely will be consolation prizes, with Original Screenplay going to Inglourious Basterds and Adapted Screenplay given to Up in the Air.
“The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart is the odds-on favorite for Best Original Song — even though you won’t hear it, or any other nominated song, performed in its entirety during this year’s allegedly stripped-for-speed Oscarcast — and Up is poised to double dip with an Original Score victory.
The White Ribbon appears to have Best Foreign Language Film all wrapped up, while The Cove — an earnest exposure of dolphin slaughtering by Japan fishermen — should net the Oscar for Best Documentary.
As for the short subjects: Take a coin, flip it repeatedly, and hope for the best. That’s what I always do in those categories. Even back when I called the grand prize for Chariots of Fire.
Catch Joe Leydon's comments on the movies at movingpictureblog.com.