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Bargain Bunting: A Look at the Oscar Race

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Let the bunting begin. And, NO, this is not an invitation for HenryJames to devolve this thread into a debate on the merits of Augie Ball sacrifice statistics.

The entertainment industry has released its nominees for its most prized… prizes. The 82nd Academy Awards will be given away on March 7th, and with a month to prepare, office pools and wagers amongst cultured friends are prime targets for extra income. The educated ‘bracket’ below offers insight into closing in on that gimme gravy.

The Oscars are among the Top 5 wagered single-day events every year. It is the most bet on, non-sporting event next to the Presidential election. Every single on-line gambling service will have available odds, at the very least, by the end of business day tomorrow.

The Academy Awards – and their associated PR campaigns – urge the American public to go see movies, and in turn, spend money. Blithely thinking otherwise is folly. Therefore it is advisable to flip the script and make a little cabbage off their folly of pomp and spectacle.

It IS a popularity contest. It IS a beauty contest. It IS blindly voted on, and the idea of expanding this year’s Best Picture category to include more ‘worthy’ films is a smoke screen to the way things once were, when 12 films could be and were nominated some years . All the more movies to entice you to the theatre, my dear.

All nominees have a chance, but most never had a chance.

In fact, this year, there appears to be more mystery as to Scipio Tex’s absence than who will win a heavy golden man, but the politics and odds in play are rife with possibility. These are my educated odds, to be updated when official lines emerge.

Best Picture

Avatar (3-1)

The Blind Side (500-1)

District 9 (50-1)

An Education (100-1)

The Hurt Locker (5-2)

Inglorious Basterds (35-1)

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (12-1)

A Serious Man (10-1)

Up (20-1)

Up in the Air (Even)

They’re calling this the Battle of the Exes, with former philanderers Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron facing off in this, and many other categories. His Avatar has the gross receipts, The Hurt Locker, her gross plaudits. He’s won before with Titanic, and I don’t see how that could possibly hurt him again. But with this larger – and largely ceremonial – field, voters may feel Jim has had his day in the sun, and will look to reward another.

This may be why Avatar has been listed early on as a surprising +300, or 3-to-1. Up in the Air is the other horse in the running for even odds, as is The Hurt Locker. And it being a three pony race, I expect it to garner a show to Air’s place, and an eventual 5-2 win for the Locker.

Lead Actor

Jeff Bridges (3-2)

George Clooney (3-1)

Colin Firth (10-1)

Morgan Freeman (Even)

Jeremy Renner (50-1)

This is The Dude’s to lose. "The African is not the issue here, Dude!" Although one would be wise to throw some cabbage on Nelson Mandela as Morgan Freeman’s Facebook doppelganger, as Hollywood loves Andy Dufresne’s friend Red, and the stories about personal triumph and mitigating racial circumstances.

But the Dude shall abide, and take home a trophy, if and only if George Clooney, another Coen collaborator, can take the Beauty away from Bridges’ beastly drunken performance, which is unlikely at best. Plus, he SHOULD win, IMO.

Lead Actress

Sandra Bullock (Even)

Helen Mirren (3-1)

Carey Mulligan (15-1)

Gabourney Sidibe (2-1)

Meryl Streep (3-1)

This here is likely to be the most wagered and least profitable race of the season. All five state a case, with Carey likely to take a Mulligan herself. Four horses, two with handsome pedigrees – and past statues to show for it – and two relative newcomers to the nominee’s party. Gabby could make a play to be the next Jennifer Hudson, so her mother should take a trip to the doctor for fear of repeated history.

Streep’s and Mirren’s nods were for flashy roles, but one was seen and the other not. Streep’s Julia Child centered a floundering film, but Mirren’s playing of Tolstoy’s long-suffering liberated wife was watched and applauded by about 12 people. That is where Sandy comes in, with a hit movie, a terrible accent, and bad hair.

Which means she’ll probably win given the fact she has largely been viewed as a RomCom sweetheart without the chops to show for it. She’s got ‘em, but were put to ill advised use in playing an entitled rich Southern Belle. Basically that which the Academy voters haven’t voted for since Clark Gable played opposite one in Gone With the Wind.

But she did win the SAG award, as did Bridges, and based on that, she has an edge. But only slightly so. She shouldn’t. Mulligan and Mirren and Sibide all out performed her, and Streep, well, Meryl Streep is a freak, and can out perform every actor in her sleep. But Streep’s sleep will, in fact, still lose to Sandy’s blonde hair.

Supporting Actor

Matt Damon (5-1)

Woody Harrelson (10-1)

Christopher Plummer (12-1)

Stanley Tucci (20-1)

Christopher Waltz (9-5)

This one was over before the nominations were announced. Chris Waltz’s smug Nazi Jew Hunter will win. Bank on it. Even with the mild controversy involving Tarrantino’s scripted Holocaust era farce, upsetting many a Jewish Academy member in the process, Waltz will waltz down the aisle. Not even close. He’ll win this as he did the Golden Globe and SAG awards.

Saving Matt Damon is mentioned only because he plays a racist in a racist country that ‘learns’ the right of his poorly accented wrongs. Meh.

Supporting Actress

Penelope Cruz (20-1)

Vera Farmiga (5-1)

Maggie Gyllenhaal (6-1)

Anna Kendrick (3-1)

Mo'Nique (Even)

Cruz, having won a Lead Actress Oscar last year, would seem to be the prohibitive favorite. But this wasn’t even her best role of the season. Her performance in Almodovar’s Broken Embraces should have gleened another Lead Actress nod. So this seems to me to be filler for the five requisite.

I preferred Kendrick’s portrayal of the uppity protégé in Un in the Air, but Mo’Nique will continue her win streak, winning here as she has the Globe and SAG awards for her truly harrowing mother in Precious. Quite the discovery. Because, as they have always said, to get a truly naturalistic dramatic performance when you need to, turn to an oft-overlooked comedian, or in this case, an oft-overweight comedienne.

Director

Kathryn Bigelow (5-2)

James Cameron (2-1)

Lee Daniels (10-1)

Jason Reitman (7-1)

Quentin Tarantino (20-1)

No way does Q get his cue to walk to the stage. As much as people want it for him, it is not only undeserved, it won’t happen. His self-indulgent ribaldry was fun for fans and technicians, but he’ll have to wait for his Oscar glory as a director.

This again plays out to be the second largest battle of the exes, perhaps a battle of the nudge. Bigelow got it from the DGA, which in the history of its existence, has failed to win it’s choice an Oscar only five times in 70 years, Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese being its most famous failures.

She’s not great enough to buck that tide. Bank on short short money.

Original Screenplay

The Hurt Locker (Pick’em)

Inglorious Basterds (Pick’em)

The Messenger (50-1)

A Serious Man (Pick’em)

Up (Pick’em)

This category, somewhat akin to the DGA nods, have mostly come from the WGA’s winner each year. Only a dozen or so times has an original screenplay winner not won its craft guild’s highest honor. Unfortunately, we will have to wait. The scribes hand out their trophies on February 20th. Until then, it is a Pick Em.

But the Coen’s are strong here again, as the script for A Serious Man has had screenwriters in Hollywood gushing since its release on the web before the movie screened for audiences. Up and Basterds have been lauded repeatedly as well, but the easy money is on the verisimilitude of The Hurt Locker. Once the WGA admits its preference to the entire Academy, it will be roundly rewarded.

Adapted Screenplay

District 9 (20-1)

An Education (5-1)

In the Loop (25-1)

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (Pick’em)

Up in the Air (Pick’em)

Here again, the WGA gives us no help. But the buzz surrounding both Air and Precious (it’s in the freaking title christalmighty!) should not be overlooked. An Education is a close show. Hit it after the scribes’ awards.

Cinematography

Avatar (2-1)

The White Ribbon (5-1)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (12-1)

The Hurt Locker (4-1)

Inglorious Basterds (7-1)

Robert Richardson, a past nominee and winner, here lensed Q’s epithet. Flashy and brilliant, it is a strong nominee. As is Locker in its gritty verite style and desaturated look. But the dark horse here is The White Ribbon. Largely unseen by voters, until its director Michael Haneke (Cache, FunnyGames) won for best director at the Golden Globes. Shot in creepy black and white, it deserves to win… this AND Foreign Film.

But probably won’t due to Avatar and it’s technology. This is one of the more challenging categories to predict, with the Academy famously snubbing Roger Deakins and Michael Ballhaus and illustrious others in the past for flashier pyrotechnics. Here, for that reason, I expect Jim Cameron to win over his more deserving ex.

Editing

Avatar (Pick’em)

District 9 (15-1)

The Hurt Locker (Pick’em)

Inglorious Basterds (10-2)

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (20-1)

The divorcee dual continues with Locker and Avatar being the best wagers. Basterd’s Sally Menke has always been a darling of the AEC, but fails again to gain a statue. Precious and District 9, along with Menke, are nominated to fill out the field.

Art Direction

Avatar (5-1)

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (5-1)

Nine (10-1)

Sherlock Holmes (2-1)

The Young Victoria (3-1)

Due to its digital arena, here Avatar, while deserving of the nomination, will not triumph. Terry Gilliam’s Parnassus – like its creator – is lush and truly deserving of the win, and very well may get it. But when it comes to the art department, the Academy simply loves and relies on the costume picture. Look for Sherlock Holmes to win its only nod. Victoria to be queen to Guy Ritchie’s king.

Costume Design

Bright Star (15-1)

Coco Before Chanel (5-1)

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (7-1)

Nine (6-1)

The Young Victoria (3-1)

Again Victoria here is a fighter not a lover. That gawdawful Marie Antoinette won an Oscar for Milena Canonero, her second, so it wasn’t exactly a lifetime achievement award. However, there are other ponies, err, mares in the running.

Coleen Atwood dressed Nine to the nines, and very well could be awarded that lifetime achievement, having never won. Coco Chanel’s clothing, of course, could inspire a movement to install its designer, Catherine Leterrier – who worked very closely with Chanel’s estate for the movie – a deserved statue.

Bright Star is flashy and fills out this race handsomely, but it is the only horse not likely to finish in the money. Parnassus’s Monique Prudhomme is a designer’s designer, and as stated above, Terry Gilliam’s films have always been design centric.

There is a reason why Locker and Avatar are absent here, and not just for the seeming ease of its’ designer’s task. But I give the nod to the queen for the period drama voters tend to rely on.

Makeup

Il divo (15-1)

Star Trek (Even)

The Young Victoria (3-1)

This is a mystery to me. Well, a mystery as to why Zombieland wasn’t nominated. They shot that badass movie for $30 million and made it look like $60 million and it is the Rodney Dangerfield of the awards season. The makeup and FX work was brilliant, and Bill Murray and Harrelson should be recognized. Sadly, only here are they receiving it.

I bring this up to say there seems to be oversight here. Granted, Locker and Avatar have no business being nominated. But District 9 and Zombieland don’t get nods, and I see inequity here. That typed, Vickie has a great chance, as does the random Italian feature profiling a possibly corrupt politician. The mulit-generational story is nominated for the aging process of its protagonist and immediate cast. Filler, I say. But filler of the wrong kind.

I like Star Trek here because JJ Abrahms made that movie with mostly low-fi methods, eschewing CGI only when necessary, and the film is a credit to it. Except Spock’s eyebrows.

Score

Avatar (5-1)

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2-1)

The Hurt Locker (10-1)

Sherlock Holmes (12-1)

Up (3-1)

No Danny Elfman here to be snubbed… again. But the exes battle, and they both lose. Sherlock’s cues were melodic and bombastic but rather flashy. Fox’s Alexandre Desplat has been thrice nominated, including this year, and I feel his bouncy colorful score will win.

My personal favorite is Michael Giacchino – he of the blatted trombone glissandi of LOST, perhaps akin to CloseToJumping’s brash and appropriate brain vomit – as he delighted me with a light and catchy score that never intruded. He takes place here though.

Original Song

Crazy Heart (9-5)

Faubourg 36 (50-1)

Nine (8-1)

The Princess and the Frog (10-1)

The Princess and the Frog (10-1)

It simply is not possible that T-Bone Burnett loses this award. In years past, Disney has ruled the roost, and musicals were shoes-in, but here they both fall flat of "The Weary Kind." Word has it Jeff Bridges will perform the song himself at the show, and the world will see why it wins. It’s a shame more tunes from the film didn’t make it on the nominations.

The knee-jerk reaction here by the Academy was giving a nod to the French film about an aging cabaret singer. They probably thought they were nominating 36 Mafia again, so, like Huckleberry’s sense of hip hop, it too shall go listless.

Sound Mixing

Avatar (2-1)

The Hurt Locker (10-1)

Inglorious Basterds (12-1)

Star Trek (4-1)

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (20-1)

All the films listed are more than worthy of the nomination. But the affect Avatar’s surround sound/3D experience was in fact simply mesmerizing as a technical feat. It should win here to start its tech-savvy landslide victory.

Sound Editing

Avatar (2-1)

The Hurt Locker (8-1)

Inglorious Basterds (10-1)

Star Trek (4-1)

Up (12-1)

Again, there is no mistake made when four of the five Mixing nominations are shared with the Editing nods. Up, supplanting Transformers: Revenge of Michael Bay, should also not be overstated. But, here again, Avatar will reign supreme with its crafty tonal splicing of animal, vegetable and blue specied sex.

Visual Effects

Avatar (4-1)

District 9 (7-1)

Star Trek (3-1)

No surprise here as well. District 9 has a real chance, but the mystery is if the Academy will reward the Federation for doing it old school. Only a scant quarter of the filming of Star Trek was shot in front of a green effects screen. In contrast, Avatar filmed entirely matted and interpolated, with no actors wearing costumes or wardrobe.

The line will shift closer to the date, as a feeling will emerge as to what taste for skill-set the filmmakers will be rewarded for from Oscar voters. My hope and hunch is they go low-fi, but it’ll be close, as Avatar quite literally invented new technology. If it loses, the tech’s inventors will be granted a special achievement Oscar in the future.

Animated Feature

Coraline (15-1)

Fantastic Mr. Fox (10-1)

The Princess and the Frog (20-1)

The Secret of Kells (50-1)

Up (9-5)

Just give the damned thing to John Lassetter already. Andrew Stanton has made three Oscar speeches in his life, and this will undoubtedly not be his last. Up has it, and it will take a false-hope folly of unmitigated corruption to prevent only the second ever film nominated for both Best Picture and Animated Feature to lose.

Foreign Language

Ajami (15-1)

The White Ribbon (5-2)

The Secret in Their Eyes (16-1)

A Prophet (7-1)

The Milk of Sorrow (10-1)

I believe here, too, a winner has already been chosen. Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon should be nominated for far more awards, including screenplay and direction. The stark beauty of the film, and the sheer kinetic reception in watching it cannot be taken for granted. A Prophet made little noise here in Los Angeles when it screened but stuck around at art houses. Same for Milk, which finishes a distant third.

Documentary Feature

Burma VJ (20-1)

The Cove (3-1)

Food, Inc. (2-1)

The Most Dangerous Man in America (7-1)

Which Way Home (12-1)

This too is a two-horse race. Food, Inc. has gone viral with independent marketing throughout the country, and has stormed into small town America. Denton alone had several parties and screening nights engineered by the filmmakers. Their word is out. It is strong, and can only be overcome by The Cove and the requisite bleeding-heart commie PETA bastard Oscar voters.

If the Academy votes it’s conscience, it’ll be The Cove and a bad publicity day for Japan the likes only seen by OJ Simpson. If they vote for the more relevant and popular choice – which almost never fails – Food, Inc. has its statue.

Documentary Short

China's Unnatural Disaster (5-1)

The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner (3-1)

The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant (5-1)

Rabbit a la Berlin (10-1)

Music by Prudence (12-1)

Word around the campfire is that Booth Gardner and the film following him, has made quite the impact both on the festival circuit, and as a bit of propaganda for his cause. And as always is the case in the shorts platform for the Oscars, Buzz equals votes.

Animated Short

French Roast (6-1)

Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty (5-1)

The Lady and the Reaper (5-1)

Logorama (3-1)

Wallace and Gromit in 'A Matter of Loaf and Death' (9-5)

This too was over before the announcement. Academy voters have voted for Nick Park FOUR TIMES before, and he will win again for the doff Brit and his savant dog.

However, some loose change can be spent on Logorama, a rights issue Cause celebre, involving the use and prominence of brands and logos throughout the world. Much like Burnett’s Killer of Sheep and Thom Anderson’s Los Angeles Plays Itself, this film has so many clearance issues, it is unlikely to make it to a screen of ANY kind other than the festival circuit. That kind of interest NEVER goes unnoticed by Academy voters.

Live Action Short

The Door (4-1)

Instead of Abracadabra (3-1)

Kavi (12-1)

Miracle Fish (10-1)

The New Tenants (8-1)

Oddly, as a short-film maker myself, I should be hip to this category’s entries. But I have heard or read exactly NOTHING about any of these films… except The Door. In Russian, the film was made by decorated short makers, and has been talked about a little in the grungy/hipster arena I unfortunately inhabit. But if I had to guess, Abracadabra will work its magic, as it is a light loser buddy comedy, which in times of war, always wins over voters.

Please feel free to discuss my myopic stance. You will be wrong when the dough starts to flow…