Forecasting the 86th Academy Awards

By Dan Urda

NFL handicapper Dan Urda switches gears and brings you the lowdown on Sunday’s Academy Awards.

This Sunday marks the 86th annual Academy Awards, making the ceremony only slightly older than the average member of the Philadelphia Phillies. It’s an award ceremony that was created by Hollywood to honor Hollywood. It’s long, it’s trite, and it’s incredibly self-congratulatory. And I love it. I love the spectacle, I love tweeting during the red carpet, and I annually make drinks and dishes that have to do with the nominees. Is it stupid, silly and tacky? 100% yes.  But I love movies and actors and, as a sorority girl would say, “I’m sorry I’m not sorry.” (To keep whatever minuscule amount is left of my man card, I also enjoy gambling on it!)

The most important aspect of making Oscar predictions is understanding the difference between who should win and who will win. Like anything that involves voting, politics are heavily involved. While voters in an ideal world would simply select who or what they feel is the best in a particular category, it just does not work like that. In the following paragraphs, we will discuss who should and who will win all of the major categories. I will only be commenting on the categories about which I have an inkling of knowledge about. If you want a preview of who will win Best Sound Mixing, I am afraid you have come to the wrong place. While I have all the respect in the world for the work that goes into the technical aspects of a film, I do not consider myself qualified to comment on the quality of them.  Without further ado, here is a category by category break down of this year’s nominees.

Best Original Song

You know what? I’m excited for this category! In what other context would Idina Menzel be competing against Pharrell Williams and Bono? While generally considered a throw-away category, the Best Original Song Oscar has shown some of the rare cases of voters thinking outside the box instead of going with the conventional choice. Three Six Mafia winning an Oscar for “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” is one of the most memorable moments of the last ten years of the ceremony.

Another reason why this category is so much fun is that it is one of the few this year that has more than one realistic possible winner. The favorite is Let it Go from the movie “Frozen”, but Bono’s Ordinary Love from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” and Happy from “Despicable Me 2” could take home the gold. For me, I’m rooting for Frozen for a few reasons. In no particular order:

– Frozen is awesome. But more on that later.

– I love Idina Menzel. Love her. I am fairly certain that I am the only person in the world who ever spent a Saturday night flipping between a Stanford-USC football game, and Idina Menzel’s live performance on PBS. She’s as talented as any singer out there, but since she specializes in Broadway she’s not as famous as she should be. I am excited to see her perform, and I want to see her win.

– I hate Bono. I don’t know if I am justified in this, or if I just want to punch him in the face for no reason like I do Adam Levine, but he just seems like a pompous douche. I admire celebrities who do charity work, but it is off-putting to me hearing him preach about poverty when the outfit he wears to the Oscars is probably going to be worth enough to feed a small village. I don’t want to see him win.  And besides, he will always be number 2.

Will Win: Frozen

Should Win: Frozen

Look Out For: Mandela

Best Animated Film

Films have come a long way in terms of animation. It used to be simple; cartoons were for kids. A good animated film was one that kids would love, and parents wouldn’t hate. But since Pixar became prominent, and even before that with some of the 1990s Disney films, animated cinema has become something that can be enjoyed by a broad audience. That is why this award was added to the Oscars in 2001, and the ceremony is better off for it.

This year, the aforementioned Frozen is the heavy favorite. Three films, The Croods, Despicable Me 2, and Ernest & Celestine, are in the “happy to be nominated” category. The Wind Rises, the fifth nominee, deserves some recognition. Legendary Japanese director/write/animator Hayao Miyazaki has announced that this will be his final film, and it is pretty sad more Americans aren’t familiar with his work. Miyazaki has been responsible from some of the most beautiful animation ever put to screen, and his films often reach a depth rarely seen in any movie, let alone an animated one. If you get a chance, check out his work.

But the likely winner, and deservingly so I might add, will be Frozen. Disney’s best non-Pixar animated film since The Lion King was a delightful take on “The Ice Princess” that included memorable (aka marketable) characters and songs that get stuck in your head for days. This is your winner, folks.

Should/Will Win: Frozen

Look Out For: The Wind Rises (but not really, Frozen’s got this)

Best Supporting Actress

We have a real race here. While most of the major categories have about as much competition as a Sixers game, this award really could go to one of two contenders. You may have heard of Jennifer Lawrence by now, she’s only the most popular talented young actress to come around Hollywood since Julia Roberts broke out in Pretty Woman. She’s nominated for her fantastic performance in American Hustle, and an actress of her stature and popularity in such an acclaimed movie is a lock to win, right? Wrong.

Enter newcomer Lupita N’yongo, whose devastating performance in 12 Years a Slave has earned raves since the films’ release. I’m calling for her to win here. If Jennifer Lawrence did not win Best Actress last year, I think she would be the favorite. But I do feel that voters will hesitate to give her this one, since she is already such an established star. This award has historically been given to actresses who are either new to the scene, or who have done solid work for years but weren’t exactly household names. I think they recognize the Yale-trained N’yongo on Sunday, and neither Jennifer Lawrence nor her fans will care because she is still on her way to being the biggest star in the world.

Will Win: Lupita N’yongo

Should win: Hard to say, as both were great, deserving performances.

Could win: Jennifer Lawrence

Best Supporting Actor and Best Actress

While these categories have nothing to do with one another, I am lumping them together for one reason; they are both mortal locks. Jared Leto and Cate Blanchett are winning these categories, and there is no planet on which an upset occurs. The odds of these two in terms of betting are astronomical at every book, but if you can convince some non-movie guru fans to bet you a case of beer on one of these, do so immediately.

Since there is not much else to say here, I will use this space to rant. The fact that Brie Larson is not nominated for Best Actress for her role in Short Term 12 is a crime. The fact that the movie itself is not nominated for Best Picture is atrocious as well, as it was the best movie of 2013. I understand that politics got in the way and the independent studio that produced Short Term 12 didn’t have the money to launch a huge campaign, but Larson, at the very least deserved some recognition. Her performance as a worker at a temporary home for troubled children, who has spent her life battling personal demons of her own, would not beat Blanchett, but the nomination would mean more people would know about the movie and therefore see it, and this film deserves to be seen. In fact, if one person reads this column and sees the film because of it, I’ll be a happy writer.

Best Actor

Rust Chol, er, Matthew McConaughey is the favorite to win this category, as his performance in Dallas Buyers Club is basically an Oscar checklist. Physical transformation, check. Showing depth not before seen in an actor, check. Dealing with a hot button issue (in this case, AIDs/homophobia), check. All signs do point to MM taking home the gold.

That reminds me, True Detective is on during the Oscars. That really sucks, but does that have anything to do with this award? Well, yes and no. While it should not have anything to do with how a voter thinks, an actor’s popularity at the time of voting has often impacted the award show. For example, Eddie Murphy was pretty much a lock to win Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Dreamgirls, but surprisingly lost out to Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine. There is no way of proving this, but it is generally believed that the fact that Murphy’s tedious and unfunny comedy Norbit was out while Oscar voting was going on led those with ballots to shy away from him. McConaughey could face the opposite result, as following up his film role of a lifetime with one of the most memorable TV characters of this or any generation has likely kept him in good graces with voters.

Ah, but there is also the Leo factor. I am going to count out one-time favorite Chiwetel Ejiofor, and consider this a two-man race. Leo does have a legitimate chance to pull this one off. Two weeks ago, the odds on him at online books were +700, meaning 7 to 1 odds of him winning.  Now, they are +350, so there is clear steam in his direction. The big question is whether Leo is destined to travel the Al Pacino path to an Oscar; passed over for decades for numerous deserving performances only to be given a make-up Oscar late in his career for a performance that doesn’t even rank in his personal top 10? DiCaprio is one of the best in the business, and he could get recognition on Sunday. Or, he could get recognition in twenty years for an over-acted role in which he spends most of his screen time screaming “hoo ha”.

Will win: Matthew McConaughey

Should win: DiCaprio

Best Director

When Gravity was released, it became a phenomenon. While some critics and viewers, such as myself, found the movie as a whole to be boring at times, there is no doubting the technical achievements. The work done by director Alfonso Curon deserves recognition, and it will get some on Sunday. I’d like to pretend there was something resembling a race for this category, but realistically, there is no need for any of the other nominees to write a speech.

Should win: Curon

Will win: Curon

Best Picture

From the moment  “12 Years a Slave” premiered to critics for the first time, the buzz surrounding the film was that it might as well be given the Oscar on the spot. It was actually laughable to people who have the crazy idea that, I don’t know, maybe writers should wait until all films come out before anointing a Best Picture winner? While it has not aged quite as well as predicted, and is not the runaway, astronomical favorite to win, it still is the film most likely to take home the award.

Is there an ice cube’s chance in hell that Gravity sneaks in and grabs the award?  Yes, and the same for American Hustle at that. There have been surprise Best Picture winners in the past (Crash, anyone?), but it really is hard to see anybody but Steve McQueen accepting this award.

Betting

So a lot of you read my weekly column during the NFL season, so I assume you want some betting advice. As much as betting on the Oscars sounds like something a true degenerate would do, there can be some money to be made. Unfortunately, the odds for most of the winners are so big, I can’t advocate taking them. If you want to risk $3400 to win $100 on Cate Blanchett, first of all you probably can’t because most books have a small limit on prop bets, but hypothetically, that would be the equivalent to finding a $100 bill on the street. But in terms of value, I only see a few things even worth taking a shot at.

Leo at +350 is worth a quarter of a unit. I wish I wrote this column a bit earlier, as I advocated taking him at +700 when that line was available. People who did that could now take McConaughey at -400 and all but guarantee some money.  I still think there is some value in Leo, as word is that even those who did not like Wolf of Wall Street still admired the work that DiCaprio did. If you want to take a shot there, I don’t think it’s a terrible idea.

I also think American Hustle wins for Best Original Screenplay, which is currently lined at -175.  I say throw a unit on that. Mostly everyone loved the movie, and it got more nominations than any other film, but it doesn’t seem likely to win any of the major awards. I think the voters give the film some recognition in this category. It is the only full unit bet I am willing to make this year, which is unfortunate, but then again if you followed me on Twitter (@DanUrda), you’d be sitting pretty still from the Golden Globes! Those will be my two wagers, Leo at +350, 0.25 units to win 0.875 units and Hustle for Best Original Screenplay 1.75 units to win 1 unit.

Best of luck. If you are a nerd like me, enjoy the show, and if not, at least make some money. You might as well tune in. You now know all you need to about who is going to win.

In addition to his work as a handicapper, Dan Urda also writes the occasional movie review for afterthecut.com. You can follow him on twitter @DanUrda.


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