A Beginner’s Guide to a Grown Man’s Fantasy: Betting on the Oscars

By: Justin Nearon

On Sunday, March 2nd, everyone who is anyone in Hollywood will come together for the film industry’s biggest night of the year: “The 86th Annual Academy Awards”.

That distant glow you’ll see emanating off the coast of Southern California won’t be a pollution obscured sunset, but the flashes of a thousand paparazzi cameras, as stars walk the red carpet.

The escalating rumble you’ll hear won’t be the minor earthquakes so common to the region, but rather the sound of a hundred or so actors patting themselves on the back for a job well done.

And that steady drip isn’t water falling of the golden locks of some Huntington Beach surfer?  No that’s the sound of millions gamblers around the globe, salivating in anticipation of Oscar bets they hope cash in very soon.

Believe it or not, next to the U.S. presidential election, The Academy Awards might be the heaviest bet non-sporting event in the world.  While some of us were trying to figure how many points the Broncos would lose by in the Super Bowl, there were others out there evaluating how much wearing a dress increased Jared Leto’s chances of winning Best Supporting Actor (quite significantly actually).

Whether it be slapping down thousands of dollars online (you aren’t allowed to bet on the awards in Vegas casinos) or throwing a few bucks into bowl at one of those silly Oscar parties that require you to arrive in a tuxedo, people are attempting to convert their knowledge of film into cold hard cash.

For those of you not used to betting on something that doesn’t involve a ball or a puck, I’d like to offer my suggestions, as to who provides the best potential for return of investment, in the six major Oscar categories.

Lupita Nyong’o from “12 years A Slave”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  • Lupita Nyong’o (12 years as a Slave) –  1/2  ($2 bet wins $1 of profit)

  • Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle) – 6/5 ($5 bet wins $6 of profit)

  • Julia Roberts (Osage County) – 50/1 ($1 bet wins $50 of profit)

  • June Squibb (Nebraska) – 50/1

  • Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) – 50/1

(The only reason I’m showing you the odds, is so you know who the professionals gamblers think will win.  Believe it or not when you walk into your best friend’s Oscar party, half the people in the room will have no idea Lupita is favoured to win this award.  That will give you a huge leg up on the toonie pot everyone in the room is contributing too.)

My Best Bet: Lupita Nyong’o –  You will find that the common thread in many of these categories, is that the person(s) associated with the film “12 Years a Slave” will be the heavy favourite to win.  That is definitely the case here, as not only did Nyong’o steal scenes from Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor nominees Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender, but like Jennifer Lawerence last year, she is Hollywood’s new “It Girl”.  We all know how Hollywood likes their shiny new things.

Best Long shot: June Squibb.  The Academy likes to honour veteran character actors who have been overlooked for most of their career. Squibb might not have had the best performance of 2013, but she could win it as a pseudo ‘career achievement’ award.

(Before moving on to Best Supporting Actor, it should be noted that these are not necessarily performers I ‘hope’ will win.  If you risk your money based on hope and want, you are going to come away empty handed more often than not.  If you want to leave your party with a fatter wallet than you entered it with, you should try to figure out who the Academy voters ‘want’ to win.  Often it’s as simple as looking at the types of performances that have been successful in the past.  Other times it’s assessing who has the biggest media buzz right now.  Absent of that just look at the odds. While they’re by no means definitive, more time than not the favourite will win.)

Jared Leto from “Dallas Buyers Club”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

  • Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) – 1/20 ($20 bet wins $1 profit)

  • Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) – 8/1 ($1 bet wins $8 profit)

  • Bark had Abdi (Captain Phillips) – 15/1 ($1 bet wins $15 profit)

  • Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street) – 25/1 ($1 bet wins $25 profit)

  • Bradley Cooper (American Hustle) – 50/1

My Best Bet: By most accounts Jared Leto was not last year’s ‘Best Supporting Actor’, but Hollywood loves a physical transformation, and by putting on that dress and losing a ton of weight in “Dallas Buyers Club”, Leto moved to the front of the line.

Long shot: Jonah Hill.  This is just a hunch, as I don’t think the Academy wants to celebrate the misogyny and excess displayed in “The Wolf of Wall Street”, but they do like an actor who steps out of his/her box and performers well.  Hill dispelled the notion he’s little more than the funny fat guy with his dark performance in that ‘Scorsese’ film.

Matthew McConaughey from “Dallas Buyers Club”

BEST ACTOR:

  • Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) – 2/11 ($11 bet wins $2 profit)

  • Leo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street) – 4/1 ($1 bet wins $4 profit)

  • Chiwetel Ejiofor (Twelve Years a Slave) – 9/1 ($1 bet wins $9 profit)

  • Bruce Dern (Nebraska) – 50/1

  • Christian Bale (American Hustle) -60/1 ($1 bet wins $60 profit)

Best Bet: Matthew McConaughey. Sometimes the Oscar race is a game of momentum. Whoever is the hottest right before the votes are cast can win it.  Early on it was Ejiofor, but now there’s a growing sense that he wasn’t even the best performer in his own film.  Leo won the Golden Globe, but that was for Best Performance in a Musical or Comedy.  Do they want to award Best Actor to a performance the overseas journalists perceived as a comedic?

McConaughey, on the other hand had a turn in two Best Picture nominated films (Dallas Buyers Club and The Wolf of Wall Street), and is getting rave reviews for his work in one television’s most talked about new shows, HBO’s “True Detective”.  That might seem like apples and oranges, but that extra exposure tends to matter.

Best Long shot: Bruce Dern.  Warning! Warning!  Career Achievement Award alert!  The members love this old coot, but if you see June Squib win for Best Supporting Actress earlier in the evening, drop Dern like a hot potato.  The Academy won’t hand out two such ‘career’ honours on the same show.

Cate Blanchett from “Blue Jasmine”

BEST ACTRESS:

  • Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) – 1/35 ($1 bet wins $35 profit)

  • Amy Adams (American Hustle) – 15/1

  • Sandra Bullock (Gravity) – 15/1

  • Judi Dench (Philomena) – 40/1 ($1 bet wins $40 profit)

  • Meryl Streep (August Osage County) – 40/1

Best Bet: Cate Blanchett is the easy winner here, which is an amazing statement to make in a field that includes big screen legends Meryl Streep and Judi Dench.  Streep suffers by her own high standards and past success and there simply isn’t enough buzz around Dench in “Philomena”.

Blanchett was simply phenomenal in “Blue Jasmine”.  The only thing that could derail her Oscar train is a backlash against the films director, Woody Allen, in light of his daughter’s most recent accusations made against him.

Best Longshot: Like I said, I don’t think anyone else has a chance in this group, but if I had to pick one it would be Amy Adams.  Hollywood might want to finally reward her after 4 previous Best Supporting Actress losses.

Michael Fassbender (left) and Steve McQueen (right) from  “12 Years A Slave”

BEST DIRECTOR:

  • Alfonso  Cuaron (Gravity) – 1/40 ($40 bet wins $1 profit)

  • Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) – 10-1 ($1 bet wins $10 profit)

  • David O’Russell (American Hustle) – 25-1

  • Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street) – 50-1

  • Alexander Payne (Nebraska) – 75-1 ($1 bet wins $75 profit)

Best Bet: I’m going to go against the grain here by not picking Alfonso Cuaron.  “Gravity” is by all accounts a technological marvel, but I think a key point has been overlooked.  Academy voters are given advance screeners of nominated films, which are most likely viewed on television or computer screens.  I think a film like Cuaron’s needs to been seen in a movie theatre to truly be appreciated.

I’m instead betting on Steve McQueen, who at 10-1 also counts as my Long shot.  Every couple of years accusations are made, that the Academy tries to assuage America’s collective guilt of Slavery with this little gold statue.  If that’s the perception it’s a shame, because McQueens’ directorial effort is good enough to win on it’s own merits.

Chiwetel Ejiofor from  “12 Years A Slave”

BEST PICTURE:

  • Twelve Years A Slave – 1/5  ($5 bet wins $1 profit)

  • Gravity – 4/1 ($1 bet wins $4 profit)

  • American Hustle – 15/1

  • The Dallas Buyers Club – 25/1

  • The Wolf Of Wall Street – 50/1

  • Captain Phillips – 150/1 ($1 wins $150 profit)

  • Her – 150/1

  • Nebraska – 150/1

  • Philomena – 200/1 ($1 bet wins $200)

Best Bet: “12 Years A Slave”.  While there are occasions when the Best Director and Best Picture winners aren’t the same, the voters usually view them as a package deal which would favour this film, if my Steve McQueen prediction is correct.

Having said that, if Cuaron wins for direction then I like “12 Years A Slave’s” chances even more. The voters will want to give this film at least one major award for the reasons I stated earlier (see Best Director).

Longshot:  There are none here that I like.  You could make a small argument for “American Hustle”, but given director David O’Russell’s scandalous history, I think this is a two horse race between “Gravity” and “12 Years A Slave”.

Now go get ridiculously overdressed for that Oscar party and win some money!

“Academy Award” host Ellen Degeneres (middle)

@JustinNearon

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