Oscar predictions panic: To change or not?

Here is my definition of “bittersweet”:

I was in the audience at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in 1992 when Kathy Bates, the Best Actress Oscar winner the year before for “Misery,” opened the envelope for Best Actor and revealed that Anthony Hopkins had won for “Silence of the Lambs.” “Yes!” I muttered to myself as I rose with the rest of the tux-and-begowned crowd to give Hopkins the longest and loudest ovation of the night. He deserved to win for his brilliant depiction of Hannibal Lector and I wanted him to win.

Sweet.

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Unfortunately, for me and readers of New York’s Newsday who had taken my advice while filling out their office Oscar pool ballots, I didn’t pick him to win. I had taken the advice of a usually reliable Hollywood source who told me that Nick Nolte (“The Prince of Tides”) was “a lock.” 

Nolte. “The Prince of Tides.” Does anybody even remember that movie or that performance?

That big miss on my Oscar tout sheet pains me still because it is the worst kind of miss, one where I not only should have known better but did know better and got it wrong anyway. I made the pick with the confidence of Wile E. Cayote and suffered the humiliation of the Road Runner.

With Sunday’s Oscar show fast approaching, I am trying not to make that same mistake this year. It’s not easy.

I want “Spotlight” to win Best Picture but I think “The Revenant” will win. Do I pick “Spotlight” for my Gold Derby Experts ballot and be prepared to kick myself when “The Revenant” gets the call-out? Or, do I improve my odds of being right by picking “The Revenant” and taking the chance that a “Spotlight” win would put me on suicide watch?

There are a couple of even more difficult choices to be made, but before I make them, let me describe the three parts of the decision-making process all of us Oscar pickers face.

First is the Heart Decision, the one you make based on who you hope will win because you don’t care what anybody else thinks, that’s the one you liked most, damnit!

Second is the Gut Decision, the one you make based on who you think will win because you have found portals into the minds of all 6,000-plus academy voters and know what they’re thinking now and what they have always thought. 

Third is the Deadline Decision, the one you make based on the fact that the show is starting in five minutes and you haven’t even opened the bean dip yet.

Best case scenario is when the nominee you hope will win is also the one you think will win, making the third decision simple. For me, this is the Hopkins Rule: when your heart and your gut agree, go with them. If there’s an upset, you will still respect yourself in the morning.

Click here to see ups and downs of Oscar races over entire awards season

It gets dicey when your heart and your gut are at odds, as they are in my above conflict with “The Revenant” and “Spotlight.”

If you truly, madly, deeply want to win your office pool, or beat the experts on Gold Derby, always go with your gut over your heart. In these matters, the heart is a lonely hunter.

If, on the other hand, you want to enjoy the telecast, if you want to feel the full spectrum of emotions that only the Academy Awards provides, go with your heart. But only on ballots where there is ample doubt between your favorite and the miserable SOB likeliest to beat it.

Many print critics neutralize some of the anguish in this process by splitting their individual choices between nominees that “Should win” and nominees that “Will win,” further confusing their readers while doubling their chances of picking winners.

As I write this, there is time left to make changes on my Gold Derby Experts ballot. The competition is stiff; not only are there 26 other seasoned handicappers on the Experts panel but there are movie buffs on parallel panels that have made a nuisance of themselves beating the experts every year. (I suspect ballot-stuffing but have no evidence of that.)

NEW: Oscar predictions by Experts in all 24 categories

There are 24 Oscar categories and my heart is not involved in all of those decisions. For instance, I haven’t seen the three short films, the historical bugaboo of Oscar pools, so I am going with the consensus picks of my colleagues. If I’m wrong, most of them will be wrong, too. It’s a wash more than a loss.

There are prohibitive favorites in many of the categories, so there’s no point in getting my hopes up, say for an “Anomalisa” upset of “Inside Out” for Animated Feature, or Matt Damon over Leonardo DiCaprio for Best Actor. Not  going to happen.

Do I need to make any last-minute changes? Well, there are two that I am considering. One is for Visual Effects. The panel is about evenly split between “Star Wars” and “Mad Max” while four of us are on “The Revenant.” Typically, the award goes to the movie most reliant on visual effects but my gut says the bear mauling scene will reward “The Revenant” and I’ll probably stick with it.

Compare Oscar odds: Experts vs. Editors vs. Top 24 Users vs. All Users

Elsewhere, I have long been a voice in the wilderness crying out for Mark Rylance to win Supporting Actor for “Bridge of Spies” while Sylvester Stallone is the year’s sentimental favorite for “Creed.”
By my own logic, I should switch. When a single loss could cost me a bold-faced mention in the panel results story that will be published after the show, I would be a fool to pick a long shot anywhere on the board. But here’s another nugget of Oscar psychology: when the heart and gut are diametrically opposed, the heart usually wins. Life’s blood and all that.

I have made my case for Rylance in two separate podcasts with a skeptical Tom O’Neil and throwing in the towel now for Rocky would be a little embarrassing. On the other hand, a win’s a win. Yet again, I can imagine the euphoria, not to mention the yooge “I told you so,” if I pick Rylance and he wins.

What to do, what to do. . .

All of this personal agonizing over the Oscars reminds me of something Barack Obama said to Donald Trump at the White House Correspondents Dinner. After praising the Donald for showing leadership in firing Gary Busey instead of Lil Jon or Meat Loaf on an episode of “Celebrity Apprentice,” the president said “And these are the kinds of decisions that would keep me up at night.”

Sweet.

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“The Revenant” (Fox); “The Big Short” (Paramount); “Spotlight” (Open Road)

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