As much as we prognosticators like to invoke horse race analogies in handicapping the major categories on the annual Oscar ballot, this is nothing like a horse race. For starters, the Oscar fields are comprised of human beings who, on average, have a top speed of about 15 miles per hour compared to 25-30 mph for a thoroughbred. Second, you can’t lay a bet down on the Oscars anywhere in the U.S., though that may soon change in Nevada, thanks to new rules passed last month by the Las Vegas Gaming Commission. Third, there is only a win position on each ballot. No place, no show. No photo finishes, either, though dead heats are possible. Twice in Academy Awards history two actors have shared the Oscar, the last split coming in 1969 when Katharine Hepburn (“The Lion in Winter”) and Barbra Streisand (“Funny Girl”) both won best actress.
There is, however, one thing the horse and Oscar races do have in common and which provides both their drama: no matter how strong the favorite in each field is, there is always the possibility of an upset.
With the academy polls now closed, any late entrant in the office Oscar pool can assure themselves 17 or 18 wins by just going with our Gold Derby panel of experts or by Googling “Las Vegas Oscar odds” and following the Sports Book lines. The prediction contest will be won by those who do the best job in the neck-and-neck races and are able to pick an upset or two.
Here are my choices for the likeliest upsets:
You’d be a fool to bet against “The Revenant,” which had all the momentum when the final ballots went out to academy voters. But, some pretty smart fools think either “The Big Short” or “Spotlight” can upset.
Likeliest upset: “Spotlight.”
Though no director has won back-to-back Oscars in more than 60 years, “The Revenant’s “ Alejandro Gonzales Innaritu is favored to take home a mantel companion for the Oscar he won last year for “Birdman.”
Likeliest upset: However, it would be only a mild upset if the winner is “Mad Max’s” choreographing whiz George Miller.
Best Supporting Actor
Rocky Balboa, now 69, puffy and humbled by a prolonged career slump, is expected to win his first Oscar, but his supporters are advised to remember that in the original “Rocky,” he lost.
Likeliest upset: I’m actually picking this one on my ballot, Mark Rylance for “Bridge of Spies.”
Best Supporting Actress
Las Vegas has installed Alicia Vikander as the favorite for “The Danish Girl,” in which she played the Danish girl’s wife.
Likeliest upset: Kate Winslet, who won the Golden Globe and BAFTA awards for “Steve Jobs.” You should note, however, that Vikander was not on either of those ballots with Winslet.
Click here to see ups and downs of Oscar races over entire awards season
Best Costume Design
Historically, the academy has favored large-scale period movies, especially those featuring flowing gowns. Call it the Edith Head Rule, after the costumer who’d collected eight Oscars from 35 nominations, and that film this year would seem to be “Cinderella.”
Likeliest upset: The one I am picking, “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which may be less a long shot after its win at the Costume Designers Guild awards Tuesday.
Best Sound Mixing
This may be the toughest pick on the ballot. While the sound editing and sound mixing awards often go to the same movie, they are very different jobs. The sound editor(s) work in studios designing and fine-tuning sounds that will eventually be “mixed” by the team that captured the sound on location while the movie was being shot. “Mad Max,” the noisiest film in contention is the favorite on both sound ballots.
Likeliest upset: “The Revenant,” whose sound mixers endured the now-famously brutal wilderness conditions in Canada and Tierra del Fuego.
Best Visual Effects
The “smart money” here, both on Gold Derby and in Las Vegas, rate “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Mad Max” as a toss-up.
Likeliest upset: “The Revenant,” whose bear mauling sequence may be the best visual effects stunt on film this decade.
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