Start your Oscar party with two ballots: Should win, Will win

Before you finalize your picks for the Oscars Sunday, remember Rule No. 1: “Don’t pick the ones you think are the best and therefore should win.” Unless you are an academy member voting your heart and sending your ballot off to PWC, your favorite is less important than the last kernel in your popcorn box.

It’s a very hard rule to follow because you want to enjoy the show and it’s not fun to see your favorites lose. I’ve been publishing my Oscar ballots for four decades and I disobey the rule at least once every year and kick myself when my wishful thinking goes unfulfilled.

Only marginally better is picking against your favorite and having your favorite win, a good news/bad news event if there ever was one.

I did this when I picked “The Prince of Tides’” Nick Nolte to win Best Actor over Anthony Hopkins in “The Silence of the Lambs.” Nolte was the favorite by most accounts, primarily because he was a genuine lead while Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter had a limited amount of time on screen.

Though I had to eat my ballot with a fine Chianti, I was happy to do it because I both loved Hopkins’ performance and knew it was going to stand the test of time. Without looking it up on IMDB, I can’t even tell you what “Prince of Tides” was about.

I suggest for your Oscar party having everyone fill out two ballots, one marking the nominees you hope will win and one marking the ones you think will win. Separate wagers. Think how good you will feel when you the nominee you pick on both ballots wins. And if you get half as many right on your favorites ballot as on your should-win ballots and only win that one. . .hmmm, sweet.

Without singling anyone out, you can find a lot of wishful thinking among Gold Derby participants — experts, editors and users alike. And they may have the last laughs. But you choose those upsets with care.

SEE Oscars 2019 predictions: Who will win Best Picture, Actor, Actress and the other 21 categories

I have looked at a lot of published ballots by critics and found some dreaming there. One in particular is the ballot in the New Yorker magazine by one of its esteemed critics, Richard Brody. I read him regularly and think he is a very smart guy with refined cinematic tastes.

But you don’t bring refined cinematic tastes to an Oscar party unless you want to lose. Brody explains why he thinks certain nominees are going to win, sometimes using conventional reasoning, some times going out on a wishful limb.

It’s apparent to Brody’s readers and from his own words that the Oscars are beneath him and that this year, in particular, “appears to be flailing and floundering, haunted by a sense of desperation, confusion, and crisis.”

He goes on to talk about the academy’s panic to trim the show and lure in younger viewers in order to stop its ratings slide, all of which diminishes the quality of the field of nominees. Nevertheless, he predicts winners for all 24 categories.

SEE Oscars 2019: Everything you need to know – start time, presenters, performers, predictions

To him, only “Black Panther” and “BlackKklansman” are good movies, but he goes with the favorite, “Roma,” which he calls “a feast of sociopolitical self-congratulation in black-and-white aspic.” (Aspic:  a clear savory jelly (as of fish or meat stock) used as a garnish or to make a meat, fish, or vegetable mold.)

He bets against himself and the house in picking Bradley Cooper to win Best Actor for “A Star is Born” over his favorite, “Bohemian Rhapsody’s” Rami Malek, By Vegas odds, a $100 bet on Cooper would win $1,800 while the same bet for Malek would net you just $16.

Brody likes Glenn Close to win Best Actress, though he thinks her role in “The Wife” is “flimsily contrived” and adjudges her performance as no better than if she were sitting down reading from the book.

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It’s in the supporting actor category where his critical thinking gets in his way. It’s not that he picks Richard E. Grant to win for “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” – a lot of people think he will — but for his reasoning that Grant gives the best performance. Mahershala Ali, who has beat Grant in everything so far, would get consideration if he were in “a clearer-minded movie” than “Green Book.” Vegas odds there say $100 on Ali gets you $100 back and a hundred on Grant gets you $700 back.

Elsewhere, he makes perfectly safe bets. For animated short, he goes with the favorite “Bao,” saying “Don’t bet against Pixar,” and he’s going with the flow in picking Cuaron to win for cinematography.

But he looks past the likely co-favorites for best documentary, “RBG” and “Free Solo,” to pick “Minding the Gap” over his second choice, “Hale Country.”

Finally, Brody’s distaste for “Roma” has him picking Poland’s “Cold War” to win for foreign language film, which would be a dubious achievement because it’s such a lousy group of nominees.

Overall, his ballot is not that out of sync with the odds and his bolder choices may prove prophetic. If so, more academy members are reading New Yorker than I thought.

PREDICT the Oscars now; change them until February 24

Be sure to check out how our experts rank this year’s Oscar contenders. Then take a look at the most up-to-date combined odds before you make your own 2019 Oscar predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before winners are announced on February 24.

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