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How to Win Your Oscar Pool

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Oscar pools are tough: You need to measure the buzz to figure out which categories are sure things, who has the momentum to pull an upset, and what the heck is nominated for the short subjects. Here, we take you through the ballot, starting with the trickier categories.

 

Costumes
Though earlier this decade the costume awards got a little bit creative, with awards for Moulin Rouge and Chicago, the Academy usually has a yen for puffy period dresses. The Duchess is a safe bet here.

Makeup
This one is tough but, since there are only three nominees, your chances for choosing correctly are improved. The conservative vote would be for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button but, if you’re feeling a little crazy, you might try breaking away from the pack with Hellboy II: The Golden Army. The Academy loves creatures: Pan’s Labyrinth, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Lord of the Rings have all been winners in this category.

Song/Score
It’s easy to think that “Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire has this locked, since two of the three nominated songs are from that film. (Where’s the nomination for “Dracula’s Lament,” Academy?) The last few times that’s happened — there were multiple nominations for songs from Dreamgirls and Enchanted — the songs split the vote and the presumed frontrunner walked away with nothing. It’s better to vote for Wall-E’s “Down to Earth” for song, and Slumdog Millionaire for score.

Sound Editing/Sound Mixing
First off, let’s all take a moment to complain that Wanted was nominated for an Academy Award. I love comic books, violence, and James McAvoy, but that movie was no good. This usually goes to a film with a lot of gunshots or explosions: The Bourne Ultimatum, Letters from Iwo Jima, King Kong. It’s not necessary to try and figure out the subtle difference between the categories — Academy voters don’t know, either — so just put down The Dark Knight for both.

Visual Effects
Though fantasies and comic-book movies have won awards in this category, I don’t think there’s much of a chance for The Dark Knight or Iron Man. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a best-picture nominee precisely because of its visual effects, so there’s a better-than-good chance it’ll walk away with this award.

Short Films
It’s not fair, but I think most Oscar pools are won and lost based on the short films. Everybody’s equally clueless, so they’re a great leveler. Best leave this to experts who know what they’re doing: I Googled around and most people are predicting “On the Line” for live action and “La Maison en Petits Cubes” for animated. (Don’t be tempted by the Pixar choice in the animated category — they haven’t won here since 2001.)

Art Direction
This is a tight category, and past winners have been all over the map from period pieces (The Aviator, Memoirs of a Geisha) to goth films (Pan’s Labyrinth, Sweeney Todd) to musicals (Chicago, Moulin Rouge). Still, I think period details usually trump fantasy elements in this category, and Benjamin Button has a lot of them sustained over multiple eras, so I think it’ll triumph over fellow nominees The Dark Knight and Revolutionary Road (no matter how much I want all of the furniture in the Revolutionary Road house).

Film Editing
Half the time — last year’s The Bourne Ultimatum win notwithstanding — the editing award goes to the eventual best picture winner. Here, Slumdog Millionaire is just as much of a frontrunner as it is in any other category.

Documentary/Short
With previous wins for March of the Penguins and An Inconvenient Truth, the Academy is no longer afraid to give the award to documentaries that people have actually seen, so Man on Wire is in a good position for best documentary. Documentary short is a toss-up. Each one represents a worthy issue. There doesn’t seem to be a clear prediction consensus, so your guess is as good as anybody’s, but if you’re stumped go with “The Witness: From the Balcony of Room 306.” It’s about Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination — who’d vote against that?

 

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Foreign Language Film
It’s a tight race between Waltz with Bashir and The Class. Past winners don’t indicate any kind of trend, but most are predicting a win for The Class, and I don’t have any reasons for why that shouldn’t happen.

Adapted/Original Screenplay
Slumdog Millionaire was based on the novel “Q & A” — which I just got for my birthday and I’m excited to read — and consensus seems to be that it’s a lock for the adapted screenplay award. Original screenplay is much tougher. (This is also usually my favorite award for the night.) Milk is a strong early contender, but buzz has been building toward an upset by Wall-E of all movies (which makes me very happy). In Bruges, which had a strong showing at the Golden Globes, is also a dark horse here. As much as I’d love to see Wall-E win, I think that the screenplay award is usually given as a consolation prize to a great film that doesn’t get best picture, and Milk is the only one nominated there, so my money is on that.

Cinematography
This is probably going to be another easy win for Slumdog Millionaire’s Anthony Dod Mantle. He already won awards from BAFTA (the British Oscars) and the American Society of Cinematographers. Plus, just look at it. It’s beautiful.

Supporting Actor
All signs point to a posthumous Oscar for Heath Ledger. Last year’s win for Javier Bardem shows that scary dudes can win this, and believe me, Heath Ledger is one scary dude. If anyone can pull an upset, it’s Josh Brolin (also a scary dude, but in a different way), but I don’t think he has enough momentum to do it.

Supporting Actress
This is one of the tightest races in the bunch, but Penélope Cruz is considered the favorite. The two Doubt performances will probably split their votes, but there’s always room for Marisa Tomei to sneak in there. Cruz gets a crazier, showier role, however, and the Academy likes actresses that go big.

Leading Actress
In Doubt, Meryl Streep — who’s been nominated 11 times already and won once — gets to yell, cry, and do some Heavy Acting, all while dressed as a nun. So why is everybody predicting Kate Winslet, who’s only been nominated three times and isn’t dressed like a nun at all? Well, she has to wear age makeup in The Reader, and that goes a long way, but The Reader generally wasn’t well liked outside of Kate’s performance, so I’m breaking away from my fellow predictors and sticking with Meryl Streep.

Actor
People are predicting a knock-down, drag-out fight for this award between Milk’s Sean Penn and The Wrestler’s Mickey Rourke. As much as I’d like to see The Wrestler get an award, the Academy likes Sean Penn (four nominations and counting), and he’s playing a real-life person (Academy bait if there was such a thing), so I think it’ll go to him.

Director
This one is Slumdog Millioniare’s Danny Boyle’s to lose. He already got an award from the Director’s Guild. And it’s about time. All of his movies are terrific.

Picture
Milk has been gaining traction, but I still say it’s going to Slumdog Millionaire. It’s got a ton of Guild awards and the momentum to keep the statues coming. Jai ho!