Oscar betting is not for the timid

The Bloor is doing something nifty for Oscar night - they're showing the whole telecast on the screen. Doors open at 7:00, and the show is free for members, seniors, and kids. (Bear in mind, though, the actual ceremony doesn't start until 8:30... so getting there early buys you nothing except a whole lot of Rivers. Wait, is she still alive?) And if the Bloor doesn't whet your appetite, Toronto Life has a list of other T.O. Oscar parties. Me, I'll be holed up in my friend's condo with a scratch pad and a headset, grumbling to myself.

Traditionally, I suck at Oscar pools, because I patently refuse to play the safe bets. I've only won twice in the long sad history of my Oscar pools, and both times it was by going against common sense and bagging an unlikely pick or two.

See, the problem with Oscar pools is that they're like using Hurley's numbers (from Lost) in the lottery - in the off chance that you actually hit, you're sharing the prize with thousands of other people. Every year there's a "prevailing wisdom" about who will win what major prize, and most pool betters will just follow the herd. If the herd wins, everybody loses.

Oscar pool success lies in picking an outside candidate here and there, and hoping and praying that you're alone in your rightness.

So without further ado...

Best Picture
I'm tagging Babel and I will not be dissuaded. It's a far better flick than last year's winner, Crash. But as is usually the case, the key is in looking at who won't win. I can't quite buy the idea that odds-on favourite The Departed takes the prize; this feels like a split year, and we can be fairly assured that Scorsese is taking Director. The Queen doesn't have enough mass, and Iwo Jima doesn't have a snowball's chance at this point. Strikingly, I think the biggest competition for Babel is Little Miss Sunshine. Everybody loves the toes off that flick. But it might be too little to win.

Best Director
Scorsese all the way through. As close as this year gets to a lock. An entire Academy of voters overlooking the fact that The Departed isn't very good, just to give one of Hollywood's living masters an award.

Best Actor
Ditto that for Peter O'Toole, although in this case it's deserved; his performance in Venus may have positively reeked of "I'm dying soon but I'm still freaking terrific," but it's still the one people want to vote for, and vote they will. Sorry, Leo: you got nominated for the wrong film.

Best Actress
It would be hard to imagine Helen Mirren not winning for The Queen, though Meryl Streep's money-making turn in Prada was glossy enough to remind the Academy of why they like her so much.

Hey I just realized that Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio have been co-nominated in parallel categories. Think they'll make out?

Best Supporting Actor
It's Eddie Murphy's year, and how surprising is that? None of the other nominees in the category have the momentum to take it, unless some serious undercover whamma jamma has been happening in H-wood this week.

Best Supporting Actress
Whomsoever guesseth this category wins their Oscar pool. It's a bloody minefield. Jennifer Hudson might get the same Dreamgirls mojo that Eddie Murphy is working on. Cate Blanchett couldn't be hotter right now if she was made out of magma. Adrian Barazza and Rinko Kikuchi both pretty much carried Babel on their capable shoulders, with the latter's fully-nude final act of the film probably tattooing quite the powerful image on the memories of the voters.

Me? I want to believe it goes to the kid. Somehow, Little Miss Sunshine is going to get at least one award, just for being the breakaway feelgood of the year, and Abigail Breslin was that movie. Why not? It worked for Anna Paquin.

Best Documentary Feature
An Inconvenient Truth should escape the inconvenient truth that it's little more than a recording of a speech, given the quantity of cultural capital it has generated for 2006. People want to vote for a documentary that other people actually saw.

Best Animated Feature
Look for the Frodo-penguin to kick the tar out of the least of Pixar's efforts, Cars. Happy Feet for the win, and a strong "we give a crap about the environment" message overall.

Best Foreign Language Film
It should be Pan's Labyrinth's win, given the film's near-nuclear presence in the critical marketplace, but the fantasy element may drive some voters away. Sorry Deepa; if it's not Pan's, it's almost certainly The Lives of Others, and not Canadian fave Water.

The technicals should be a reasonable split between Pan's Labyrinth, Dreamgirls, and Pirates of the Caribbean 2, and I would expect Children of Men to take its sole win for Cinematography. It's a hodgepodge year: don't be looking for any 9-win streaks come Monday morning.

How annoying do I expect Ellen Degeneres to be? That, dear readers, I leave to your imagination.

The Oscars are on Sunday night, and then we don't have to think about them again for a whole year!

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