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How To Win Your Oscar Pool

February 23, 2006|Tom O'Neil | Special to The Times

EVER wonder why you always lose your Oscar pool? Or ask yourself how such a simple thing -- checking off the right boxes on your office ballot -- can seem so confounding?

Well, your worries may soon be over. Just use the five basic rules below, and this year you could be the one walking around like the king (or queen) of the cubicles on the day after the Academy Awards.

1. Stay away from long shots

The first rule for any would-be prognosticator is to keep those thrill-seeking urges in check. It's always tempting to make a big Oscar pool splash by taking a wild stab at a wild-card candidate. And, given the law of averages, someday you might be able to boast, "Ha, I predicted that Jim Broadbent ["Iris"] would beat Ian McKellen ["Lord of the Rings"] for best supporting actor of 2001. I saw that one coming a mile away!" But the problem with playing long shots is you'll be wrong many more times than you'll be right. So do yourself a favor and resist the urge to make daredevil predictions.

2. Pay attention to the pundits

The journalists who cover showbiz become media insiders, just like Oscar voters. Not only do they talk to academy members, but the best of these experts learn to think like them. So look upon them as a scientifically accurate polling sample. That means if most top pundits predict Mr. X will win best actor, you should follow their lead.

3. Gamble wisely

If you must risk a pick on an underdog, do it where upsets happen most frequently: the supporting acting categories. Typical examples: Marcia Gay Harden in "Pollock" and James Coburn in "Affliction." Notice a pattern? Upsets tend to involve performers from obscure art-house flicks. Some believe it's because these films are the last DVD screeners watched by academy members. Applying the art-house hypothesis this year, many pundits believe Amy Adams ("Junebug") has a better chance to beat Rachel Weisz ("The Constant Gardener") than, say, Michelle Williams ("Brokeback Mountain").

4. Stop rooting for your favorites

Sure, you've got a favorite film this year. But don't let your heart overrule your head. Just because you love a nominee doesn't mean the experts do. (See item No. 2.) And they're the ones you should be listening to, not that little voice in your head telling you to go ahead and side with the actor or director you're really pulling for.

5. Remember that academy

members are not really voting

for what's best

Think the Oscars are all about rewarding quality? Better think again. How else to explain that one of the world's greatest actors, Richard Burton, went to his grave with seven nominations and no wins? Fact is the Oscars reflect the inner thinking of Hollywood's elite. Did Nicole Kidman win best actress for "The Hours" because she delivered the finest performance of the year? Or because she'd just been dumped by Tom Cruise and academy members wanted to give her a big sympathy hug? Did Roman Polanski outdo himself with "The Pianist"? Or was he just being forgiven after decades in exile? Figure out who's in favor and who's out of favor in Hollywood at the time votes are being cast, and chances are you'll wind up with the winning ballot on March 6.

And, best of all, you won't even have to worry about that old "length of show" tiebreaker.

Tom O'Neil covers all the major award shows, including the Oscars, daily in his GoldDerby blog at

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