Oscar Gambling: Vanyaland’s 2020 Academy Awards betting guide

The Academy/ABC

Happy Oscar Season, y’all.

It’s been an incredibly short awards season this year — normally we have a solid month between now and Sundance to put this dumb little column together — but, like the host-less ceremonies that were a shocking hit with everyone last year, it’s been pretty good for the format, all things considered. Somehow, someway, we all managed to survive Green Book winning Best Picture last year, even though Film Twitter very nearly imploded on itself. We called that victory, as well as Olivia Colman’s upset over Glenn Close in the Best Actress category (though we were wrong about Green Book also picking up the Original Screenplay award). This year is pretty interesting, however: The consensus favorite, 1917, feels like it’s on somewhat shaky ground, and outside of the acting categories, which are almost totally locked up, there’s a genuine air of uncertainty about this year’s lineup.

So, with that said:



We’ve taken our numbers from MyBookie, an online bettor that’s a decent indicator of how things are shaking out at most sportsbooks across the world wide web. We aren’t sponsored by them, nor do we endorse their service, but we’re just using their data as a starting point. If you’re so inclined, you can actually go and bet on the Oscars in person in New Jersey this year, which recently began allowing wagers for each of the major categories. We’ve split each group of nominees into three categories: favorites (under “The Favorite” header), longshots and non-viables (under the They Can’t All Be Winners, Kid header), and potential upset picks (under the So You’re Saying There’s a Chance header).  

A quick note on American Odds, which I’m using here and look funny to the untrained eye. Any number with a “-” in front of it is a favorite, and the number that follows it is how much money you would have to bet in order to win $100 (so if you were to bet on Brad Pitt to win Best Supporting Actor, you would have bet $4000 in order to walk away with that measly $100). A “+” is technically an underdog, and the number that follows represents the amount of money one would make with a $100 bet (if you were to bet $100 on Knives Out to win Best Original Screenplay, you’d walk away with $4,400, which goes to show you how much of a longshot that is).  


Now, a word from the patron saint of Oscar Gambling, Oscar Gamble:

The 92nd Academy Awards will take place this Sunday (February 9), and will air on ABC at 8 p.m. EST.

Best Visual Effects

The Favorite: 1917 (–180), which has a pretty good shot, though its effects are significantly less obvious than some of the other CGI-heavy nominees. It depends on how much the average voter ascribes to the cinematographer, though — a lot of that work is indistinguishable. It’s not a huge favorite, but it does have the edge.

They Can’t All Be Winners, Kid: Out of all the Disney nominees in this category this year, one had to be the odd man out. That would be you, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (+1800). BB-8 will always be number one in our hearts, though.

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance: We think that Avengers: Endgame (+210) is a pretty likely upset pick, as the MCU’s “accomplishment” might need to be acknowledge by this voting, even if the effects aren’t necessarily the best ever. Fun fact: Marvel won their first Oscars last year when Black Panther took home a bunch of production awards, so there’s a little pressure, we imagine, for them to get a make-up achievement award, especially for Visual Effects, given that they’ve never won the award. On the other hand, both The Irishman (+600) and The Lion King (+675) have their own separate cases to make — the former literally turned back time for a group of aging actors, which might appeal to the older voters, and the latter digitally recreated the Sahara for all of the younger voters.

Best Original Score

The Favorite: Joker (-850). The Oscars have mostly ignored the wonderful film scoring work coming out of Iceland over the last decade — Jóhann Jóhannsson only receiving cursory nods for his scores on Sicario and The Theory of Everything — but Hildur Guðnadóttir’s thunderous score for The Clown Movie got a shitload of praise from all corners, and it definitely was one of the most striking ones released this year. And yes, that means a person associated with Sunn O))) will potentially have an Oscar, all things considered, so we’re rooting for her.

They Can’t All Be Winners, Kid: We can’t remember if 1917 (+325) had a score, and I think the rising 1917 tide is lifting all of its boats, even if they’re not particularly memorable. Both Little Women (+1250) and Marriage Story (+3300) feel like a bit of a stretch here, too. But there’s still one option that feels like it might have a narrative behind it that would attract Oscar voters…

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (+4500). John Williams has been nominated for 52 Oscars over the course of his lengthy career — for a little perspective, he received his first nod in 1968 — and there’s a good chance that this might be his last. Couple that with this being “the final installment in the Skywalker Saga” and you might have a small chance of an upset here. The odds are way, way too high, and it seems like an interesting proposition.


Best Original Song

The Favorite: “I’m Gonna Love Me Again,” Rocketman (-850). The Academy loves star power, and a new Elton John song, made for his biopic, seems like a slam dunk. It won the Globe for Original Song, and honestly, is anyone really going to compete with it? I don’t think so, but there is a fun little wrinkle here.

They Can’t All Be Winners, Kid: We love you, Randy, but “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away,” Toy Story 4 (+2500) isn’t going anywhere, really. And we can’t believe that “I’m Standing With You,” Breakthrough (+3300) got a nod here. Was it really too much of a stretch to nominate Thom Yorke for “Daily Battles?” We mean, we know Motherless Brooklyn isn’t a great movie, but the song was solid enough.

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance: People really seem to like Cynthia Erivo’s “Stand Up,” which she performed in Harriet (+525), but we think there’s a better choice here. That would be “Into the Unknown,” from Frozen II (+900) which we can guarantee has been blasting out of the stereo speakers of every Oscar voter who happens to also be the parent of a young child. +900 feels a bit high, and it feels a little intriguing, given that it has the most name-brand recognition of any nominated song here.

Best Original Screenplay

The Favorite: Parasite (-250), which is generally surprising – one might have assumed that this would be Tarantino’s category, just given the amount of traction that he’s gotten. Hard to fault the Oddsmakers for going with this one, though: that’s one hell of a script.

They Can’t All Be Winners, Kid: Your Sondheim references can’t save you from anti-Netflix bias, Marriage Story (+1500), and your technical accomplishments are better than your writing, 1917 (+3500).

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance: Tarantino has a solid chance here, and if Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (+150) is going to win a key award beyond Supporting Actor, it’ll be here. But if you really live for the home-run ball, consider Knives Out (+4400), which is a bizarre little outlier here. It’s also a movie squarely aimed at the older block of Oscar voters, but it has a cross-generational appeal that might lift it up, especially with ranked-choice voting.

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Favorite: Jojo Rabbit (-230). Now, this is an odd choice, though it’s not without merit, given that the film took home both the BAFTA and WGA awards last month. It’s a shakier favorite than Parasite, but we think the most uncertainty in this category than there is in the entire live-action race. You’ll see what we mean when we get to Animated Film, which is a fascinating case in and of itself.

They Can’t All Be Winners, Kid: There’s got to be some sort of joke about a clown and two popes walking into a bar, and maybe the screenwriters for Joker (+5500) and The Two Popes (+6500) can figure it out at their tables.

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance: If Little Women (+150) is going to win anything, we’d say that it’d be in this category. Given that the film’s one tragic flaw is its structure — the only complaint that practically everyone shares — the script itself might turn some voters off, but we’d imagine this as the only honest threat to Jojo. A riskier outlier might be The Irishman (+1300), but both the length and the Netflix association might hurt it, even if it’s the best-written film in this category.

Best Animated Film

The Favorite: Here’s an incredibly interesting category: Essentially, we have a pick’em between Toy Story 4 (-150) and Klaus (-115). The odds aren’t necessarily identical — you’ll have to bet more if you’re really confident that Toy Story is going to win — but those are so close, compared to every single category, that they’re essentially telling you to stay away. Klaus may very well win, and the oddsmakers know that, especially since it won at the Annies, too.

They Can’t All Be Winners, Kid: I Lost My Body (+3000), How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (+6000). Man, we hated I Lost My Body so much, we were crawling out of my damn skin when we saw it at Fantastic Fest earlier this year, so there’s no way in hell we’re rooting for this one.

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance: Missing Link (+1350), if you really have to have something to keep you going during animated film or you’ll just die from boredom in the twenty seconds it’ll take them to announce the award. Laika’s a beacon of quality in the animated film sphere, though it really depends: the arty film spot has been taken by Klaus, and that may split some votes.


Best Supporting Actress

The Favorite: Laura Dern, Marriage Story (-2000). If any category is going to have an upset, we’re thinking that it is this one. And that’s not a slight to Dern, who deserves these odds, but there’s an interesting divide between critics and oddsmakers here.

They Can’t All Be Winners, Kid: Margot Robbie, Bombshell (+1200), Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit (+2200) and Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell (+4500). Robbie’s nominated for the wrong movie here — we honestly assumed that she was present in this category for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but Bombshell is a total non-starter. And maybe when Disney buys the Oscars outright in 10 years, ScarJo will get her honorary Oscar for being an original Avenger. But alas, this is not her year.

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance: Florence Pugh, Little Women (+2000). The buzz around Pugh’s performance has been deafening, and there’s a damn good chance that she could walk away with the statuette. Out of all the nominees, she has the best shot, and the Globes and BAFTAs are typically pretty bad at predicting the category — in consensus years. We think she might have a good chance to upset, though be wary at those numbers, of course.


Best Supporting Actor

The Favorite: Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (-4000). He’s gonna win. He’s swept every major awards ceremony so far, and the dude is producing a TV show about Lego Masters. Does this look like a man lacking in confidence?

They Can’t All Be Winners, Kid: Sorry, Joe Pesci, The Irishman (+2200), Al Pacino, The Irishman, (+2000), and Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes (+5500). It’s a category that Tarantino has dominated ever since 2009 when his actors get nods — just look at Christoph Waltz’s shelf for proof of that.

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance: Perhaps the power of positivity could topple Pitt’s chances. It’s incredibly unlikely, but Tom Hanks (+3000) has novelty in his corner with his performance as Mr. Rogers in Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. But we’d stay away. As mentioned, Pitt has the second-lowest odds in the race at the moment.



Best Actress

The Favorite: Renee Zellweger, Judy (-2200). Hollywood loves it when famous people impersonate other famous people, and the Comeback Kid arc that Zellweger had in the lead-up to this film is irresistible to impressionable voters. She’s gonna win, guys.

They Can’t All Be Winners, Kid: Everyone else. Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story (+1000), Cynthia Erivo, Harriet (+2500), Charlize Theron, Bombshell (+3000), and Saoirse Ronan, Little Women (+3000).

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance: Ronan might be a decent play if you absolutely must have your pulse racing during every single category, but for those using this as a guide for your Oscar pool, just go ahead and put Zellweger down. Voters had her at hello. Please don’t throw tomatoes at us.


Best Actor

The Favorite: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker (-3300). Phoenix has the third-lowest odds of any nominee, behind Brad Pitt (-4000) and Roger Deakins, who is favored at an astronomical -5500 to win Best Cinematography.

They Can’t All Be Winners, Kid: Everyone else in the category: Adam Driver, Marriage Story (+1800), Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (+5000), and Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes (+8000) are all non-starters.

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance: This is extremely unlikely and you shouldn’t do it unless you feel comfortable with the risk, but you might want to consider Antonio Banderas (+7500) and his work in Pedro Almodovar’s Pain and Glory. Banderas has gotten a tremendous amount of love from the critical press for his performance there, and those odds are astronomical. We’d consider him the only other viable candidate, and the reward would be great if he pulled off the upset. But Phoenix will (most likely) win, as the oddsmakers indicate, so please, stay away if you aren’t comfortable.  



Best Director

The Favorite: Sam Mendes (-1000), though if he wins, there’s a not-insignificant chance that Best Picture goes to another film. It used to be commonplace for the director of the Best Picture winner to also take home the statuette, given his own contributions to that film’s success, but in recent years, we’ve seen a split between the two categories. Since 2012, only two Best Picture-winning directors have won Best Director, so there’s a good chance that this might go to another director.

They Can’t All Be Winners, Kid: Scorsese (+4000) has already won the award in the past, and Todd Phillips has taken a pummeling in the press this Oscar season. If you’re operating on the Joker theory outlined previously, this might be a decent long-shot bet if you’re really crazy and want to be the guy at your Oscar party who hits stupidly big to the detriment of everyone else in the room. But it’s most likely not going to happen, and you’d be better off saving your money.

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance: If Bong Joon-Ho (+500) were to win any other category, we think it’d be this one. Parasite suffers from one Achilles’ heel, and it’s the same issue that may have sunk Roma: It’s already getting the Best Foreign Film award, and there’s a certain element of xenophobia that goes into Oscar voters’ minds, especially when it comes to the biggest award of them all. But if we’re going a truly nostalgic route on Oscar night, then Tarantino (+1600) could very well come away with the award. But it’s Mendes’ to lose at the moment, though it may be smart to consider Bong a legitimate dark horse.


Best Picture

The Favorite: 1917 (-320), which has solidly swept pretty much every award show since winning the Golden Globe for Best Drama. It’s got of appeal to Oscar voters: It’s a technically-sound and well-crafted film, and it is also generally uncontroversial, unlike what happened with Green Book last year.

They Can’t All Be Winners, Kid: Anything above +6500, except for Jojo Rabbit (+7000), perhaps, depending on how much champaigning and campaigning that Disney has done behind the scenes (you should probably stay away). Sorry, The Irishman, Marriage Story, Little Women and Ford v. Ferrari. You were all solid-to-great films, but we’re dealing with a very fickle little body here.

So You’re Saying There’s A Chance: Parasite (+250) is universally beloved, but may run aground against the Hollywood-protectionist instincts of older Oscar voters, though that dumb Oscar A.I. did predict that it would win. I personally wouldn’t bet on it, but you never know. If a steady stream of awards starts heading Tarantino’s way, then it may be possible that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (+700) will pick up Best Picture as well, but, again, with the way that this is shaking out, it’s looking like 1917 will win.

However, there’s one big exception to that rule: If you think Oscar voters are dumb as hell, are very susceptible to studio campaigning, and that the Green Book trend will continue, then you may want to take a look at Joker (+1600), which has several things going in its favor. It’s got a dominating performance at its center, it looks good, and it made a shitload of cash. Out of all the Best Picture nominated films, this is probably the one that voters actually watched. And at +1600, those odds are comfortable (and potentially lucrative) enough. If you are a nihilist and/or want to root for the Bad Guy as you did with Mel Gibson in Payback, consider Joker. You probably won’t win, but if you do, you may watch the world burn.

For entertainment purposes only. If you or a loved one is suffering from gambling addiction, The National Problem Gambling Helpline can be reached at 1-800-522-4700 by phone call or text message, or you can visit their website at ncpgambling.org. Each call is confidential and can provide a good first step towards recovery.