Oscar Gambling: Vanyaland’s 2021 Academy Awards betting guide

Academy Awards

Editor’s Note: Before we begin, we’d just like to specify that this article is for entertainment purposes only. Like most things, gambling should be enjoyed responsibly, and if you or a loved one has a gambling problem, there are resources for available you, including the National Problem Gambling Helpline, which can be reached at 1-800-522-4700 at any time of day.

Oh, Oscar season. After we spent the first half of 2020 thinking that you probably wouldn’t happen, we never, ever thought you’d come to an end this year. Yet, finally we are here: You’re only a few days away, and we’re ready to participate in the film nerd equivalent of the Kentucky Derby. That’s right, it’s the Annual Oscar Gambling Column, and you won’t have to worry about whether or not there’ll be social distancing or face masks on camera or whether Steven Soderbergh will get your good side here; all you gotta do is pretend you’re Brando in Guys & Dolls. But seriously, do some visualization with us, just to get you in the mood. Imagine the taste of spoiled seafood, the smell of Pall Malls, the leathery George Hamilton-like skin of the retirees around you, and the flashing lights suggesting glitz and glamour but, in reality, hinting at just how trashy an enterprise all this really is. No, that’s not Mohegan Sun or Foxwoods, it’s the Dolby Theatre, and Meryl Streep has just won another award.

Since the prevailing theories of Oscar night were genuinely upset some 430-odd days ago when Parasite took home Best Picture, prognostications are all over the place this year (while we didn’t totally foresee its victory, we did tell you it was a decent bet!). Nomadland is the obvious favorite in most categories, given that it’s the kind of film the Old Academy and New Academy can each fall in love with for their own reasons, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have strong competition from films like The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Minari. There’s a surprisingly hot race for Best Actress, and a whole bunch of intriguing propositions here.


So, with all that said:


This year, we’ve changed things up a little and stuck with a local outfit to supply us with the odds: That’s right, we’ve taken our numbers from DraftKings, which, if you didn’t know, is based in Boston (though we are not affiliated with them or sponsored by them in any way, and do not necessarily endorse their services either). If you’d like, you can travel to certain places in the country and place bets in person, though you’ll encounter different odds if you are to do so. You can also place your bets at DraftKings’s own online portal if you feel so compelled, where you can actually calculate out how much you’ll make off of a given bet as well, but remember, we’re mainly using these to gauge a film’s chances rather than offering real advice. We’ve split each group of nominees into three distinct categories for your viewing pleasure: Favorites (under the “The Favorite” grouping), long shots that are basically irrelevant by any meaningful metric (under the “They Can’t All Be Winners, Kid” grouping), and, finally, genuine underdogs which might actually have a chance at preventing Disney from taking home an award (under the So You’re Saying There’s a Chance grouping).


As always, here’s a quick explainer of American Odds, which is the format we’re using to present these probabilities to you. Any number with a “-” in front of it is considered a favorite, and you would have to bet the amount that follows the symbol in order to make $100. So, if you were to bet on Tenet to win Best Visual Effects at -560, you’d have to bet $560 in order to win a crisp Benjamin. However, if you see a “+” symbol, that signifies an underdog, and the number that follows is the amount of profit you’ll win (not including your original wager). Let’s say you’re a huge fan of The One and Only Ivan — you just love them gorillas, god damn it — and you decide to throw your dick out for Harambe and bet a hundo on it at +2500. When Faye Dunaway reads out that it has won the award, you better hope no one walks out to correct her: That’s a cool $2500 you’ve just made.

Finally, to bless our column, we have a word of advice from the patron saint of Oscar Gambling, Oscar Gamble:

The 93rd Academy Awards will take place on April 25, and air on ABC at 8 p.m. EDT.

Best Visual Effects

The Favorite: Is there any universe in which Christopher Nolan’s Tenet (-560) isn’t the favorite? Well, probably the one that wasn’t hit by the COVID-19 Pandemic, and a whole lot more blockbusters came out last summer/at the holiday season. Out of the pack here, it’s pretty much a lock.


They Can’t All Be Winners, Kid: Here’s another interesting side-effect of COVID — some weird-ass films got nominated in this category, and we’re kind of stoked about that. In a normal world, Mulan (+1700) would be replaced by a Marvel movie, Love and Monsters (+2500) would have probably been a Fast and Furious joint, and The One and Only Ivan (+2500) might have been Dune. God, Academy Award nominee The One and Only Ivan. What a strange, strange circumstance.

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance: If you’re feeling contrarian, Netflix did spend some dough trying to get George Clooney’s The Midnight Sky (+275) in the minds of viewers — there’s a very nice coffee table book they sent out this year — and if this were the Golden Globes, that and an open bar at a screening might have been enough. But this isn’t and the movie was quite bad, so it’s a risky proposition.

Best Original Score

The Favorite: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are probably going to have a pretty good night. Their score for Soul (-1667) is one of the largest favorites in the whole competition, and their biggest competitor in the category is…

They Can’t All Be Winners, Kid: (Sorry, Minari (+1700), Da 5 Bloods (+2500), News of the World (+2500) — you didn’t write Pretty Hate Machine, so you’re pretty much excluded from the running no matter how great you were in the first place.)


So You’re Saying There’s a Chance: … themselves, given that their score for Mank (+800) is pretty much the only option left that’s even close to a viable underdog. But one should probably stay away from this category unless they really think Mank is an option.

Best Original Song

The Favorite: It makes sense that the Leslie Odom, Jr.-performed “Speak Now” (One Night in Miami, -155) would be a slight favorite here, given just how good his performance as Sam Cooke was. But since he can’t be nominated for “Chain Gang,” well, it’s honor-by-tie-in song here.

They Can’t All Be Winners, Kid: These two are attached to big movies — “Fight for You” (Judas and the Black Messiah, +2500), “Hear My Voice” (The Trial of the Chicago 7, +2500) — but are being totally overshadowed by smaller films, which is kind of cool.

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance: While “Io Si” (The Life Ahead, +225) may have the better odds, I’m absolutely in love with “Husavik” (Eurovision, +350), given that it’s a funny song from a smart musical, and seems to be in line with the mood of things at the moment. This would be a feel-good win, and as much as I love Odom in that role, I’m rooting for this one.


Best Original Screenplay

The Favorite: Promising Young Woman (-455) has this category under wraps, though it’s weird that the odds here are so low for what seems to be an overwhelming favorite.

They Can’t All Be Winners, Kid: The Academy places a lot of emphasis on very obvious writing, which means the great, subtle scripts for Minari (+1400), Judas and the Black Messiah (+3300), and Sound of Metal (+3300) can’t punch the members in the face with THE. POWER. OF. THE PEN.

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance: However, Aaron Sorkin is nominated, and The Trial of the Chicago 7 (+3300) might be a legitimate dark horse Hail Mary here. For whatever reason, people are falling in love with that movie, and, though it’s unlikely, it may very well be enough.

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Favorite: Nomadland (-400) is the kind of Adapted Screenplay that the Academy loves: namely, a loose-ass adaptation that’s much more of an original film than a piece-by-piece rendition of a book or play. And given the arc of the season so far, it’s a decently solid favorite.


They Can’t All Be Winners, Kid: That advice holds true for both One Night in Miami (+1400) and The White Tiger (+3300), which are solid adaptations that just can’t quite get the more literal-minded to forget about their origins.

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance: Now, here’s where things get interesting: that logic would be applied to The Father (+300), but if it’s really going to win an award, it will most likely be here, given how much folks seem to love its specific perspective. On the other hand, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (+800) is mostly improv, but the assembly of the narrative is a complex and interesting achievement in its own right. Seriously though, this is Nomadland‘s to lose, but those two might make it interesting.

Best Animated Film

The Favorite: Here’s another crazy favorite: Soul (-5000), in this category, has the highest probability of a win out of all of the categories listed here. There’s already a growing backlash to Pixar’s dominance over this category, but it’s unlikely to change just now.

They Can’t All Be Winners, Kid: Then again, it’s ridiculous that another Pixar movie, Onward (+2500), would also be nominated here, and its presence decreases the likelihood that Academy voters even watched Netflix’s Over the Moon (+2800) or Aardman’s A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (+4000).

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance: The Soul backlash is particularly interesting given that it’s being done in support of Wolfwalkers (+700), Apple’s first major awards contender. It is a gorgeous film, and one would hope that it would win, even though it is unlikely to do so. And I liked Soul quite a bit, so, honestly, I’ll just hold out my protests until some dumb bullshit like Toy Story 8 gets nominated.

Best Supporting Actress

The Favorite: I’m rooting heartily for Minari‘s Youn Yuh-Jung (-500), and think she’s got a really great chance to win.


They Can’t All Be Winners, Kid: Honestly, Glenn Close (Hillbilly Elegy, +1000) should probably try and avoid working in years where Olivia Colman (The Father, +2000) may, by chance, be nominated in the same category. It’s a little curious as to why Amanda Seyfried (+3300) isn’t getting more love from the oddsmakers, given that she’s the most acclaimed part of Mank (and also the sole thing that anyone can agree upon about that film), but it’s unlikely.

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance: However, the one place that comedic actors can shine is in the supporting categories (though it’s unlikely, you stand a much, much better chance of winning some hardware than in the main ones), and it’s with that knowledge and the general goodwill surrounding her work that Borat‘s Maria Baklova (+375) could pull off the upset here. It may be too broadly comic for voters’ tastes, but, again, there’s some real heat there.

Best Supporting Actor

The Favorite: As good as he is in Judas and the Black Messiah, I have a weird feeling that Daniel Kaluuya (-2500) is a bit of a deceptive favorite. Why? Well, if you have actors from the same film competing against each other in the same category, more often than not, those votes cancel each other out. There have been plenty of notable exceptions to this logic in recent years — The Help, Three Billboards, The Fighter — but generally it’s not a great idea to be duking it out with a co-star, especially when the studio can’t seem to decide if either of you are the main character. It would have been as if Netflix tried to run De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci all in Supporting Actor for The Irishman like it was a Godfather sequel.

They Can’t All Be Winners, Kid: Speaking of that, LaKeith Stanfield (Judas and the Black Messiah, +3300) probably should have been run in Best Actor, because pitting him against a charismatic performance like Kaluuya’s did him no favors. And, as we already mentioned, if Leslie Odom, Jr. (+1700) will win an award for One Night in Miami, it’s gonna be Original Song.

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance: Paul Raci (Sound of Metal, +1200) would be the obvious choice here, given that he’s fucking incredible in that film and his path to the screen is a fascinating one, but I don’t have faith in the Academy to make that choice. On the other hand, honoring Sacha Baron Cohen (+1200) for his work in The Trial of the Chicago 7 instead of Borat is one hundred percent the kind of absolutely moronic shit that this body does on a regular basis, so I think he’s an excellent underdog.

Best Actress

The Favorite: Now here’s where things get truly interesting: there isn’t one!


They Can’t All Be Winners, Kid: It’s safe to say that Pieces of a Woman never quite caught on in the way that Netflix was hoping after TIFF, but take heart, Vanessa Kirby (+2000): you were the best part of an awful movie.

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance: So, the obvious favorite here would be Carey Mulligan (+125), but she’s got stiff competition depending on how the rest of the night plays out/how the ranked-choice voting goes. Viola Davis (+200) is the safe upset bet, and I’m surprised that Frances McDormand (+400) isn’t rated higher, given that Nomadland seems to be cleaning up everywhere else. What’s even wilder is that Andra Day (+600) is in this conversation as well: her work in The United States vs. Billie Holliday was good enough that it might be able to upset. It’s unlikely, but not impossible.

Best Actor

The Favorite: Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, -1667). Look, there’s not much else to say. He should win, he probably will win, and every single one of y’all at home should be both happy and quite sad when it happens.

They Can’t All Be Winners, Kid: Congrats to the rest of the nominees: Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal, +1400), Steven Yeun (Minari, +2500), Gary Oldman (Mank, +3300). In a normal year, we all might actually be having a debate about your performances and whether or not they merited winning. They didn’t — Boseman’s work in Ma Rainey’s was just that good — but at least it would have felt more competitive and way less horrible.

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance: I guess I have to do this because it’s under a thousand but for some reason, oddsmakers still think Anthony Hopkins (+700) may have a shot at winning for The Father. I wouldn’t put any money down on it or even mark him off in your office Oscar pool.

Best Director

The Favorite: Chloe Zhao (Nomadland, -3335) and no, that’s not a typo: You would have to plunk down three grand in order to win a hundred bucks, which tells you just how much of a lock she has on the category.


They Can’t All Be Winners, Kid: Take solace, nominees — David Fincher (Mank, +1000), Lee Isaac Chung (Minari, +1700), Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman +2000), Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round, +2500) — each of your films will probably come home with at least one award on the night itself. Well, maybe not Mank, but Another Round has International Film on lockdown. So, celebrate those victories, and have a fun time no matter where you’re at.

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance: Stay away! It’s not even a fun bet at this point, given that there’s no ludicrous Hail Mary you can throw like there is in our next category…

Best Picture

The Favorite: Nomadland (-670) will most likely win. Every awards-giving body has showered it with praise, and even a vague “backlash” (if you can really call it that) against its rosy portrayal of the lives of seasonal Amazon warehouse employees probably wound up hurting the film in the competition that was actually distributed by Amazon instead.

They Can’t All Be Winners, Kid: So, that’s probably why you’re not going to win, Sound of Metal (+5000). Promising Young Woman (+1700) hasn’t received much attention outside of the screenwriting and acting categories, Judas and the Black Messiah (+3000) is a great film that will most likely take home an acting award thanks to ranked-choice voting, and Netflix spent the money they were going to spend on a Mank (+3300) campaign on…

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance: …The Trial of the Chicago 7 (+600), which stands just enough of a chance to topple Nomadland with its combo of neoliberal feel-good bad history and utter star power.

Picture this: You’re Netflix, and you’ve wanted your movies to win Best Picture so fucking badly these last few years that you’ve spent God knows how much money on hiring the biggest and baddest auteurs and letting them do whatever the hell that they want, provided it can get you that gold. You’ve lost twice now, even when your film was the favorite back in 2018. Then you get handed the best possible conditions for you to win: a year in which your films might be the only ones able to compete when the ceremonies actually happen. You, once again, spend oodles on acquiring studio features and promoting your own productions, and you still get beat by a Searchlight movie. Yikes!


If ranked-choice is going to compel any of the middle-of-the-pack films to the top, I’d wager that it’s Minari (+1400) given how much people actually love that film, and enough people dropping it as a second choice behind either of the front runners might propel it over-the-top, which would be a rich and well-deserved win for such a lovely little movie. But if you’re looking to maximize bang for your buck, well, The Father (+10000) is your ticket there. Good lord, what an exaggerated line, because even if there’s no Earth on which it is possible for Florian Zeller’s film to win this award, it’s still wild that you could plunk down a dollar and win a hundred if The Academy goes straight-up crazy. That’s your Hail Mary play, but remember: Most of the time you don’t have Aaron Rodgers’ arm heaving the ball towards the end zone.