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Looking for Value at the 2010 Academy Awards...By HARTLEY HENDERSON

As has been the case for the last few years, I'll be taking a break from industry news to look at the 2010 Oscars and try and find some value plays.

Usually the greatest value rests with the supporting acting categories, but this year there is no suspense or potential upsets for those Oscars. Christoph Waltz will win the supporting actor Oscar for his role in Inglorious Bastards and Monique will win for her role in Precious. Trying to oppose either is a waste of money, but the odds on the two make them unplayable. For best actor Jeff Bridges will win for his role in Crazy Heart and Kathryn Bigelow will receive the best director Oscar for the Hurt Locker after winning the DGA Award last month. The other categories are not so obvious.

Many sportsbooks now offer odds on a variety of categories so this article will examine 5 categories that can provide surprises. Those categories include best picture, best actress, best original screenplay, best adapted screenplay and best foreign language film.

Best Picture:

Three months ago it appeared Up in the Air, George Clooney's movie about a corporate downsize, was a sure thing for best picture. The movie won some early critics awards in Dallas and Iowa and went into the Golden Globes as the film to beat. However when it was released, the reviews were far from glowing. The Chicago Tribune (along with other film sites) heavily criticized the movie calling it predictable and tailor made for Clooney with little regard for plot. Consequently the movie's appeal quickly dissipated and Avatar won the Golden Globe award for best drama picture. By most accounts on the Internet The Hurt Locker was runner up at the Globes and Up in the Air received little recognition.

Up in the Air which was a 3/2 favorite to win the Oscar prior to the Globes all of a sudden became a double digit long shot. Avatar became the 2/5 favorite to take it all and The Hurt Locker became the only other legitimate contender. The Hurt Locker's appeal grew even greater after the Oscar nominations were announced and The Hurt Locker tied with Avatar for most nominations with 9. In the past, the film with the most nominations has won best picture 80% of the time. Kathryn Bigelow, as mentioned, won the Directors Guild Award and the film swept the BAFTA Awards in Europe. So as of today The Hurt Locker has become the 4/5 favorite followed by Avatar at 7/5 and the remainder are 15/1 or more. The question one needs to ask is whether more Academy voters choose the Iraq war based The Hurt Locker or Cameron's fantasy film Avatar?

The following are a list of pros and cons for each film

Pros - Avatar

1. The movie broke all box office records and those who liked the film loved it. A similar scenario happened in 1997 when Cameron released Titanic and the film not only got the most nominations ever but it swept the awards with 11 Oscars including all of the main categories.

2. John Cameron is well liked in Hollywood and many consider him a genius. The film is also very unique and has likely transformed the way film making will be done in the future. Furthermore, with 10 films now nominated it is unlikely that there will be any sway with those who vote for this movie. If they want to award the Oscar to a unique film there is nothing remotely similar among the other 9 nominated films.

3. The movie is for all ages and Hollywood has complained young people have stopped attending movies. If the Academy wants to cater to the younger generation they will probably vote for this movie hoping it will convince the teens and young adults that their voice matters.

4. The voting was finalized before the Hurt Locker's huge rise in popularity so the latest awards in favor of the film may not have as much influence as many sportsbooks believe.

Cons - Avatar:

1. Some in Hollywood see Cameron as egotistical and won't vote for him. They also think he already got his just rewards with Titanic and may measure this movie vs. that one.

2. Cameron told the press that in his view The Hurt Locker deserved to win more than Avatar and that his former wife Kathryn Bigelow did a better job. Whether that holds any sway with voters remains to be seen.

3. The movie's popularity may have peaked at the wrong time. When the Golden Globe's came out the movie was all the rage. By the time the voting was finished Avatar was old news.

Pros - The Hurt Locker:

1. The movie has all the late buzz and awards. Prior to the Globes many had forgotten about the movie but all the critic's awards wins (along with the BAFTAs) after the nominations may have caused some to alter their vote.

2. Kathryn Bigelow is a sure thing for director and as a general rule the best director is also the winner of best picture.

3. Many will want to vote against the big blockbuster and give it to a movie that they deem is more worthy considering the accomplishments on a low budget.

Cons - The Hurt Locker:

1. The movie is from an independent studio and no independent film has ever won best picture. The studios can have great influence and Twentieth Century Fox may have more sway than Summit Entertainment. Furthermore, the film only grossed $16 million worldwide.

2. The movie's producer broke Hollywood rules by trying to influence voters after the nominations were announced and this has caused some controversy. According to many film sites that mistake was a big turn off to many elite in the Academy.

3. There will likely be much more of a split among The Hurt Locker and the other 8 films than there will be with Avatar because of its unique makeup.

4. Slumdog Millionaire, a smaller low grossing film, won last year so the Academy may prefer to reward a larger production this year.

Prediction: Take Avatar at 7/5 odds. As was the case with Titanic, Return of the King, Gladiator and Braveheart, highly regarded blockbusters will always generate more interest to the voters than a smaller film regardless if it is worthy or not. This was Cameron's first film since Titanic and my belief is that most in the Academy will give him the award since they can't award him best screenplay or director.

Best Actress:

The best actress award was always pegged to be between Sandra Bullock for her role in the Blind Side and Meryl Streep for her role in Julie and Julia. This is Streep's 13th nomination for best actress and Bullock's first. Streep won in 1982 for Sophie's Choice but lost all the others. Bullock is the 1/2 favorite followed by Bullock at 9/4 and the rest are double digit long shots.

Pros - Meryl Streep:

1. Everyone who has seen the film agrees Meryl Streep was Julia Child. She personified the French Chef to a tee and the movie was a critical success.

2. With 13 nominations for best actress, including 3 years straight, the Academy may view this as a way to honor Streep for all her work. She is also well liked in Hollywood and almost certainly has more close friendships with the Academy than Bullock does.

Cons - Meryl Streep:

1. The movie was a comedy and traditionally the Academy prefers serious roles to comedic ones.

2. Sandra Bullock won the SAG Award indicating that her fellow actors preferred her performance. Mind you, the SAG Award has been a poor predictor of Oscar success recently.

3. The fact Streep won only once in 13 tries (including several as the favorite) indicates that she has many detractors.

Pros - Sandra Bullock:

1. She won the SAG Award and most of the critic awards. She is rightly the favorite.

2. Despite having acted for a while this is Bullock's first nomination. The roles she usually gets aren't Oscar worthy so some in the Academy may view this as her only chance for glory.

Cons - Sandra Bullock:

1. The Blind Side was highly criticized by many as predictable and boring. If voters hated the movie they may not consider rewarding the acting.

2. Bullock has been criticized by many for over-acting in the movie and some say many other actresses could have done a better job.

3. Bullock is nominated and favored for a Razzie as worst actress for her role in All About Steve. In fact Bullock has been criticized for many of her previous films. Just as some may vote for Meryl Streep as a "lifetime achievement" honor, others may vote against Bullock because of her flops. Furthermore, some voters may find it hard to vote seriously for an actress that put together the worst performance for another film in the same year.

4. At the age of 45 some voters may believe Bullock will have other opportunities whereas this may be Streep's last chance.

Prediction: Take Streep for the award at 9-4 odds as the Academy uses this film to award her for her lifetime achievement. Also consider making a small play on Carey Mulligan at 12-1 for her role in An Education should the Academy deem the cons too much on both Streep and Bullock. Mulligan has won several critics awards overseas and was voted as best actress at the BAFTA Awards. Furthermore An Education is up for Best Picture whereas The Blind Side and Julie and Julia are not. If Mulligan can generate enough interest among European voters she could upset the 2 favorites.

Best Original Screenplay

This category is between 2 films - The Hurt Locker and Inglorious Bastards. By definition the category is supposed to go to the film that has the best script. Despite the fact The Hurt Locker is nominated for far more films than Inglorious Bastards, the latter is the 1/2 favorite to win the Oscar while the Hurt Locker lists about 9/5. There is really no justifiable reason for it. Inglorious Bastards has been described by quite a few as messy and confusing in places, while the Hurt Locker has received few poor reviews for its acting or script layout. The thinking among many is that Quentin Tarantino is so revered in Hollywood that the Academy will award him with the Oscar as they did with Pulp Fiction in 1994. However, in that year Tarantino really faced little opposition. The best picture nominees weren't listed in the category that year and Pulp Fiction's only real competition (Four Weddings and a Funeral) never got the appeal that Pulp Fiction did. This year Tarantino is up against the Academy Award favorite and the film that has all the tongues buzzing at the close of voting. It's also quite likely that many in the Academy that choose to vote for Avatar will compensate The Hurt Locker by voting for it in this category.

Prediction: The wrong film is clearly favored and The Hurt Locker represents a great value play at the odds.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Up in the Air is the overwhelming 2/7 favorite to win the Oscar for adapted screenplay against Precious, District 9, An Education and In the Loop. No film has fallen faster from grace than Up in the Air and that could bode well for an upset. While Precious was never seen as a serious contender for best picture it has been much better received by critics than Up in the Air and few had anything negative to say about the adaptation of Precious from the book. District 9 has also received great accolades and wouldn't be out of the question nor would An Education. In the Loop has no chance. Since this article is looking for value, the best value here would be to oppose Up in the Air. Many sportsbooks have the film vs. the field with all other films listed as a group at 5/2 odds or higher.

Prediction: At the odds, Up in the Air is definitely worth opposing. There is no reason the film can't be beat by what many critics and voters will see as more deserving candidates. Take the field bet at 5/2 odds or Precious as a rank 4/1 outsider.

Best Foreign Language Film

Every country is allowed one submission of a non-English language movie for consideration as the best foreign language film. The category is known for upsets. In fact the last favorite to win was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2000. Last year Waltz With Bashir lost as the 3/5 favorite and previously Pans Labyrinth, a best picture nominee, lost as the 1/10 favorite. Similarly, in 2001. Amelie lost as the 1/20 favorite. By all accounts many American voters at the Academy stay out of the voting and the foreign contingent generally chooses the winner. Consequently, overseas accolades are as important as acknowledgements in the U.S. The two favorites for the award are The White Ribbon - a German war film and Un Prophete (A Prophet) - a crime film from France. The other candidates are El Secreto Du Sos Ojos (A Secret in Their Eyes), an Argentine crime film, The Milk of Sorrow, a Peruvian film about abused women in the country, and Ajami, an Israeli film about a neighborhood in Israel.

Regardless of the content, the best film clearly isn't guaranteed the win in this category. What is more important is the country the film is from and the mood of the voters. France has 9 wins from 35 nominations, Germany has 3 wins from 17 nominations, Argentina has 1 win in 6 tries, Peru is 0 for 1 and Israel is 0 for 9. Furthermore, the last 3 times films were nominated from France and Germany the Academy chose a film from a different country. Without question the European vote gets split when both countries make submissions opening it up to another option. The Academy obviously won't vote for an Israeli film for whatever reason and Peru is probably too small a country to be taken seriously. That leaves the Argentine film The Secret in their Eyes. The fact the film is in Spanish likely helps too since some Americans in the Academy that do vote on these films can possibly understand the film without reading the subtitles.

Prediction: The past has shown that the favorites represent no value for Foreign Language film. A Secret in Their Eyes was listed as high as 8/1 but has dropped to 4/1 at Betfair indicating that there is some stir about the film overseas. At the odds it is worth a play. As well small plays for the Israeli and Peruvian film could be in order at odds of 22/1 and 28/1 respectively.

In other categories. look for The Weary Kind to win best song while Avatar and the Hurt Locker run away with the other categories like sound, visual effects, cinematography and art direction.

Hartley Henderson

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