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Ask the Expert: What does a film critic's Oscar ballot look like?

You have a little bet going come Oscar night. Whoever guesses the most categories wins a gift card or a candle or maybe just bragging rights until next year’s broadcast. You want to win. You have to win. That competitive edge you try so hard to hide from the world won’t let you not claim victory. It’s more than pride.

We get you; we see you.

The problem is that the Academy Awards are a tricky pickle when it comes to guessing winners. In the month leading up to the ceremony, the tides are constantly changing. Actors and filmmakers have been “campaigning” for weeks, which is to say they are going to parties, getting the voting members of the Academy drunk and convincing them they’re best friends. Disclaimer: this would totally work on us. Bradley Cooper, we’re looking at you.

But for the sake of this article, we are going to Marie Kondo this thing and compartmentalize each category into three piles lumped unceremoniously in the middle of our bed. They are: the sure thing, the predictable bet and the loose canon. Once we can see what we’re working with, it will be a little easier to snag some guaranteed points and know where we can take a few risks.

The Sure Thing

In this pile are all the categories that have all but handed out the Oscar. The future winner(s) have won other pertinent awards this season like a BAFTA, a SAG Award or a Golden Globe, to name a few, and don’t have competition for miles and miles. If he/she/them don’t win, it will surely make front-page news. This is not the pile to experiment with; even if you think everyone else will be guessing the same way, your risk won’t be worth much when the odds are stacked against you.

  • Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Mahershala Ali
  • Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Regina King
  • Music (Original Song), “Shallow” by Lady Gaga
  • Foreign Language Film, "Roma"
  • Animated Feature, "Spiderman Into the Spider-verse"
  • Short Film (Live Action), "Marguerite"
  • Short Film (Animated), "Bao"
  • Original Score, "BlacKkKlansman"
  • Production Design, "Black Panther"
  • Adapted Screenplay, "BlacKkKlansman"

The Predictable Bet

In this pile, we have the categories with an obvious favorite, but that also have dark horse contenders poised to sneak up from behind and surprise us with a win. If you have a personal favorite that isn’t the leading consensus, you’d be risking a little but it could be worth it to watch the shock and awe and respect that flashes across your friends’ and family’s faces. That being said, the predicted winners are still your safest and likeliest choice.

  • Best Picture, "Roma" – Does "Black Panther" have the mass-market appeal and diversity factor to undermine Netflix’s crown jewel? Is the fact that "Roma" belongs to a streaming service a deterrent for voters?
  • Best Actress in a Leading Role, Glenn Close – Olivia Colman has been creeping ever closer to Close, winning the BAFTA in this category and generally building up favor amongst critics and colleagues alike. Gaga is also a contender, giving a fan-favorite performance in "A Star in Born". We still think Close has it in the bag; she’s never won an Oscar and it feels like this is her year.
  • Directing, Spike Lee – This will be the first Oscar for the director and his first nomination in this category, despite having a long list of iconic, critically-acclaimed, generation-defining films under his belt. Alfonso Cuaron is his closest competitor and also has a very good chance of taking home the gold.
  • Sound Editing, "A Quiet Place" – you would be smart to go "A Quiet Place" or "First Man", two films with little dialogue and a lot of extraneous noise, though "Black Panther" has some momentum behind it and plenty of loud explosions worth admiring.
  • Sound Mixing, "First Man" has a ridiculous amount of sound (think of all those jet engines going off on the space ship!), so it is the obvious choice for this category with "A Star is Born" in close second.
  • Cinematography, Alfonso Cuaron for "Roma" is the frontrunner, but people can’t stop talking about the inventive, alternative and insane (in the best way) photography in "The Favourite", convincing us that Robbie Ryan has a real shot at prize.
  • Makeup and Hairstyling, "Vice" followed by "Mary Queen of Scots"
  • Original Screenplay, "Green Book" has a slight lead over "The Favourite"

The Loose Cannon

In this category, all bets are off. Perhaps the contenders are equally matched. Perhaps there hasn’t been a definitive frontrunner. Perhaps this is the category we anticipate will divide voters and yield a surprise winner. In any case, we’re holding our breaths to see who it will be. We’ve taken our best stab at guessing, but feel free to write-in your own predictions.

  • Documentary (Short Subject), "Period. End of Sentence". or "A Night at the Garden" most likely
  • Documentary (Feature), "Free Solo" or "RGB" most likely
  • Visual Effects, "Avengers: Infinity War" or "First Man" most likely
  • Best Actor in a Leading Role, Christian Bale from "Vice" or Rami Malek from "Bohemian Rhapsody" – a few weeks ago, I would have said assuredly that Bale had it in the bag. But the tides have risen in Malek’s favor. He won the BAFTA and people seem to be forgetting Bale’s transformative performance, preferring instead Malek’s loud take as Freddie Mercury in a terribly underwhelming film.
  • Costume Design, "The Favourite" or "Black Panther" most likely
  • Film Editing, "BlacKkKlansman" or "Green Book" most likely