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Betting the Oscars odds: Best picks for the 88th Academy Awards

The Academy Awards are the Super Bowl of novelty prop betting. Every year, more and more people are wagering on the Oscars and online sportsbooks (Nevada can’t offer Oscar odds just yet) answer the demand with longer lists of options for just about every award category on the board.

Who better to break down the best bets for the 88th Academy Awards than a film buff from Las Vegas? Josh Bell, film editor for Las Vegas Weekly and blogger at joshbellhateseverything, gives his insight into the major hardware being dished out Sunday night and which films should walk away with the Oscar – and the cash.

Best Picture

The Big Short (+400)
Bridge of Spies (+25,000)
Brooklyn (+25,000)
Mad Max: Fury Road (+10,000)
The Martian (+11,000)
The Revenant (-200)
Room (+15,000)
Spotlight (+220)

What Will Win: Oscar gurus have been in a heated battle over this category, with early front runner Spotlight overtaken at various points by The Big Short and The Revenant, as each has been winning supposed Oscar-predictor awards from other organizations. The current odds favor The Revenant, which won the top prizes at the Golden Globes and BAFTAs, and comes from the same director (Alejandro G. Iñárritu) as last year’s Best Picture winner Birdman. But it would not be a surprise to see Spotlight (winner at the Critics’ Choice Awards and the Screen Actors Guild Awards) or The Big Short (winner at the Producers Guild Awards) come out on top.

What Should Win: Iñárritu’s showy, self-indulgent style helped Birdman win over the more deserving Boyhood last year. And if The Revenant wins this year, it will be another case of the Academy being bowled over by flashy style. Spotlight, with its methodical storytelling and understated performances, is less immediately attention-grabbing, but its true account of a struggle against injustice makes it both the kind of story the Academy typically loves and the strongest overall movie in this category.

Best Director

Adam McKay, The Big Short (+2,000)
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road (+500)
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, The Revenant (-1,000)
Lenny Abrahamson, Room (+10,000)
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight (+2,000)

Who Will Win: Even if The Revenant doesn’t take Best Picture, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Iñárritu getting this award. The sheer difficulty of the epic survivalist adventure’s outdoor shoot has created a sort of awe of the filmmaker’s abilities, placing him somewhere between a general and a mad genius. Shooting in harsh conditions, with only available light, and putting his actors through intense trials, Iñárritu turned moviemaking into an endurance test, and this award is like giving him a gold medal for making it to the finish line.

Who Should Win: Making a movie is not actually an extreme sport, though, and the award should be for what ends up onscreen, not how it got there. Miller dealt with similar challenges in creating his long-awaited Mad Max sequel, but he also delivered a unique vision that doesn’t rely on outside knowledge of the production in order to create excitement and wonder.

Best Actor

Bryan Cranston, Trumbo (+7,500)
Matt Damon, The Martian (+6,000)
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant (-10,000)
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs (+2,500)
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl (+2,000)

Who Will Win: Like his collaborator Alejandro G. Iñárritu, DiCaprio has this one completely locked down, thanks mainly to the endurance test represented by his performance as severely injured trapper Hugh Glass. The tales of the hardships he suffered on the shoot for The Revenant have become more prevalent than praise for the movie itself. DiCaprio also has the benefit of a long, acclaimed career with four past acting nominations and no wins, which makes this the Academy’s chance to give him a sort of make-up or unofficial lifetime achievement award, a practice with a long and dubious tradition.

Who Should Win: Also like Iñárritu, DiCaprio doesn’t actually deserve to win just for making it through the filming of a movie, and his performance is at least 90 percent grunting. Damon also played a lone figure surviving against overwhelming odds, but he did it with more wit, range and depth. Maybe his chance for a make-up acting award is still a few years off.

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett, Carol (+3,500)
Brie Larson, Room (-4,000)
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy (+4,500)
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years (+6,000)
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn (+1,000)

Who Will Win: Larson’s rise from indie-film darling (in movies like Short Term 12 and The Spectacular Now) to mainstream star has been steady and well-deserved, with extensive coverage in a range of media outlets. It helps that her performance is also excellent, showcasing her emotional range and depth while featuring plenty of the big, serious moments the Academy loves.

Who Should Win: Although it’s unlikely that anyone other than Larson will get this award, this is probably the strongest acting category of the year, and almost any of these actresses would be worthy (although perennial nominee Lawrence, starring in an uneven biopic, is perhaps the weakest candidate). Blanchett’s performance as a fierce but vulnerable lesbian in 1950s New York stands slightly above her accomplished peers.

Best Supporting Actor

Christian Bale, The Big Short (+2,500)
Tom Hardy, The Revenant (+1,500)
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight (+7,500)
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies (+320)
Sylvester Stallone, Creed (-600)

Who Will Win: Even more so than Leonardo DiCaprio, Stallone has the “long overdue” sentiment behind him for this award. After a career filled with boneheaded action movies and even dopier comedies, this comeback role as Rocky Balboa, the character that launched his career (and garnered him an acting nomination in 1977) provides Stallone with the perfect narrative for his first Oscar win.

Who Should Win: While Stallone’s performance is one of the best of his career, that’s mainly in comparison to a lot of really terrible work in really terrible movies. British character actor Rylance, once the frontrunner in this category, gives an affecting and subtle performance as an accused Soviet spy in the underrated Bridge of Spies. It’s the kind of supporting turn that the Academy too often fails to acknowledge, one that genuinely supports the leads rather than upstaging them.

Best Supporting Actress

Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight (+4,000)
Rooney Mara, Carol (+500)
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight (+10,000)
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl (-280)
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs (+300)

Who Will Win: This is probably the closest race in the acting categories, with Vikander as the likely but not guaranteed winner. Both Vikander and Mara are nominated for what are essentially co-lead performances, giving them plenty of screen time to impress voters. Vikander, a Swedish actress who broke out in a big way in 2015 (with additional acclaimed roles in Ex Machina and Testament of Youth), has achieved the same kind of “it girl” status as Brie Larson, and the Oscar could be the culmination of her ascension to superstardom.

Who Should Win: Both Vikander and Mara are deserving (and would be deserving of being moved to the leading categories), and both would be solid choices to win. For a true supporting performance, Winslet steals all of her scenes in Steve Jobs, bringing to life the only female character who can match up to the man at the center of a very macho, male-dominated movie.