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Essential Guide On How Not To Drown In Your Oscar Pool

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The 86th Academy Awards will be held this Sunday night, March 2, marking the joyous end of a seemingly interminable awards season, one that began in earnest way back in September at the Toronto International Film Festival. Despite the fact that the medium of television has seemingly eclipsed cinema in the hearts and minds of the American public, the Oscars ceremony remains a must-watch regardless of how many of the nominated films and performances one has actually seen. After all, unless you plan on avoiding television and social media altogether on Sunday and Monday, you're going to be tuning-in on Sunday to the four-plus hour spectacle that's airing on ABC.

And let's face it: One of the surefire ways to keep the evening interesting while egghead editors and humor-challenged documentary film producers head to the stage to thank their mothers and agents is to GAMBLE. That's why millions of us will be spending the next few hours determining our final picks for our office Oscar pool.

Since we know that you probably have better things to do than do hours and hours of research figuring out the best way to fill out your ballot, we have done the research for you. We've read all the Oscar blogs, consulted all the oddsmakers, and charted all the trends to give you the inside scoop about who's going home with a Little Gold Man on Sunday night. So if you don't want to end up drowning in your Oscar pool, here's our official cheat sheet for the 86th Academy Awards.

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CATEGORY: Best Picture
NOMINEES: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years A Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street
FAVORITE: 12 Years A Slave
DARK HORSE: Gravity
THE WHYS: Ever since the film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival back in September, this year's Best Picture frontrunner has been 12 Years A Slave. In addition to being a remarkable film, it has the added benefit of being a "statement film" for Academy voters. In other words, by casting a vote for this picture, voters will assuage their (largely liberal) guilt and "prove" (to themselves, if to no one else) that they are not racist. That said! Vanity Fair hosted an Oscar preview panel earlier this week and veteran publicist/impresario Peggy Siegel confessed that she had been hearing that a large number of Academy voters "could not even bring themselves to watch" it. Gravity would be the default choice if this WERE to come true, but Vegas and Oscar bloggers alike have 12 as an overwhelming favorite to win.

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CATEGORY: Actor In A Leading Role
NOMINEES: Christian Bale (American Hustle), Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street), Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave), Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
FAVORITE: Matthew McConaughey
DARK HORSE: Leonardo DiCaprio
THE WHYS: Leonardo DiCaprio is undeniably one of the world's biggest box office stars, one who also happened to turn in a career best performance in Wolf. Many could argue that it's his turn, but the fact of the matter is he ran into the unstoppable whirlwind that is Matthew McConaughey. The Academy has a history of placing an inordinate amount of value on an actor's ability to physically transform themselves, so when you combine the fact that he lost 47 pounds AND played someone suffering from AIDS in Dallas, you have the ingredients for Oscar gold. Vegas has McConaughey's likelihood of winning at 74%, and 90% of Oscar bloggers do, too. ALRIGHT ALRIGHT!

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CATEGORY: Actress In A Leading Role
NOMINEES: Amy Adams (American Hustle), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Judi Dench (Philomena), Meryl Streep (August Osage County)
FAVORITE: Cate Blanchett
DARK HORSE: Amy Adams
THE WHYS: Not even a massive child abuse scandal involving Blue Jasmine director Woody Allen is enough to slow down Blanchett's path; she has won virtually ALL of the awards in this category this awards season. Oscarologists believe there is a 93% chance she is going to win Best Actress come Sunday night, and you'd have to lay down $1200 in Vegas just to win $100 back. (If you're unfamiliar with gambling parlance, that means she's a virtual lock.) Bet the farm here, even if you don't have one!

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CATEGORY: Actor In A Supporting Role
NOMINEES: Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), Bradley Cooper (American Hustle), Michael Fassbender (12 Years A Slave), Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street), Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
FAVORITE: Jared Leto
DARK HORSE: Barkhad Abdi
THE WHYS: "Oscar winner Jared Leto." "Oscar winner Jared Leto." "Oscar winner Jared Leto." If you just repeated that phrase out loud while looking into a mirror, Brian Krakow is gonna appear out of thin air and strangle you with a rope made from his curly red hair. Call this category Master 'cause it's a lock.

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CATEGORY: Actress In A Supporting Role
NOMINEES: Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine), Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle), Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years A Slave), Julia Roberts (August Osage County), June Squibb (Nebraska)
FAVORITE: Lupita Nyong'o
DARK HORSE: Jennifer Lawrence
THE WHYS: Oscar bloggers seem nearly united in their belief that this award is Lupita's for the taking, but Vegas seems less certain. Rumors of Lupita's aloof attitude while working the awards circuit are rife, though, which might be the reason that famed oddsmaker Danny Sheridan thinks that it's a dead heat between the 12 Years star and last year's Oscar winner, Miss Jennifer Lawrence.

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CATEGORY: Best Director
NOMINEES: Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity), Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave), Alexander Payne (Nebraska), David O. Russell (American Hustle), Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)
FAVORITE: Alfonso Cuaron
DARK HORSE: Steve McQueen
THE WHYS: Wait, if 12 Years A Slave is the presumptive favorite for Best Picture, why isn't that film's director the favorite in his category? GREAT QUESTION. The answer is pretty simple, actually. You see, Cuaron won at the DGA Awards earlier this month, and history shows that only 5 times in the last 40 years have the Academy Awards and the Director's Guild picked different winners. Then again, one of those years was LAST YEAR, so what do we know?

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CATEGORY: Best Animated Feature Film
NOMINEES: The Croods, Despicable Me 2, Ernest & Celentine, Frozen, The Wind Rises
FAVORITE: Frozen
DARK HORSE: The Wind Rises
THE WHYS: Even society's most ignorant bookworms recognize that Frozen has become a legitimate cultural phenomenon. The film has made $384MM at the domestic box office, which makes it one of the TOP 20 FILMS OF ALL-TIME. It's about to cross the $1 BILLION mark when you add in international grosses, which makes it one of the TOP 20 FILMS OF ALL-TIME. There's nothing that Hollywood loves more than a pocket liner, so expect Frozen to run away with the Oscar this weekend.

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CATEGORY: Best Cinematography
NOMINEES: The Grandmaster, Gravity, Inside Lleywn Davis, Nebraska, Prisoners
FAVORITE: Gravity
DARK HORSE: Nebraska
THE WHYS: Gravity looks set to sweep all of this year's technical categories, so unless you want to lose your pool, trust us and pick Gravity across the board.

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CATEGORY: Best Costume Design
NOMINEES: American Hustle, The Grandmaster, The Great Gatsby, The Invisible Woman, 12 Years A Slave
FAVORITE: The Great Gatsby
DARK HORSE: 12 Years A Slave
THE WHYS: Vegas and Oscarologists alike are united in their love for The Great Gatsby, Old Sport. That said, if you're the kind of person who loves picking upsets, 12 Years is the best of the longshots in this field.

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CATEGORY: Best Documentary Feature
NOMINEES: The Act of Killing, Cutie and the Boxer, Dirty Wars, The Square, 20 Feet from Stardom
FAVORITE: 20 Feet from Stardom
DARK HORSE: The Act of Killing
THE WHYS: 20 Feet from Stardom, the doc about what it's like to be a backup singer while someone else takes the spotlight, seems to be leading the pack at the moment. The Act of Killing made many Top 10 lists this past year, but the general sentiment is that it's a bit too dark for the fogeys that make up the Academy. 20 Feet is warm and nostalgic, which is how old white folks like to feel most of the time.

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CATEGORY: Best Documentary Short Subject
NOMINEES: CaveDigger, Facing Fear, Karama Has No Walls, The Lady In Number 6: Music Saved My Life, Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall
FAVORITE: The Lady In Number 6
DARK HORSE: Facing Fear
THE WHYS: If you have seen one of these films, let alone all five nominees, WE APPLAUD YOU. We have not, nor likely will ever, see any of these films. That said, we HAVE done our research, and both oddsmakers and in-the-know Oscar bloggers have The Lady In Number 6 as an overwhelming favorite in this category. (We're also glad it wasn't called The Guy Who Did Number 2.)

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CATEGORY: Best Film Editing
NOMINEES: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, 12 Years A Slave
FAVORITE: Gravity
DARK HORSE: Captain Phillips
THE WHYS: At the outset of this column, we predicted a sweep for Gravity in the technical categories and we're sticking with our guns.

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CATEGORY: Best Foreign Language Film
NOMINEES: The Broken Circle Breakdown, The Great Beauty, The Hunt, The Missing Picture, Omar
FAVORITE: The Great Beauty
DARK HORSE: The Hunt
THE WHYS: The real crime here is that Blue Is The Warmest Color got snubbed by those cheese-eating surrender monkeys. We have neither the time nor the space to get into the particulars of this particular travesty; instead, we're here to inform your that Italy's The Great Beauty is the primo choice in this category. It's running as a massive favorite with both degenerate gamblers and Oscar bloggers (and, if you'll allow us to be cheeky, the line that separates those two groups is thin at best).

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CATEGORY: Best Makeup and Hairstyling
NOMINEES: Dallas Buyers Club, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, The Lone Ranger
FAVORITE: Dallas Buyers Club
DARK HORSE: Bad Grandpa
THE WHYS: Imagine how difficult it would be to get your parents or grandparents to sit down to watch a film called Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. The reticence of over 50 types to invest 90ish minutes of their life in this film is the only thing holding it back from Oscar glory. If they did watch, though, they'd almost certainly vote for it, but we're going with the "prestige" pick here: Dallas Buyers Club.

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CATEGORY: Best Original Score
NOMINEES: The Book Thief, Gravity, Her, Philomena, Saving Mr. Banks
FAVORITE: Gravity
DARK HORSE: Her
THE WHYS: This is Gravity's category to lose; as of this writing, there are 10:1 odds that it DOESN'T win. That said, if you are a firm believer in the power of Arcade Fire to win over voters (as they have done at the Grammys), hitch your wagon to Win Butler and go with Her.

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CATEGORY: Best Original Song
NOMINEES: "Happy" from Despicable Me 2, "Let It Go" from Frozen, "The Moon Song" from Her, "Ordinary Love" from MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM
FAVORITE: "Let It Go"
DARK HORSE: "Ordinary Love"
THE WHYS: It has been the Year of Pharrell, but unless he wears a 200 gallon hat to the Academy Awards, there's little chance that "Happy" is going to be taking home the prize. "Let It Go" is a song that every single girl under the age of 17 already knows by heart, and has broken away from the pack. (If you're looking for validation here, Vegas and Oscarologists agree.)

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CATEGORY: Best Production Design
NOMINEES: American Hustle, Gravity, The Great Gatsby, Her, 12 Years A Slave
FAVORITE: The Great Gatsby
DARK HORSE: Gravity
THE WHYS: Catherine Martin, Baz Luhrmann's longtime production designer and romantic partner, is one of the most respected and admired people in the history of this field. Not only is she a two-time Oscar winner, she took home the BAFTA for this category just a few short weeks ago. Take that for what it's worth, Old Sport.

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CATEGORY: Best Short Film, Animated
NOMINEES: Feral, Get a Horse!, Mr. Hublot, Possessions, Room on the Broom
FAVORITE: Get a Horse!
DARK HORSE: Mr. Hublot
THE WHYS: Get a Horse!? More like Get An Oscar! This film stars Mickey Mouse and is voiced by Walt Disney himself. That's really all you need to know. LOCK CITY.

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CATEGORY: Best Short Film, Live Action
NOMINEES: Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn't Me), Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything), Helium, Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?), The Voorman Problem
FAVORITE: The Voorman Problem
DARK HORSE: Helium
THE WHYS: We want to be candid with you. We have not, nor do we have any intention of, seeing any of these films. We do, however, pride ourselves on researching. The Voorman Problem, which is not to be confused with your Doorman Problem (kickstart THAT!), has a 54% chance of winning this category according to the professionals whose job it is to prognosticate this kind of stuff, and Vegas agrees.

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CATEGORY: Best Sound Editing
NOMINEES: All Is Lost, Captain Phillips, Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Lone Survivor
FAVORITE: Gravity
DARK HORSE: Captain Phillips
THE WHYS: There was a time and place when a Peter Jackson film would have been a lock for this category. That time was the Aughts. This year, bet on Gravity.

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CATEGORY: Best Sound Mixing
NOMINEES: Captain Phillips, Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Inside Llewyn Davis, Lone Survivor
FAVORITE: Gravity
DARK HORSE: Captain Phillips
THE WHYS: This is a technical category. This means Gravity will win. Good day, sir.

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CATEGORY: Best Visual Effects
NOMINEES: Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Iron Man 3, The Lone Ranger, Star Trek Into Darkness
FAVORITE: Gravity
DARK HORSE: Why bother?
THE WHYS: If you possessed the deed to a farm and wanted to, you know, BET IT on something, our official advice would be to wager it right here. There are 50:1 odds that this WILL NOT win, which means your farm will be slightly richer come Monday. You'll still have to wake up with the roosters at an ungodly hour, but you'll be able to invest your winnings in a kickass new plow!

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CATEGORY: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay
NOMINEES: Before Midnight, Captain Phillips, Philomena, 12 Years A Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street
FAVORITE: 12 Years A Slave
DARK HORSE: Before Midnight
THE WHYS: This is a category in which everyone seems to be divided ... for what will come in second! 12 Years is currently running 1/7 odds in Vegas at the moment, and Oscar bloggers agree. That said, if you want to support great writing and don't mind losing your pool, feel free to vote for Before Midnight!

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CATEGORY: Best Writing, Original Screenplay
NOMINEES: American Hustle, Blue Jasmine, Dallas Buyers Club, Her, Nebraska
FAVORITE: Her
DARK HORSE: American Hustle
THE WHYS: This is the one category in the Academy Awards where "cool" gets to rule. It's a category that Quentin Tarantino has dominated of late, but now it's Spike Jonze's turn. Her has won in this category unilaterally so far, and we don't see any reason that streak won't continue on Sunday night.

And if your Oscar pool has a bet going on who will anchor the In Memoriam segment, we have thoughts about that too!

Mark Graham (aka Uncle Grambo) is a picker, a grinner, a lover, and a sinner, as well as being someone who spends a fair amount of time in the dark with strangers. He also watches movies occasionally, too. You can find him on Twitter at @unclegrambo and on Tumblr.