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If you saw three films last year you’re an instant Oscar expert.

That’s the way the prediction game works. Music lovers feel they need to hear all the contenders before weighing in on the Grammys. TV viewers know they’ll never see all the series necessary to call the Emmys. But the Oscars? They’re a betting game made for everyone.

Ready to play?

First, put aside personal preferences. You may have liked “The Greatest Showman” but Hollywood barely called its name. Oscar voters picked films you may not have heard of. “Titanic” was the last “popular” winner and that was 20 years ago.

In the last three years, “surprise” winners prevailed – “Moonlight,” “Spotlight” and “Birdman.” Two of the three didn’t even get Best Director.

So who to pick?

If you look at the awards leading up to the Oscars, the results should go like this:

Best Picture: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”; Best Actor: Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”; Best Actress: Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards”; Best Supporting Actor: Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards”; Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”; Best Director: Guillermo del Toro, “The Shape of Water.”


Not so quick there, Sky Masterson. Oscar loves to throw filmgoers a curve.

Fans were so shocked when Marisa Tomei won for “My Cousin Vinny” they were sure presenter Jack Palance made a mistake. But, as we learned last year, if someone calls the wrong name, there’s always an official ready to rush in and correct the mistake.

Surprises are meant to be there.

Just ask those who thought Sylvester Stallone was finally going to win for playing Rocky. When he was nominated for “Creed,” it was a done deal he’d finish with Oscar. And then? Mark Rylance got the prize for “Bridge of Spies.”

This year, the Harvey Weinstein scandal has affected just about everything. Films released by his company might have had a chance in other years; actors accused of sexual assault and harassment aren’t even in the conversation. Films about strong females have done well in early competitions but it’ll be interesting to see how something like “Lady Bird” fares in the final run. A change in the Academy’s membership could have an effect, too. There’s more diversity this year (as witnessed by the nominees) and the possibility for a sea change.

How do the races shake down? By category, here’s your tip sheet:

I, Tonya

LaVona Golden (Allison Janney) and her pet bird in "I, Tonya."

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Allison Janney has won just about everything for her performance as the tough-talking mother of figure skater Tonya Harding. She’s likely to win here, too. But if there’s a “Lady Bird” swell, look for Laurie Metcalf (who also played a mom) to slide in. There really is no third choice in this competition. Janney for the win.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Here, it gets a little more difficult. Sam Rockwell is the favorite (for “Three Billboards”), but critics have groused about the film’s view of racism and that could hurt his chances. Willem Dafoe (“The Florida Project”) was expected to be the winner early in the season. BUT…and this is key … Christopher Plummer is in the mix. He’s up for “All the Money in the World,” the film that was supposed to star Kevin Spacey. Director Ridley Scott decided to replace Spacey after he was accused of sexual assault and, in a matter of days, Plummer pulled off a magnificent performance. If there’s a surprise this year, this is it. Rockwell still seems like the winner, but don’t be shocked if the oldest winner ever gets his second trophy.

In 'Three Billboards,' a timely portrait of outrage

Frances McDormand stars in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri."

BEST ACTRESS: Frances McDormand (“Three Billboards”) has a lock on this. Saoirse Ronan (“Lady Bird”) would seem like a threat, but that would require a big surge by her film. Watch for early wins for that to happen.


Gary Oldman stars as Winston Churchill in director Joe Wright's "Darkest Hour," a Focus Features release.

BEST ACTOR: Gary Oldman was the man to beat the minute his “Darkest Hour” saw the light of day. Thanks to great makeup (which will win), he made a convincing Winston Churchill. Daniel Day-Lewis (“Phantom Thread”) announced he was retiring from acting, which upped his status (What? This is the last time to give him a fourth Oscar?) and Timothee Chalamet was such a discovery (in “Call Me By Your Name”), folks are openly cheering for him. It still looks like Oldman will win, but don’t count out any of the others.

BEST DIRECTOR: Unless there’s a sweep by some hidden film (“Lady Bird” and “Get Out” are the most likely), this belongs to Guillermo del Toro for “The Shape of Water.” The film was visually stunning and a worthy recipient.


Michael Shannon, Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer in the film "The Shape of Water."

BEST PICTURE: This is where things get sticky. “The Shape of Water” has the most nominations and should win. But “Spotlight” got a total of TWO awards; “Moonlight” had three. That means even “The Post” is in the hunt. While “Dunkirk” seemed like a likely winner before the holiday rush, it’s now forgotten. Similarly, “Darkest Hour,” “Lady Bird,” “Call Me By Your Name” and “Phantom Thread” don’t have the heft to pull this off. The spoiler could be “Get Out,” which presses a lot of buttons and was clever. It’s considered a horror film, which is rarely considered an Oscar favorite.

That leaves “Three Billboards” and “The Shape of Water.” A big bellwether: Who gets Best Screenplay. “Get Out,” “Lady Bird,” Shape of Water” and “Three Billboards” are all nominated. A win in that category would suggest momentum or consolation.

“Get Out” could win here, paving the way for “Three Billboards” to get Best Picture.

Consider this your tiebreaker. You don’t need Warren Beatty to announce the wrong winner. Any film is possible. We're betting the top prize goes to  "Shape of Water."



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