How to Win Your Oscar Pool in 4 Easy Steps

The 2013 Academy Awards Best Picture Nominees (credits below)
The 2013 Academy Awards Best Picture Nominees (credits below)

The Oscars are right around the corner, and I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve won every single Oscar pool I’ve ever entered. In case you aren’t already aware, an Oscar pool is a game in which each participant picks the nominees they think will bring home statues at the Academy Awards and whoever correctly predicts the most winners is crowned victorious. Most games require a buy-in from players, which is the reward for the winner, so there’s a connotation of gambling that comes with mentioning an “Oscar pool” – but let’s be clear: Winning isn’t about luck. It’s about knowing how to play. And with these rules … you’ll play to win.

Vote like an Academy Member
This is the first and hardest rule to follow. Any cinephile with a pulse has disagreed with the Academy on one awarded Oscar or another … or a bunch. Critics have long argued that the Oscars aren’t awarded based on actual artistic merit, but rather for Hollywood politics. That means you can’t vote for what, in your opinion, deserves the Academy Award, but what will actually win. So even if you think a certain movie was the best picture to come out all year, that doesn’t mean it will get the Best Picture Oscar. Academy members are usually older and wearier of controversy than most other filmgoers, so they’re more likely to tap a, safer non-offensive movie with wider appeal.

Play the Odds
Oscar upsets happen, but they don’t happen as much as people like to pretend – at least not in the last few years. For the most part, if a film gets a large amount of nominations – it’s going to win big. Of the last five Academy Awards, Best Picture and Best Director have all gone to movies that had the most or second most nominations that year. Also, huge Oscar buzz around an actor or actress is always a safer bet than a long-shot nominee winning. The big thing to remember is that you’re playing to win overall. Yes, there’s a risk of everyone else predicting that one win you didn’t, but there’s no point structure, so predicting a win in one of the major categories is just as valuable as doing so for a minor award.

Of course, there’s a bit of common sense here. If there’s a Best Picture nominee that was snubbed in other categories but won big at other awards shows, it might be worth the risk to pick that one as going all the way.

Research the Obscure and Lesser-Known Categories
Any moron with a general pop culture awareness and Google can put together a solid big-six roster (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress), but it’s the winner that cleans up elsewhere on the ballot. Foreign film, documentary, short film, animated shorts … most people just randomly fill out their picks for these categories, so by researching and finding which ones have the most buzz or critical acclaim you’re already a step ahead.

The big rule to follow for the less flashy categories: If it gets attention in the mainstream, it’ll probably win. The one foreign film you actually heard about before Oscar season? It’s likely a winner. That song from a movie got airplay on the radio? Winner. The animated film that did well with adults? Winner. There is a bit of a wild card in screenwriting categories. Usually, if you’ve heard otherwise, it’s best to go with whichever of the films has the most momentum in terms of nominations in other categories.

Know the Connections in the Technical Categories
In the Best Animated Short and Best Documentary categories, most people just randomly select their picks for the technical awards. And unless you’re in the industry and are familiar with who’s who in cinematography, costume design, sound mixing, etc., you’re as much in the dark as anyone else. There are certain patterns, however, that help boost your odds. If it’s nominated for both Sound Editing and Sound Mixing, it’s got the best odds of winning both; in the last seven Oscars, five films won both categories. Same goes for Art Direction, Visual Effects, Cinematography; in the last four Academy Awards celebrations, films nominated in all three swept or scored two-thirds of the statues. For everything else? Go with the most nominated film in the category.

Follow these rules and you’ll win big Oscar night, just be sure to have a gracious acceptance speech when you take everyone’s money.

Images above: Amour: Emmanuelle Riva © 2012 Les Films du Losange; Argo: Ben Affleck © 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc; Beasts of the Southern Wild: Quvenzhané Wallis © 2012 Fox Searchlight; Django Unchained: Jamie Foxx © 2012 The Weinstein Co; Les Miserables: Anne Hathaway © 2012 Universal; Life of Pi: Suraj Sharma © 2011 Twentieth Century Fox; Lincoln: Daniel Day-Lewis © 2012 Touchstone Pictures; Silver Linings Playbook: Jennifer Lawrence © 2012 The Weinstein Co; Zero Dark Thirty: Jessica Chastain © 2012 Touchstone Pictures