Picking the winners

Learning from ‘Green Book,’ and other 2020 Oscar betting tips.


“Green Book” was a dark horse last year in the early Oscar derby handicapping, running fourth or barely mentioned in the early going. Viggo Mortensen was an 18-1 shot for Best Actor for his role in Peter Farrelly’s true story about a book for African Americans on how to navigate to black-friendly venues in the South, published from the 1930s to the 1960s.

Now on this Island, Farrelly is our guy. He’s here a lot, has regular Island friends, and shows up at stuff. Plus, he’s made serious coin on what the cinematic cognoscenti often regarded as frathouse guy flicks.

“There’s Something About Mary” broke that mold, and if you saw “Outside Providence,” you saw more was going on in Farrelly’s oeuvre. But “Green Book”? Outta the box, dude.

Betting on the Oscars is getting traction. Vegas oddsmakers have embraced the opportunity to make money. The fine state of New Jersey also made Oscar betting legal at its ORB parlors last year. You can bet from your cell phone, but you have to be in the state to bet. According to web reports, the Holland Tunnel got a workout last year from New Yorkers making a quick roundtrip to the Garden State.

Oddsmakers now are walking on the wild side with Oscar oddsmaking. They’ve got something called proposition bets. Also known as “prop bets,” according to legitgamblingsites.com, these wagers cover a nutty range of options. “Examples might include the over/under on the length of the show, the brand of dress worn by a celebrity, or whether or not the host takes a selfie with someone during the broadcast,” according to its website. That’ll liven up the interminable wait between the red carpet and winner time.

Because we’re homers here, we’ll use “Green Book” as an example of how the Oscar-betting environment looks. (Aside to readers: If you’re going to bet the movie that stole your heart, you don’t need to read this.) Here are the rules we are informed of, according to the 2019 Oscar trifecta.

No. 1: Always remember that Hollywood types are wicked front-runners. Today’s A lister is tomorrow’s D lister, etc. “The Favourite” and “Roma” were prohibitive favorites. If you bet $100, you’d make 40 or 50 bucks, along with your $100 back. Bad risk/reward; why bother?

But that action pretty much made “Green Book” an also-ran early in the betting odds in 2019, like 18-1 or so. With apologies to Zero Mostel, something happened on the way from its nomination to the actual voting. “Green Book” was winning in the run-ups to Oscar voting.

No. 2: Check the results of the pre-Oscar movie competition. “Green Book” moved to 3-1 odds by voting day. Its big move was winning the Golden Globes best picture derby.

This is the only heavy-lifting part of this exercise. You have to look at how the faves are doing in a boatload of acronymic contests, like DGA, PGA, SAG-AFTRA, and BAFTA. That’s Directors Guild of America (DGA), Producers Guild of America (PGA), Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). BAFTA is a pretty good cinematic handicapper, but websites agree that awards from voting in SAG-AFTRA (the industry’s union) has far and away the best track record in picking winners. 

No. 3: Check your gut. Was the U.S. ready for “Roma,” a foreign-language, subtitled film that debuted on TV? I never bought it. Now, “The Favourite” was perplexing. It had Emma Stone, and was based on a true story. Apologies to Marlon Brando, but “The Favourite” was a real contender. With the nuthouse going on at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., and people looking inward, “Green Book” gave us a reason to believe we’ve made some social progress. 

So the Oscar voters kissed Farrelly for Best Picture, and Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali for their acting.

Brooks Robards, who knows a thing or three about movies, takes a look at the 2020 Best Picture nominees elsewhere in this issue.

Me? I only saw “Parasite” among the nominees, but I’m going with “The Irishman.” Genetics, ya know?