SN&R; film critic makes some not-so-crazy predictions about the 2015 Oscar race

It takes a real fool to predict the major winners when no one has even seen most of the contenders

At last year’s Academy Awards, Blue Jasmine star Cate Blanchett was considered such a massive favorite to take home the Best Actress trophy, the sports-betting site Bovada put her odds to win at -3000, or 1/30. That means you would have had to bet $3,000 on Blanchett to earn back only $100, a sure bet (she won, after all) for anyone with a spare few-thousand bucks lying around, which would presumably exclude everyone except for fat cats with bigger fish to fry than Oscar bait.

In the Nate Silver era of ridiculously accurate election forecasting, the outcomes of the major Academy Award categories are often a foregone conclusion. Any old fool can pore through the mountains of Oscar gossip and up-to-the-minute odds that pile up around awards season in order to win their office pool. But it takes a real fool to predict the major winners when no one has even seen most of the contenders. I believe that I am that fool—although my methods of prognostication are logically rooted in the mistakes of Oscar past.

Keys to victory: First, be serious—even The Artist, the only ostensible “comedy” to win Best Picture in the last few decades, ended with its hero contemplating suicide. Next, be at least superficially edgy and important, without telling us anything new—last year’s 12 Years a Slave was a formal and emotional triumph, but outside of the Ferguson Police Department, no one could possibly take issue with its depiction of American slavery as a mortal sin. Lastly, don’t revolt the core demographic in the opening act—the majority of awards voters are older white men and women feverishly working through Academy screeners, and they have no problem switching off a film that isn’t working for them.

Analysis: The grand experiment of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood seems like the only major contender among the films already released, although I suspect it will be compensated in other categories. The Martin Luther King biopic Selma (due in theaters December 25) is a tempting choice, given its timely subject matter of protests and police force, but the film is still being shot, and little is known of director Ava DuVernay. The all-in-one-shot Birdman could sneak in to the mix, but that technical marvel is more likely to snatch a Best Director prize for Alejandro González Iñárritu. There is an outside chance that Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice or David Fincher’s Gone Girl could go all No Country for Old Men on Oscar voters, blowing them away with high cinematic quality and a tightly coordinated campaign. However, my presumed frontrunners are all biopics—Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper and Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken.