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Sunday is the Super Bowl for the entertainment industry: the Academy Awards.
While some people dream of walking the red carpet, my dream is to make money betting on Hollywood's most prestigious and pretentious night. The problem with betting on the Oscars is that there is inside information — and Wall Street isn't even involved.
Inside information is the reason Sportsbooks limit the money bet on the Oscars. They don't like losing money on events with pre-determined outcomes like professional wrestling, fixed soccer matches or Kanye West storming the stage every time Beyonce loses an award. However, that doesn't make it any less fun.
Here are my bets for the major awards:
Robert Duvall, "The Judge"
Ethan Hawke, "Boyhood"
Edward Norton, "Birdman"
Mark Ruffalo, "Foxcatcher"
J.K. Simmons, "Whiplash"
Let's start with an easy one: Mark Ruffalo and Robert Duvall are like the No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament (these teams never win). They are just happy to be invited to the dance. Ethan Hawke and Edward Norton are both great actors but also have little chance.
J.K. Simmons has won every pre-Oscar best supporting actor award going into this — Golden Globes, PGA, DGA, SAG ... I think even the WWE. In "Whiplash," Simmons plays a mean and abusive jazz teacher who loves to insult his students. He sounds like a suitable replacement for Mr.Wonderful on "Shark Tank." Simmons deserves to win not only for this role, but also because of his work in the Farmers Insurance commercials.
The betting odds are 1 to 12. That means you have to wager $12 to win $1. It's a lot to lay but this is as much of a lock as Angelina Jolie- and Jennifer Aniston not dining on sashimi together at Katsuya after the show.
Winner: J.K. Simmons
Patricia Arquette, "Boyhood"
Laura Dern, "Wild"
Keira Knightley, "The Imitation Game"
Emma Stone, "Birdman"
Meryl Streep, "Into the Woods"
This one is also a lock. A bigger lock than the fact that Leonardo DiCaprio and Rihanna's rumored fling wasn't true.
Patricia Arquette was brilliant in "Boyhood" and deserves this award. She has won all the best supporting actress minor league awards so far. The only way she doesn't take home the Oscar, is if one of Bill Belichick's locker room attendants switches the Oscar statuettes backstage.
The betting odds on her winning are 1 to 12. This is easy money.
Winner: Patricia Arquette
Steve Carrell, "Foxcatcher"
Bradley Cooper, "American Sniper"
Benedict Cumberbatch, "The Imitation Game"
Michael Keaton, "Birdman"
Eddie Redmayne, "The Theory of Everything"
Finally, an award with intrigue. Cooper, Keaton and Redmayne all have a legit shot here. Carrell actually got shafted by being nominated here instead of for best supporting actor, where he would have been the favorite.
Keaton was the clear favorite not too long ago. His film has the most Oscar nominations and he won a Golden Globe. However, Redmayne won the SAG Best Actor award and now has probably pulled ahead of Keaton although its remains super close.
Which brings us to Cooper. Cooper is a wild card because he wasn't competing in any of the previous award shows because the film was released late in the cycle. This is his third consecutive nomination for Best Actor and "American Sniper" is his best work.
My favorite movie of Cooper's, though, is "Limitless." He plays a writer that takes a drug called NZT which enables him to master the stock market. I have been searching for years for NZT and still can't find it.
In such a close race, the winner tends to be a sympathetic character. Let's look at past winners: Matthew McConaughey won for playing an AIDS activist in "Dallas Buyers Club." Tom Hanks won for playing a man who dies of AIDS in "Philadelphia," then followed it up by playing a mentally-challenged hero in "Forrest Gump."
Sean Penn won for "Mystic River" in a role where his acting was mediocre. However, he won the Oscar because a lot of people in Hollywood liked him for buddying up with Communist tyrant Hugo Chavez, visiting Iraq and calling for the incarceration of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
The sympathy factor is actually the reason, I believe, that Leonardo DiCaprio never wins. The Academy isn't going to reward him for playing a rich Wall Street guy!
As much as I would like to see Cooper win, I think the most sympathetic character is Eddie Redmayne, who plays Stephen Hawking. The odds are even money on Redmayne. However, if you want a long-shot bet with a chance, take Cooper at 12 to 1.
Winner: Eddie Redmayne
Marion Cotillard, "Two Days, One Night"
Felicity Jones, "The Theory of Everything"
Julianne Moore, "Still Alice"
Rosamund Pike, "Gone Girl"
Reese Witherspoon, "Wild"
This is the most sure thing on the board. Julianne Moore will win. Remember that whole attractive actor/actress playing a sympathetic character? In "Still Alice," the lovely Moore plays a woman with early onset Alzheimer's.
This is a surer bet than the Greeks running out of cash to pay their debts.
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Personally, I think Rosamund Pike deserves more love for "Gone Girl." Not only was she was amazing in her role, she did the unthinkable: She turned Ben Affleck into a character you have sympathy for!
However, don't overthink this one. Lay the 1 to 15.
Winner: Julianne Moore
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, "Birdman"
Richard Linklater, "Boyhood"
Bennett Miller, "Foxcatcher"
Wes Anderson, "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Morten Tydlum, "The Imitation Game"
This is a two-horse race between Inarritu and Linklater. I have seen both movies and the directing was brilliant in both. Inarritu has directed some great films like "21 Grams" and "Babel." Birdman was the first comedy he directed. Best Director rarely goes to a comedy and winning as a rookie comedy director, would be a huge feat that even Brian Williams couldn't exaggerate.
Linklater directed one of my all-time favorite movies, "Dazed and Confused." That movie featured many actors before they became stars like Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck and Milla Jovovich. Linklater's work on "Boyhood" was so unique in the fact that it was filmed over 12 years. That's a long time. Twelve years is longer than the amount of time Alex Rodriguez denied that he used steroids. There truly has been no other film like it.
The odds on Linklater are 2.5 to 1. The odds on Inarritu are 1.5 to 1. In a very close call, I like Linklater in a mild upset.
Winner: Richard Linklater
"The Grand Budapest Hotel"
"The Imitation Game"
"The Theory of Everything"
This one is also too close to call. Let's start with the ones that won't win. "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and "Selma" are both good films but will end up with no major awards. "The Theory of Everything" and "Whiplash" won't win either but at least have a good shot of winning Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively.
Which brings us to the Final Four. Personally, I am rooting for "American Sniper." It was a great film and nothing would beat seeing Michael Moore's smug face should this happen. Moore has openly criticized snipers as cowards, which is consistent in his vitriol for the United States military. Unfortunately, too many in Hollywood agree with him which is why this won't happen.
"The Imitation Game" is another fine film. If this were the Olympics, it would end up with the bronze medal.
This brings us back to "Boyhood" and "Birdman" again. They have split the pre-Oscar awards with "Boyhood" winning the Golden Globe but "Birdman" picked up the PGA, DGA and SAG awards. Sometimes there are easy calls. Like running the ball on the 1 yard line if you are the Seahawks and have Marshawn Lynch. This call is very tough, however.
The odds between these two are basically even. It would be hard to shut out "Birdman" in all the major categories, considering that it has nine Academy Award nominations which is the most this year.
The last two years the Best Director/Best Picture have come from different movies. However before that, Best Director and Best Picture have come from the same movie every time since 2005.
I would like to see "Boyhood" win both but since it's so close, I predict a split. If Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu were to win for Best Director, I would change my pick here to "Boyhood." I think "Birdman" wins here in the closest of margins.
Commentary by Raj Malhotra (Raj Mahal is his stage name), a former Wall Street trader-turned-stand-up-comedian. He has worked at Wall Street firms covering three continents, including at Bank of America, BNP Paribas and Nomura. He draws from his unique ethnic background and Wall Street career to entertain audiences nightly, highlighting the struggles of the 1 percent. He can be seen at Gotham Comedy Club, Broadway Comedy Club, NY Comedy Club, Greenwich Village Comedy Club, and the Tribeca Comedy Lounge. Follow him on Twitter @RajMahalTweets.