Margaret Hair's column appears Fridays in the 4 Points arts and entertainment section in the Steamboat Today
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There are two things I feel comfortable placing bets on: men's college basketball and the Academy Awards.
Basketball is a safe enough bet in most cases - because I don't mind watching games when I don't care who wins, and because the sport is volatile enough to make almost any choice of a winning team a reasonable one - and I usually try to confine wagers to no more than three NCAA tournament pools.
I've never won, but I'm content with accurately picking at least a few first-round upsets (and am still proud of a 2007 upset pick of Virginia Commonwealth University against Duke University).
Safer than that, though, is putting stake in a pool to pick winners for each year's Oscars. The Academy tends to go for the same type of winners each year, alternating between serious, weighty films and their stars and competitors from lighter material.
The trick is not to fall into the same trap I do in every NCAA tournament pool: I always pick the University of North Carolina to win, no matter how good the team is and no matter how bad their record is. For the Oscars, I tend to pick movies I've actually seen (in Steamboat, not many) and actors I'm familiar with (in this year's crop of nominees, not many). It's a principle thing, and it almost always undermines my bet.
So really, I feel comfortable placing bets that are almost certainly wrong. Here are my most likely inaccurate and noticeably biased choices to win the big categories in this year's Academy Awards, which air Feb. 22:
¤ Best Actor in a Leading Role: Mickey Rourke for "The Wrestler," beating Sean Penn ("Milk"), Richard Jenkins ("The Visitor"), Brad Pitt ("The Curious Case of Benjamin Button") and Frank Langella ("Frost/Nixon"). Everyone likes a comeback, and I certainly liked Rourke in "Sin City." Sean Penn is much more likely to actually win this one.
¤ Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Heath Ledger for "The Dark Knight," beating everyone else nominated, because it really doesn't matter. This is the only bet I believe to be 100 percent reasonable.
¤ Best Actress in a Leading Role: Meryl Streep for "Doubt," beating Anne Hathaway ("Rachel Getting Married"), Angelina Jolie ("Changeling"), Melissa Leo ("Frozen River") and Kate Winslet ("The Reader"). Because Meryl Streep manages to frighten me in every role she plays, including those in comedies. Kate Winslet will probably win.
¤ Best Actress in a Supporting Role: I'm going with Marisa Tomei for "The Wrestler" because I haven't seen any of the movies included in the category, and because "My Cousin Vinny" is hilarious.
¤ Best Directing: "Slumdog Millionaire," beating "Benjamin Button," "The Reader," "Frost/Nixon" and "Milk." Danny Boyle has the "this movie was a risk" factor on his side.
¤ Best Picture: Having not seen any of the movies nominated (they're the same as those chosen for best direction), I'm going to call the odds even between "Slumdog" and "Milk."