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Friday, 14 December, 2018

It may be an open and shut case for Affleck

Long-time favourite can justify odds

Casey Affleck's performance in Manchester By The Sea looks set to be rewarded
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Show starts 1.30am Monday

The red carpet goes down in Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre on Sunday night (1.30am on Monday here). Long odds-on shots dominate the main Oscars categories and the charming modern-day musical La La Land looks on course to win Best Picture and a host of other gongs.

You won’t beat 1-5 for a movie nominated in a record-equalling 14 categories but we’ve had shorter shots floored – Brokeback Mountain touched 1-8 in 2005 but lost out to Crash – and cogent cases for rivals Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea and late plunge Hidden Figures are being made.

Hidden Figures, the story of three female African-American mathematicians essential to early space flights at Nasa, has outshone La La Land at the box office, which won’t have gone unnoticed by the Academy’s 6,000 millionaire voters. Even so, it is La La Land’s to lose.

Yet filmgoers seem to be coming away from it distinctly underwhelmed, while some don’t care for it, which is what happens when a movie gets overhyped.

The betting landscape has changed significantly since the nominations came out on January 24. Then we had just one competitive category, Best Actress, with 5-6 Emma Stone’s struggling La La Land actress edging it from 5-4 Natalie Portman’s impersonation of JFK’s widow Jackie, with French actress Isabelle Huppert (Elle) in with a shout after beating Portman at the Golden Globes.

Now, with Stone mopping up everywhere else, the die appears to be cast. She has shortened dramatically to 1-6 with Portman drifting to 7-1 and Huppert’s claim not being pushed – her performance in Elle doesn’t reach these shores until March 10.

The opposite has happened in Best Actor with a flood of money coming for Denzel Washington. He is superb as a would-be baseball star in mid-20th century Pittsburgh turned potless refuse collector in Fences because the major leagues didn’t give black players a fair crack in his heyday.

He’s as short as evens now and chasing long-time favourite Casey Affleck hard. Affleck, easy to back at 8-11, is the Boston janitor weighed down by sadness, anger and despair in the unremittingly glum Manchester by the Sea, a masterpiece of a movie nonetheless. Last year most of the market leaders obliged but it was two who should have been favourite but weren’t, Spotlight over The Revenant in Best Picture and Mark Rylance over Sylvester Stallone for Supporting Actor, who made it a profitable night for Racing Post followers.

Let’s see what might happen this year ...

Best picture

La La Land, a love poem to the glory days of old Hollywood musicals, isn’t perfect but Moonlight, the principal danger according to the betting, didn’t do a thing for me despite some stunning images and a lush soundtrack.

Moonlight is short on plot as it tells the story of a drug dealer going from boy to man (three actors play him at different stages, not all convincingly), trying to come to terms with his sexuality, his mother’s crack habit and the tough streets of downtown Miami.

Manchester by the Sea is masterly film-making but the opposite of La La Land’s feelgood, audience-friendly attraction. It would win most years.

The Mel Gibson-directed Hacksaw Ridge, about a conscientious objector who refuses to carry a rifle but still pulled 75 fallen colleagues to safety at Okinawa in the bloodiest battle of World War Two, is terrific entertainment but at 100-1 nobody sees it as a winner.

Lion is a two-hankie job and a lovely film though not a great one while Fences is wordy but worthy, as befits its Broadway stage success with the same two stars, Washington and Viola Davis in 2010.
Likely winner: La La Land at 1-5. The car-top dance sequence on an LA freeway at the start is sensational, Stone steals the rest of it, but the ending is a cop out and there aren’t quite enough good songs. It’s all about living the Hollywood dream being more important than achieving it.

Best director
Damien Chazelle varies from 1-14 to 1-33 for La La Land and has Barry Jenkins at 12-1 for Moonlight and 16-1 Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea) as chief rivals.
Likely winner: Damien Chazelle at 1-14.

Best actor

This looks a straight fight between Affleck and Washington although Andrew Garfield’s performance in Hacksaw Ridge is awesome and he really shouldn’t be 50-1.
Likely winner: Affleck’s name has been on this one since betting opened. He is already flush with awards and deserves this ultimate honour.

Best actress

Multiple winner Meryl Streep is the 66-1 rag as off-key opera singer Florence Foster Jenkins in a heat where the run on La La Land’s Emma Stone appears to have put chief rivals Portman and Huppert to the sword.

Portman’s uncanny impersonation of Jackie Kennedy opened a shade of odds-against and is now a tempting 7-1 but Stone is on the crest of a wave.
Likely winner: Emma Stone at 1-6.

Best supporting actor
Dev Patel (Lion) beat hot favourite Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) at the Baftas, prompting a big price cut to 7-1. Those who got the early 20-1 have the value but probably not the money. Moonlight has garnered eight Oscar nominations, has a cult following and will surely not go unrewarded. Ali is their best chance.
Likely winner: Mahershali Ali at 1-5

Best supporting actress
Viola Davis, in her third Oscar nomination after losing out for Doubt and The Help, gets to the very essence of put-upon wife in Fences and demands that you watch her. Unbackable at odds varying from 1-20 to 1-100, she’s a shoo-in. London actress Naomie Harris’s drug-addict mother in Moonlight is the alternative but this really is no contest.
Likely winner: Viola Davis at 1-20.

Best original song
For the first time in seven years a film has got two runners in this race, with La La Land’s City of Stars and Audition (The Fools Who Dream) dominating the betting. Stars is the more hummable and hot favourite at 1-5 but Audition gives Stone the chance to show she can really sing and made a bigger impression on me. It’s worth a small bet at 8-1.
Likely winner: City of Stars at 1-5.

Best foreign-language film
The German comedy Toni Erdmann is far too long at two hours and 42 minutes but is undeniably funny as well as moving about family love. It is a true original, very different from anything else you will see this year.

Iranian-French drama The Salesman is the danger at 6-5 in what is seen as a match.
Likely winner: Toni Erdmann at evens (bet365).

Casey Affleck Best Actor
4pts 8-11 Betway, BoyleSports
Toni Erdmann Best Foreign-Language Film
2pts Evs bet365, Ladbrokes
Audition Best Original Song
1pt 8-1 bet365, Betfred

Already advised
Isabelle Huppert Best Actress
1pt 11-2 bet365, Coral (January 25)

Manchester by the Sea is masterly film-making but the opposite of La La Land’s feelgood, audience-friendly attraction. It would win most years
E.W. Terms
Sky bet