Now it's time for Gold Derby to start issuing its infamous racetrack odds. Let's take a few categories at a time. First these:
"No Country for Old Men": 1-3
"Michael Clayton": 6-1
"There Will Be Blood": 7-1
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, "No Country for Old Men": 1-20
Paul Thomas Anderson, "There Will Be Blood": 8-1
Julian Schnabel, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly": 15-1
Tony Gilroy, "Michael Clayton": 40-1
Jason Reitman, "Juno": 50-1
If you don't remember how odds work, let me help. Take the odds for "No Country" for best picture: 1-3. These odds are issued for entertainment purposes only and should not be used for gambling, but we need to think in terms of money when explaining this system since that's how traditional racetrack odds are structured. So if you, let's say, were at the imaginary Gold Derby Racetrack betting imaginary Uncle Sam money, you'd win $1 if you bet $3. In other words, the second number is the amount of your bet, the first is the sum you'd win if you wagered the latter. Combine them and that's what you claim at the window after the horses have run and yours crossed the finish line first.
So, obviously, "No Country" looks like a no brainer to win at this point. It's done what only one other film has ever pulled off: hit a guild grand slam (producers, writers, directors, SAG ensemble) like past best-pic champ "American Beauty." But it's not in the traditional mold of past best-pic champs. It's gloomy and weird. It's vulnerable. So beware: "There Will Be Blood" is tied for the most noms and was voted best pic by the L.A. Film Critics Assn. and National Society of Film Critics. Also, it came out more recently, so it's got late-breaking momentum. However, just like "No Country," it's grim and weird too, so it's also vulnerable.
"Juno" is the little indie that slayed goliaths at the b.o. to reap more than $110 million. And it's a heart-tugger. Sometimes Hollywooders vote with their hearts just to prove to us that they've got one. But it's a comedy and the only laffers that have pulled that off in recent decades had the Bard ("Shakespeare in Love") and Woody Allen ("Annie Hall") behind them.
Amidst all of this confusion is "Michael Clayton," a solid, traditional film that's emerging as the safe, compromise choice. There's an interesting theory among Oscar pundits that the consensus film is the one that wins. The theory explains how safe "Crash" beat edgy "Brokeback Mountain" and "Gladiator" slayed critics' faves "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Traffic." Suddenly believing a lot in this theory (at least this week), I've given "Clayton" the second-best odds.
However, you'll notice that I give the Coens much better odds to win best director (1-20). That's because we've seen three unusual splits between the best picture and director races since 2000. Whatever happens in the best-pic derby, this is The Coens' Year. They'll win best director even if their film loses, as happened to Ang Lee discovered when voters mysteriously wandered off "Brokeback Mountain."