Exterior. Night. A back alley behind a neon-lit bar, from which the score of Les Miz incongruously leaks. Noir lighting, black and white and shadows. A tout and his mark, similarly dressed in pinstripes and grey fedoras, lean against a graffiti-strewn wall. One holds in his gloved hand a folded sheet of paper. The other opens the conversation.
"Hear ya keep an honest book."
"Depends on what ya play. College hoops? The ponies?"
"That's a fool's game."
"Lotta fools out there."
"And you're the wise guy among 'em?"
"Hey, everybody's a wise guy. Ya want my dough or not?"
"If ya wanna be parted from it. Look, I'll be straight with ya. I'm gettin' a lotta action on Best Documentary Short from the artsy crowd. Ya want in?"
"Didn't think so. You're just a Big Six punter. Strictly Best Pic, Directin', and the four Actin.' "
"Ya nailed me. What's the line on Best Pic? How many noms this year?"
"Nine sure. Maybe the whole 10. We'll know sure Jan. 10, when the short list comes out. If ya'd asked me two months ago, Argo and Les Misérables (pronounced Less Miz-er-ah-bulls) were leadin' the field, but Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty have made up ground fast and are the clear front-runners now."
"Thought this wasn't a horse race"
"Don't kid yourself. It's a derby all right – whole stables of two-legged nags with publicists for jockeys. So whodya like?"
"Put a C-note on Lincoln. The Great Emancipator trumps water torturin' G-men ever' time."
"Stickin' with Spielberg on Lincoln. It's a writer's flick, and Spielberg ain't no writer, but I figure Oscar'll score him big points just for stayin' outta the way."
"I had ya pegged for a Tarantino toadie."
"Not no more. Guy's still flashy, but that's all he is. Nope, I'm bettin' the trifecta and I'm bettin' large – a grand on Daniel Day-Lewis for Best Actor. Honest Abe all the way."
"Yeah. Danny boy's a shoo-in. So I gotta give ya short odds there. Field's more wide open on Best Actress, though. Who ya want?"
"I hear the smart money's on Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook. But I'm on a long shot here. Just a hunch, but put a 10-spot on that old French gal in Amour. Whassername? Emmanuelle Riva. Used to back Riva Ridge back when I played the ponies. Call me sentimental."
"Ain't goin' near that damn category, 'specially the gals. It's a crap shoot ever' year. Remember Marisa Tomei?"
"Not this year. Anne Hathaway in Less Miz. Chop off your hair, sing a sad song, win yourself an Oscar. Girl's a lock."
"Whadabout that British dame in the Bond pic?"
"Dame Judi Dench, yeah. Vegas has her at 100-1, so knock yourself out. Or did ya see Helen Hunt in The Sessions?"
"I saw a whole lotta Helen Hunt in The Sessions. Whadabout the supportin' guys?"
"Match race strictly. With a slight nod to Tommy Lee Jones in your Lincoln, over Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master."
"I'm gettin' off Lincoln here, goin' with PSH. Hey, lemme have a gander at that sheet in your hand."
"Sure. Here. Read it and weep. Ya can read, can't ya?"
Pulling out his gat. "Ya can weep, can't ya?"
Gunshot. The sheet of paper flutters to the ground, where the camera zooms in for a close-up, and lingers.
OSCAR HANDICAP SHEET
Favourite:Lincoln, by a long nose. All signs point to yes: a biography of a sainted American president, directed by one of the pantheon of contemporary directors (Steven Spielberg), starring the world's most acclaimed actor (Daniel Day-Lewis) and a prized writer, Angels in America playwright Tony Kushner, who even managed to get in a bathroom joke.
Zero Dark Thirty: Kathryn Bigelow's thriller about the hunt for Osama bin Laden may carry a political handicap with liberal Hollywood voters.
Argo: Ben Affleck's reality-based comic thriller is a savvy crowd-pleaser, but maybe not much more.
Les Misérables: This inspirational film version of the hit musical is stronger on performances than Tom Hooper's direction, which has earned mixed reactions.
The Life of Pi: Ang Lee's 3-D adaptation of Yann Martel's novel is gorgeous, but short on stars and dialogue.
Silver Linings Playbook: David O. Russell's smart, eccentric romantic comedy may be too bent for the straight academy voters.
Long shots:Django Unchained, The Master, Beasts of the Southern Wild,Moonlight Kingdom, Amour.
Favourite: Stephen Spielberg (Lincoln), for delivering a restrained and timely contemplation of America's great divides.
The Contenders: Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), Ben Affleck (Argo).
Long shots: Ang Lee (The Life of Pi), Tom Hooper (Les Misérables).
Favourite: Daniel Day-Lewis, for mixing the humane and tragic Lincoln of folklore with the shrewd political tactician of the history books.
Long shots: Hugh Jackman, (Les Misérables), Denzel Washington (Flight), John Hawkes (The Sessions), Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook).
Favourite: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), because she steals the movie from her lauded elders with deft old-school screwball comic timing and irrepressible warmth.
The contender: Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) as the frail, obsessed CIA agent, who is in every frame of Kathryn Bigelow's grim procedural drama.
Long shots: Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone), Naomi Watts (The Impossible), Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild).
Best Supporting Actor
Favourite: Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln), who plays Thaddeus Stevens, the truculent moral conscience of the Republican Party.
The contender: Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master).
Long shots: Alan Arkin (Argo), Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained), Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook).
Best Supporting Actress
Favourite: Anne Hathaway's straight-into-the-camera emoting as Fantine in Les Misérables defies any heartless s.o.b. not to give her an award.
Long shots: Sally Field (Lincoln), Helen Hunt (The Sessions), Amy Adams (The Master), Maggie Smith (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel).