/ 21 February 2009

Slumdog, Ledger lead Oscar betting

Rags-to-riches drama Slumdog Millionaire is the strongest best picture favourite in years while late actor Heath Ledger is all but guaranteed to win a posthumous Oscar at the 81st Academy Awards, bookmakers and pundits said on Friday.

With less than 48 hours to go until Sunday’s show at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, India-set feelgood movie Slumdog is the overwhelming favourite according to bookmakers William Hill, which have priced the film at 1/10.

A spokesperson for the betting firm said while there had been a burst of activity for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Slumdog remained the “massive, massive favourite”.

“It’s always been our theory that at the end of the day Hollywood is about putting bums on seats and that this year, an uplifting feelgood movie like Slumdog would be the clear favourite,” said spokesperson Rupert Adams.

Ben Eckstein, a betting pundit with Nevada-based America’s Line, said the race for best picture was over.

“We think that they could put the statue on the chair for Slumdog Millionaire,” said Eckstein.

Joining Slumdog as an Oscars certainty is The Dark Knight star Ledger, set to become the first posthumous winner of an Oscar since Peter Finch for 1976’s Network.

“Heath Ledger is 1 to 40. These are the shortest odds that we ever had,” Eckstein said. “There’s no chance the others will win. That category is over.”

With the best picture race all but sewn up, pundits say the best actor and actress categories should provide greater suspense on Sunday.

Sean Penn, who plays trailblazing gay politician Harvey Milk in the biopic Milk had been the long-time favourite but is adjudged to be narrowly trailing Mickey Rourke, the sentimental choice for his comeback performance as a washed-up prizefighter in The Wrestler.

“Rourke is a very, very small favourite over Sean Penn, but we wouldn’t be surprised if Sean Penn won,” Eckstein said. “They’re very close in the odds and that should be very exciting.”

William Hill has Rourke at 8/15 with Penn 2/1. Frank Langella, who plays disgraced former US President Richard Nixon in Frost/Nixon, is
considered the outside chance at 8/1, with Brad Pitt 33/1 and Richard Jenkins 40/1.

“We’re just starting to see a little bit of interest in Frank Langella,” said Adams. “There’s one guy who bets with us every year who we regard as our Oscars guru and he has chosen Langella, which is interesting.”

William Hill have installed Kate Winslet, who plays a concentration camp guard in Holocaust movie The Reader, as the 1/2 favourite in the best actress category, but acknowledge that the sector could produce an upset.

“There is always at least one upset in the six main categories and if there’s an upset this year, we think it’s most likely to happen in the best actress category,” Adams said.

William Hill is also offering odds of 1/2 on Winslet crying during her acceptance speech, with 50/1 on her chances of falling over on the red carpet.

America’s Line also has Winslet as the favorite. “It’s very close, but we think that Kate Winslet will win,” Eckstein said, saying either Anne Hathaway or Meryl Streep remained strong outside bets. – AFP