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Want to win your Oscar pool? Think sympathy, period pieces

This year is special. It’s the one in which that you’re finally going to win your Oscar pool. You may not go 24 for 24, but you’ll have history on your side to get you close to that magic number.

 This year, with “Argo” making a late-surge for best picture, a Pixar film ("Brave") that isn’t a shoo-in for best animated film and, as always, a host of difficult categories, the field is open for you to beat that film geek three cubicles over.

Here are five historically tried-and-true steps to help you through your pool:

1. Lean towards dramas and period pieces

The Academy tends to go for more serious pieces in the big four categories (film, director, actor, actress). The last time a musical or comedy took home the best picture Oscar was “Chicago” in 2002 and before that it was Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” in 1977. However, for supporting actors and actresses, the Academy likes to have a bit more fun. Remember Penelope Cruz’s supporting role as an off-the-wall ex-wife in 2008’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”? We sure do. The Academy loved it too.

2. Sound is for blockbusters, costumes are for historical dramas

Figure these out and you can rack up points on the categories where your competitors are just throwing darts and guessing. For sound, think big and popular  In most years, this is where action films shine. On the other side of the coin, best costume is almost invariably given to anything set before 1900. “Marie Antoinette”, “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” “The Duchess,” “The Young Victoria." have all done well. And that’s just in the last six years. This year, you can bet on “Anna Karenina.”

3. Pay attention to other races, like the Golden Globes

These aren’t always direct indicators, but the Globes, Screen Actors Guild awards and others are some of the best Oscar predictors out there. It’s thanks to these races that “Argo” is making an Oscars surge late in the game. Check out this graph that shows how recent awards have put “Argo” in the driver’s seat.

4. Sympathy is key

At the 2012 Oscars, two-time winner Meryl Streep had been nominated 12 times without taking home another trophy. So was a nomination for “The Iron Lady” even worth showing up for? Turns out the thirteenth time proved to be the charm, and she took home the statue for the first time since “Sophie’s Choice.” The Academy likes to spread the love –- so it can be advantageous to have not won before or at least in a very long time, especially if you’re in a category with recent winners. Look to apply this knowledge to the actress category again and pick Jennifer Lawrence of “Silver Linings Playbook." Her mature, controlled performance in “Winter’s Bone” was overlooked in 2011 in favor of the flashier Natalie Portman in “Black Swan.” Lawrence is also a full-on star now thanks to her lead role in “The Hunger Games.” The Academy will honor the leaps and bounds she’s made in her career.

 5. Best picture and director are a match made in heaven -- except maybe this year

In the last 10 years, only two movies have upset this match-up: “The Pianist” in 2002 and “Brokeback Mountain” in 2005. This year, though, is particularly tricky. Ben Affleck didn’t even get a nomination for best director and yet his film, “Argo,” is heating up on the awards circuits. Steven Spielberg's favored to win the director award, which would normally mean "Lincoln" as best picture. But all that "Argo" heat is hard to ignore. Split the vote this year.

Be sure to check out the predictions from some of the best on the web, including Gold Derby, The Chicago Tribune, IndieWire, and even the votes of three anonymous Academy members over at The LA Times. You can check out my predictions here too.

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