The glitz and drama that is
Oscar night is almost here again, and everyone from professional
critics to the average Joe on the street has an opinion on which
actors and films will take home the golden statuette Sunday.
But if you really want to get the inside track on this year's
winners and losers, head online.
The Hollywood Stock Exchange (HSX) -- a virtual game market in
which users can "buy" and "sell" fantasy stocks and bonds tied to
the popularity of specific celebrities and movies -- has an
impressive track record when it comes to predicting the winners of
Tinseltown's most coveted prize.
"We've been selling securities in the Academy Awards since 1997,"
says Michael O'Rorke, vice president of content and programming for
HSX. "We've had a lot of success."
The company offers its 730,000 registered users a chance to
"invest" in the nominees for Oscar's top eight most prestigious
categories -- Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress,
Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original
Screenplay, and Best Adapted Screenplay. This year, HSX is also
giving its traders the option of putting money on the movie that'll
take home the most awards.
Impressive track record
HSX traders are quite often right on the money, says David
Pennock, a scientist with the NEC Research Institute in Princeton,
New Jersey. Pennock recently published a study in the journal
Science suggesting that online "play-money" markets like HSX offer
surprisingly accurate predictions.
"All eight of the highest-priced nominee stocks won the Oscars
last year," he said. "The prices of stocks and bonds are very much
in proportion to the likelihood of winning."
Previous studies have already shown that real markets that track
specific industries are valuable forecasting tools, Pennock notes.
HSX, he says, is good at picking Academy favorites because the type
of people attracted to the game tend to be entertainment-savvy movie
buffs -- not unlike the members of the Academy itself.
Some might argue that picking Oscar winners isn't all that hard,
since the Academy often tends to vote for mainstream favorites. But
every now and then, a long-shot nominee does take home the golden
man -- and HSX has been amazingly adept at spotting these upsets
weeks in advance, O'Rorke says.
For example, last year most pundits were confident Annette
Benning would garner the Best Actress award. But at HSX, the smart
money was riding on the winner, Hilary Swank, for her gender-bending
role in "Boys Don't Cry" for weeks before the big show.
Other upsets predicted by HSX traders include Kim Basinger's Best
Supporting Actress win for her portrayal of a troubled prostitute in
1997's "LA Confidential." Most industry watchers had been betting
the Academy would give the prize to Gloria Stuart, a vestige of Old
Hollywood viewed as a sentimental favorite for her role in
And this year's winners are...
This year, HSX traders are favoring Russell Crowe to take Best
Actor for "Gladiator" -- which is also a far-and-away favorite for
But when it comes to the total number of Oscars a film will
garner, sleeper hit "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" has leapt up
ahead of former category-leader "Gladiator" in the week leading up
to the ceremony. The martial arts masterpiece is up for a total of
10 awards, and its director, Ang Lee, who's already received the
same honors from the Director's Guild, is
HSX's Best Director choice.
Although Ridley Scott's swashbuckling epic is nominated for a
dozen Oscars, HSX traders think he's got slim-to-no chance of
stealing the Best Director prize from Lee.
Other HSX predictions include Julia Roberts winning Best Actress
for "Erin Brockovich" and Benicio del Toro running away with Best
Supporting Actor honors for "Traffic," a movie also pegged to win
the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar.
O'Rorke says HSX traders foresee two major upsets in the big
eight categories this year. Although the Screen Actors Guild -- long
considered a significant indicator of Oscar voting -- honored Judi
Dench as this year's Best Supporting Actress, HSX traders are
betting heavily on Kate Hudson for her performance as a rock groupie
in "Almost Famous."
The '70s-era rock 'n' roll tale based on the life of director
Cameron Crowe is also expected to steal Best Original Screenplay
honors from "You Can Count on Me." Until HSX came onto the scene,
the latter film, which netted a screenplay award this year from the
Writer's Guild of
America, was considered a sure thing.
If you don't agree with the Academy's picks, HSX offers you a
chance to make your voice heard in Hollywood. Earlier this month,
the company launched HSX Research. The division
takes data gathered from the HSX virtual market and sells it to
production studios looking for guidance on which projects are likely
to hit it big at the box office.