Odds-On Oscar Favorites Emerge as Noms Near

"Brokeback Mountain" and "Walk the Line" were both heavy, one-to-three favorites to win their respective categories at the Globes, and both emerged victorious. (Unfortunately, for betting fans of these movies, the payoff was only $1 for every $3 wagered.)

Betting lines on the Oscars won't be established until Jan. 31, when nominations are handed down. But by leading the Globes with four awards, including best drama, best director for Lee, best original song and best screenplay, "Brokeback" is likely to emerge as a one-to-four favorite to become the Oscar's best picture, Ross estimates.

"With the victory at the Globes, I can't see another film replacing 'Brokeback' as the leader of the pack," Ross says, "but we'll see."

Serious Oscar watchers are now poring over the Globe results, looking for more subtle signs of what's to come. As well as "Brokeback" did, it didn't take any of the acting awards, and that could be bad news for stars Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Williams.

Steven Spielberg's "Munich" and Peter Jackson's "King Kong" didn't even get best drama nominations, and that could be an indication of what's ahead for two of Hollywood's most bankable directors.

In the weeks to come, we'll get a better idea of who the front-runners will be as the Screen Actors Guild, the Director's Guild of America and other film industry groups hand out their awards. These groups constitute large contingents of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences -- and they're the ones who are actually Oscar voters.

With that in mind, here's how some of the most-watched races are shaping up.

Best Director: Ang Lee is widely perceived as the man to beat. He's never won, and he's widely respected for such work as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Sense and Sensibility." He's also gotten raves in Hollywood for producing "Brokeback Mountain" for $14 million -- a mere bag of shells by modern film-budget standards -- after the script languished for nearly a decade, with studios wary of backing a love story involving gay cowboys.

"It's Lee's to lose, and unless he commits an act of terrorism before Oscar night, this category will be a coronation rather than a contest," says film critic and professor Dennis Maher at the University of Texas at Arlington, who predicts Oscar-winners Ron Howard ("Cinderella Man") and Peter Jackson won't even be nominated.

If Lee is challenged, it'll most likely come from George Clooney, for "Good Night, and Good Luck." Actors form the single largest segment of Academy voters, and you can expect that they'd favor their own. Certainly that didn't hurt two-time best director Clint Eastwood, last year's winner.

If Lee manages to lose at least he'll be in good company. Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick -- a trio who could easily top a list of Hollywood's all-time greatest filmmakers -- never won best director honors.

Still, this is only Clooney's second film as a director. Robert Redford may have won on his first time out with "Ordinary People," but Clooney's still a long shot.

Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, who played Johnny Cash in "Walk the Line" has a lot in common with Jamie Foxx, who won last year for "Ray." Both took on the roles of music legends, and both did all their own singing, getting rave reviews.

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