Entertainment Weekly's Academy Awards expert, Dave Karger, reveals the best Oscar prediction we ever made, the big one we missed, and the toughest races this year
Matt Dillon, Crash (Movie - 1997)
Credit: Crash: Lorey Sebastian

For the last six years now, I’ve been helping to predict the Academy Awards nominees and winners here at Entertainment Weekly, a job that never ceases to be as maddening as it is fun. With this year’s Oscars only a few days away, here are some of our crystal-ball highlights and lowlights:

The best call we ever made Going into the 2002 ceremony, it was looking like Russell Crowe was the man to beat for Best Actor: He’d won the Oscar the year before for Gladiator, he’d just picked up prizes at the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and the film he starred in (A Beautiful Mind) was the frontrunner for Best Picture. But as the big night approached, we’d started hearing that Denzel Washington, so scary as Training Day‘s villain, was making a late surge, helped no doubt by Crowe’s off-screen behavior, which included shoving a producer at the BAFTA Awards. We decided to go with Washington for the win, and we were right. Now if only we’d also picked Halle Berry…

The one we never would have guessed Two years ago, the Oscars were not exactly unpredictable. Even a hobbit would have known that The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was going to sweep. The final installment of the wildly popular trilogy had 11 nominations; we predicted it would win 9 awards. Of course, it didn’t win 9; it won all 11. One of our misses was going with The Last Samurai for Best Costume Design, which we knew would be a tight race. But we didn’t think Rings had any chance in the Adapted Screenplay race, where it was up against Mystic River and Seabiscuit (considered the frontrunners) as well as American Splendor. In fact, we had Return of the King all the way back in fourth place out of the five nominees. We never thought the broom of that sweep would reach that far.

The possible upsets this year We’ve just released our predictions for this year’s ceremony, and while there are many categories I feel utterly confident about (Reese Witherspoon for Best Actress, Brokeback Mountain and Crash in the screenplay races), there are also a few races that are ripe for upsets. We went with Syriana‘s George Clooney for Best Supporting Actor, but with Crash gaining momentum in the home stretch, there’s a decent chance that Matt Dillon (the only nominee from the cast) could swipe the statuette. And the Best Song race is truly up in the air. My hunch is that the Crash theme, ”In the Deep,” will be part of a Crash mini-sweep, but the other two nominees (the Hustle & Flow theme, ”It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” and Dolly Parton’s Transamerica song, ”Travelin’ Thru”) could each emerge victorious as well.