Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, La La Land

You could approach your Academy Awards ballot with the same amount of effort that I do when the NCAA tournament comes around; a monkey with a pen could probably do better. But the Oscars are another story.

If your office or party is doing an Oscar pool for filling out a ballot, it’s worth taking a bit more time to do it right–and win. I can’t guarantee the tips below will help you, but I haven’t lost an Oscar pool in over a decade. (Please don’t let 2017 be my year.)

For past Oscar contenders, watch free movies in Tubi TV’s Awards Season category.

1. Do your homework.

Robert Downey, Jr., Iron Man

A bit of prep goes a long way in getting bragging rights at your party or at the water cooler Monday morning. Check out what the experts think at Entertainment Weekly, Buzzfeed, or your favorite movie site. You’ll likely get extra credit for checking out the awards-focused Gold Derby, where you can see experts and fans weigh in on every. single. category. This is the Oscars for overachievers. And overachievers get A’s.

2. Know the films.

giphy-14

If you’re filling out your ballot at a party, being familiar with the nominated movies will help you check boxes with confidence–and you’ll have something to talk about during the commercials. You won’t confuse short animated film nominees “Piper” and “Pearl” if you remember that “Piper” is the baby sandpiper mini-movie that made you cry before Finding Dory. Obviously, you can’t see all the films before Sunday’s telecast, so watching trailers is a good quick fix to get the basics in mind. But do yourself a favor and see as many movies as possible, if only because most of them are really, really good.

3. Know the Academy.

statler-and-waldorf

Above all, the Academy loves movies about movies, reveres physical transformations, and almost always picks dramas over comedies. They tend to vote for a very well-made if not particularly audacious movie over a flawed, but bolder–and weirder–film where they think it counts in the larger categories.

4. Don’t pick a movie just because you love it.

rose-byrne

The Lobster was my third favorite movie of 2016, largely due to its inventive script. But will I pick it to win Best Original Screenplay? No, I will not. Given the film’s oddness (see #3 above), the smart money is on Manchester by the Sea or La La Land, so it will remain first only in my heart. Feel free to complain when a movie you deem lesser takes home the statuette, but at least vote for the movie with a better shot if you care about winning.

5. Take risks.

Zac Efron

Think of your Oscar pool like Boggle. If everyone goes to Entertainment Weekly and picks the same films, then everyone will have the same exact score and no one wins. Where you can triumph is through picking a few strategic winners that won’t be on everyone’s list. It’s like filling out your March Madness brackets (so I hear); find the equivalent of the 5 vs. 12 match-up, and go for the slight underdog.

6. If all else fails, pick La La Land.

La La Land

If you pick La La Land in all the categories it’s nominated in (other than Best Actor), you won’t do too poorly.

Once you’ve finished, reward yourself for your hard work by watching free movies in Tubi TV’s Awards Season category.

Do you have any tips for filling out a successful Academy Awards ballot? Want to help me not come in last for my March Madness bracket? Weigh in in the comments.