Burning Question: Is There Such Thing as Oscars Momentum and Who Has It?

Leslie Gornstein
Yahoo Movies

With Oscar odds and predictions changing throughout award season, and different films winning different prizes, is there such a thing as Oscar momentum? And if so, who has it right now?

Unlike unicorns, centaurs, and non-lip-biting performances by Kristen Stewart, there is such a thing as Oscar momentum. It's real. And according to Academy voters, oddsmakers, and others I interviewed, it has three main sources of fuel:

Wins. Or, as Matthew McConaughey might put it, winnin'. W-I-N-N-I-N. The nominee for Best Actor for "Dallas Buyers Club" already has logged two major triumphs for that performance, and those accolades matter.

"McConaughey was the second favorite at 3-2 behind Chiwetel Ejiofor initially when we opened [our Oscars] odds," says Kevin Bradley, sports book manager for Bovada.lv. "But after winning the Golden Globe and SAG awards, he quickly began to drop in odds and now is a clear and overwhelming favorite at 1-5.

[Related: 2014 Oscar Predictions]

"It's not very common that you would see such a swing, but strong performances in previous awards shows have risen the stock on a guy like McConaughey leading up to the Oscars, and in turn, we see increased bets on him, further lowering his odds."

We move on to the second ingredient…

Campaigns. Or lack thereof. For example: "American Hustle," a onetime top contender for Best Picture, has since faded in the eyes of some Oscars voters because of its campaign strategy, says Academy voting member Stu Zakim of Bridge Strategic Communications.

"'American Hustle' — they didn't campaign in New York very much, a small lunch around the New York Film Festival," the Big Apple-based Zakim tells me. "But that was back in September. And that's going to hurt 'Hustle.' We're all little spoiled brats, and we are used to being catered to now."

[Related: 8 Swingin' Secrets Behind 'American Hustle's' Oscar-Worthy Costumes]

In contrast, take, say, Best Supporting Actor Nominee Jared Leto.

"He has hustled his ass off campaigning," Zakim tells me, "Three or four appearances in New York alone, at least. People who campaign more aggressively are more likely to capture momentum as long as they are also being recognized by their peers."

Timing. Remember way back in the days of yore, when Oprah and "Lee Daniels' The Butler" seemed to have a shot at Oscar gold? No? It was a thing. Trust me. It just died, is all.

"The movie peaked too early," Zakim says. "You don't want to ever peak too early, whether you are a politician or a movie star or a sports star going into the playoffs."

[Related: 'Nebraska' Director Alexander Payne Doesn't Like His Oscar Chances]

Negative timing can also hurt a film's chances, says Syracuse University media scholar Robert J. Thompson. "Blue Jasmine comes to mind," he says.

Not every Oscar candidate needs a boost in momentum to win, however. Like the 1997 movie "Titanic," it looks like "12 Years a Slave" has been the steady, odds-on favorite for Best Picture since the race began; according to Bradley. Ditto with Alfonso "Gravity" Cuarón in the Best Director category.

Still, one question remains: What will the upsets be (because there's always at least one)?

Tune in to Yahoo's live Oscars pre-show this Sunday at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT, and then watch the big show on ABC.

Got a Burning Question? Tweet it to us @YahooBurningQs.

Leslie Gornstein is an entertainment writer and the host of the weekly Hollywood gossip podcast The Fame Fatale.