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Place Your Bets, It's Oscar Time

Amid the deluge of pre-Oscar debates, celebrity glitz, security anxieties, and red carpet fashion predictions, the Internet has served as the perfect vehicle for movie buffs to wield their influence and opinion at the numerous online polling sites, win prizes, and in some cases take home a little gold of their own.

For anyone who has ever wanted to walk in the coveted shoes of an Academy member, Web surfers can get a vicarious boost by casting their online ballot in favor of Denzel, Russell, Sissy, or Nicole, or any of the other contenders who might walk away with the golden trophy on March 24 at the 74th annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles.

Among the favorite Oscar-saturated sites this year is award show devotee GoldDerby.com. Calling itself an online racetrack, fans can bet against industry experts from Entertainment Weekly, Premier Magazine, the Associated Press, and US Weekly and prove them wrong in each of the six major Academy Award categories. Bets can also be placed on all nine of the major industry award shows including The Emmys, The Grammys, The Golden Globes, and The Film Critics Awards. The site features a message board where passionate movie buffs can gripe about who deserves to win and who doesn't, in addition to a posting area for winner's odds as stated by syndicated odds column America's Line. So far, it looks like "A Beautiful Mind" Denzel Washington, and Sissy Spacek are walking away with the gold.

Another favorite this year is DigitalHit.com, one of the top one hundred movie sites on the Web that covers every aspect of all the major award shows. For this year's Academy Award thrust, the site features a voting survey for every nominee in each Oscar category alongside a discussion group for venting grievances and opinions.

There is also the ever-popular Hollywood.com that features a voting poll and an interactive viewing area where results are maintained up to the minute.

Movie.com has the lowdown on all the Oscar trimmings including a Buzz Bin category that ranks the top ten biggest Oscar newsmakers during the final six weeks weeks before the ceremony. The site also offers in-depth coverage on the nominees, the films they are nominated for, and any and all previous works they are credited with.

E! Online has its typical smorgasbord of celebrity and entertainment industry gossip, breaking news, and trivia, with this weeks flavor being Oscar mania. The site is packed with links to Oscar trivia, past winners' info, quizzes, sweepstakes, a live daily poll on which leading lady will make the biggest splash on the red carpet this weekend, and an Oscar score card for the big night.

Yahoo! has cut to the chase with a site dedicated entirely to movie fans looking for a little Oscar betting fun.

The Yahoo! Movies Oscar Pool is a free online game that lets movie fans with a Yahoo ID try their hand at picking the winners in each of the six major award categories. Players can form individual betting groups with family, friends, or co-workers, or simply compete against other Yahoo! movie buffs. Players must cast their online ballots by curtain time (8 PM) on Sunday and points are awarded for each correct pick, with 200 extra bonus points for correctly estimating how many minutes the award show will run over schedule.

So far, Yahoo! Oscar Pool players have chosen "A Beautiful Mind" over "Lord of the Rings," for Best Picture, Russell Crowe as Best Actor, Nicole Kidman as Best Actress, and Sir Ian McKellen and Jennifer Connelly as Best Supporting Actor/Actress.

Even TiVo, maker of the popular digital video recorder, is getting its viewers in on the polling action with the 'TiVo Vote With Your Remote' contest that pits the Best Actor nominees against the Best Actress nominees in a gender-blended poll.

So far, TiVo subscribers have awarded 26 percent of their votes to actor Russell Crowe, with Nicole Kidman and Denzel Washington ranking in with a paltry 14 percent. But in a surprising turnaround, TiVo pollsters nudged out "A Beautiful Mind" in favor of "Lord of the Rings" for Best Picture.

For those with a yen for gambling, Internet bookie Intertops.com, an online sportsbook and casino based in the West Indies, has been taking bets on top six Oscar categories since the nominations were announced last month. So far, the bookmaker boasts 10,000 bets placed on this Sunday's ceremony, with $230,000 in total outstanding wagers. Favorites in the lead are "A Beautiful Mind," for Best Picture, Denzel Washington for Best Actor, Sissy Spacek for Best Actress, and Ron Howard for Best Director.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences also has its own two-faceted online presence, and while it doesn't involve itself in any betting rackets, it corners just about every other angle of the glamorous, star-studded event.

Oscars.org features what goes on at the Academy when it isn't Oscar season, including tributes, exhibitions, and street and sidewalk closures for this Sunday's event. While Oscar.com, features a list of award nominees, Oscar trivia, live streaming video coverage of the event, sweepstakes, a style section, interactive games, and a list of award presenters.

ABC, sponsor of the Academy Awards telecast, will offer Enhanced TV access to the ceremony via the ETV logo on the Oscar.com site. Online viewers can interact in real-time with the award show by guessing at the winners, participating in live interactive polls in synch with the telecast, and communicating on message boards with other award show fans.

The Academy Awards ceremony got its start in 1927 when legendary movie mogul Louis B. Mayer suggested there be some type of annual award for outstanding achievement filmmaking. Studio art director Cedric Gibbons sculpted the gold-plated figurine that is known today as Oscar.

The 74th Academy Awards will be televised on March 24 at 5:30 PM on ABC.