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Oscar Futures: An Education Strong Out of the Gate

Every week between now and January 22, when the nominations are announced, movies and stars will help themselves — or, sometimes, hurt themselves — in the Oscar race. Vulture's Oscar Futures will listen to insider gossip, comb the blogs, and out-and-out guess when necessary to track who's up, who's down, and who's currently leading the race for a coveted nomination.

Best Picture UP: An Education. Boom! Mostly great reviews and lots of press on an otherwise slow week. DOWN: Bright Star. Jane Campion's poetry-tuberculosis drama is surprisingly not the box-office juggernaut we'd had it for. Will anyone remember it once Oscar season really gets going?
CURRENT PREDIX: Bright Star, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Invictus, Nine, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, A Serious Man, A Single Man, Up, Up in the Air
Best Director UP: Joel and Ethan Coen, A Serious Man. Rave reviews and big per-screen box office give them a great shot. DOWN: Lone Scherfig , An Education. For now, most agree, the movie's buzz is around its stars.
CURRENT PREDIX: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker; Lee Daniels, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire; Clint Eastwood, Invictus; Rob Marshall, Nine; Jason Reitman, Up in the Air.
Best Actor UP: Christopher Plummer, The Last Station. He's 79, never been nominated, and allegedly great in the movie, which just last week got a 2009 release date. In a weak category (so far), we like his chances. DOWN: Viggo Mortensen, The Road. We had him hanging by a thread before we found out Station was being released this year.
CURRENT PREDIX: George Clooney, Up in the Air; Daniel Day-Lewis, Nine; Colin Firth, A Single Man; Morgan Freeman, Invictus; Viggo Mortensen, The Road; Christopher Plummer, The Last Station.
Best Actress UP: Carey Mulligan, An Education. She's earning raves for her performance as a girl being wooed by a creepy older guy — but enough about her Wednesday appearance on Letterman. Hey-o! DOWN: Hilary Swank, Amelia. Where's the buzz? Did you know her movie comes out next week? Us neither!
CURRENT PREDIX: Abbie Cornish, Bright Star; Helen Miren, The Last Station; Carey Mulligan, An Education; Gabourey Sidibe, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire; Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia; Hilary Swank, Amelia.
Best Supporting Actor UP: Alfred Molina, An Education. Critics say he's a "comic force of nature" in an "unerring" performance that's "full of surprises." We hope his mom is clipping these reviews! DOWN: Richard Kind, A Serious Man. He's great, but the role's not quite as flashy as early promo photos might've had us believe.
CURRENT PREDIX: Matt Damon, Invictus; Richard Kind, A Serious Man; Alfred Molina, An Education; Paul Schneider, Bright Star; Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds.
Best Supporting Actress UP: Penélope Cruz, Nine. Despite earlier worries, the movie will definitely be out this year — and she's its best hope for an acting statue, say those who've seen it. DOWN: Mo'Nique, Precious. It's her award to lose — which she seems pretty intent on doing, apparently.
CURRENT PREDIX: Marion Cotillard, Nine; Penélope Cruz, Nine; Judi Dench, Nine; Mo'nique, Precious: Based on the Novel by Sapphire; Julianne Moore, A Single Man.
Photo: Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics