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Oscar Futures: A Good Week for Avatar, Lee Daniels

Every week between now and February 2 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 for 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: Avatar. This week, the HMFIC's new one cracked a billion and became the second-highest-grossing movie ever, second only to Titanic. DOWN: A Serious Man. Nine's omission we can understand, we guess, but why was this snubbed for a PGA nod in favor of District 9 and Star Trek?
CURRENT PREDIX: Avatar, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Invictus, Nine, Precious, A Serious Man, Up, Up in the Air.
Best Director UP: Lee Daniels, Precious. His surprise DGA nod (the first one ever for an African-American director) bodes well here. Are these your five nominees for Best Director? DOWN: Clint Eastwood, Invictus. He was the next most plausible candidate for a DGA nod — will the Academy snub him, too?
CURRENT PREDIX: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker; James Cameron, Avatar; Lee Daniels, Precious; Jason Reitman, Up in the Air; Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds.
Best Actor UP: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart. With an Up in the Air backlash in full swing, nobody really talking about Invictus anymore, and the Single Man not "getting a push from the Weinsteins," his odds seem better and better. DOWN: Sam Rockwell, Moon. The guy gives Sony two performances for the price of one, and they're too worried about piracy to cough up a few screeners for an awards campaign? Lame.
CURRENT PREDIX: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart; George Clooney, Up in the Air; Colin Firth, A Single Man; Morgan Freeman, Invictus; Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker.
Best Actress UP: Tilda Swinton, Julia. Roger Ebert: "Tilda Swinton gave the best performance by an actress in 2009." Too bad he's the only person who's seen her movie. DOWN: Zoe Saldana, Avatar. So her Oscar chances are slim, but what's with bumping her into the supporting category at the NAACP Image Awards? (Tangentially related: How did Sandra Bullock get an NAACP nod?)
CURRENT PREDIX: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side; Helen Mirren, The Last Station; Carey Mulligan, An Education; Gabourey Sidibe, Precious; Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia.
Best Supporting Actor UP: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds. Pretty much everybody handing out supporting-acting awards this week gave one to him, the same guy who's won all the other supporting-acting awards this season. DOWN: Alfred Molina, An Education. Why isn't anybody still talking about his performance? It's a pretty full category, but still.
CURRENT PREDIX: Matt Damon, Invictus; Woody Harrelson, The Messenger; Christian McKay, Me and Orson Welles; Christopher Plummer, The Last Station; Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones; Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds.
Best Supporting Actress UP: Mariah Carey, Precious. Despite Roger Friedman's ceaseless campaigning, her chances at a nod still aren't very good. But a pair of tipsy acceptance speeches this week (one of them for an acting award, even) made us all remember what we loved about Mariah Carey in the first place (tipsiness). DOWN: Judi Dench, Nine. Left off of BAFTA's long list in favor of Claire Danes, Susan Sarandon, and, cripes, even Mariah Carey.
CURRENT PREDIX: Penélope Cruz, Nine; Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air; Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air; Mo'nique, Precious; Julianne Moore, A Single Man.
Photo: Courtesy of Fox