Oscar Futures: Would You Like Some More Help?

"THE HELP" FF-001 Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) overhears the exchange between Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone, center) and her friends in DreamWorks Pictures' drama, "The Help", based on the New York Times best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett. ?DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC. ?All Rights Reserved. ?DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC. ?All Rights Reserved.

Every week between now and January 24, 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 Director UP: Stephen Daldry (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close). The movie has started test screening, and one Hollywood Elsewhere commenter snuck in, prepared to hate it, and then had to admit, "Not a dry eye in the house. I haven't seen a movie work like that in awhile ... I was impressed how dark and affecting this was." DOWN: Tate Taylor (The Help). Is there any way The Help could win Best Picture without at least securing a nod for Taylor? The tide may yet rise for this fledgling director, but he's been practically absent from the conversation so far.
CURRENT PREDIX: Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris); Stephen Daldry (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close); Michael Hazanavicius (The Artist); Alexander Payne (The Descendants); Steven Spielberg (War Horse)
Best Actor UP: Michael Fassbender (Shame). Shame benefited from an in-depth Hollywood Reporter article touting the film's NC-17 rating as a badge of artistic integrity. It's a tough movie for the older Academy crowd, but Fassbender could snag the same sort of slot Javier Bardem earned last year for the difficult Biutiful. DOWN: Gary Oldman (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy). It's a very contained performance, and with flashy movie stars hogging all the press coverage right now, Oldman's reps need to make some noise to get him back onto the shortlist.
CURRENT PREDIX: George Clooney (The Descendants); Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar); Jean Dujardin (The Artist); Michael Fassbender (Shame); Brad Pitt (Moneyball)
Best Actress UP: Viola Davis (The Help). Davis keeps ascending to the top of most Oscar watchers' lists, and she picked up some honors in Hollywood this week, while impressing attendees with her thoughtful acceptance speeches. DOWN: Felicity Jones (Like Crazy). To break into this tough category, Jones needed her movie to earn stronger reviews than it got.
CURRENT PREDIX: Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs); Viola Davis (The Help); Rooney Mara (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo); Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady); Michelle Williams (My Week With Marilyn)
Best Supporting Actor UP: Armie Hammer (J. Edgar). Hammer got a boost from the Times this week, which said of his performance, "Hammer arguably has the hardest job [in the film] ... He pulls it off with understated grace." DOWN: Ezra Miller (We Need to Talk About Kevin). He was left off the movie's new poster, and Jeff Wells has a sensitive theory as to why: Miller is "utterly demonic-looking."
CURRENT PREDIX: Kenneth Branagh (My Week With Marilyn); Albert Brooks (Drive); Nick Nolte (Warrior); Christopher Plummer (Beginners); Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)
Best Supporting Actress UP: Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids). What, you thought that high-profile EW cover this week was intended to promote Mike & Molly? Universal's McCarthy push has begun in earnest. DOWN: Vanessa Redgrave (Coriolanus). Redgrave has long been thought of as a no-brainer in this category, but the movie isn't a buzz title right now, and McCarthy, Carey Mulligan, and Berenice Bejo are all formidable upstarts.
CURRENT PREDIX: Sandra Bullock (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close); Jessica Chastain (The Help); Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids); Vanessa Redgrave (Coriolanus); Octavia Spencer (The Help)