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Oscar Futures: The Ascendant Descendants

The Descendants

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 Picture UP: The Descendants. Raves A.O. Scott in the Times, "To call The Descendants perfect would be a kind of insult, a betrayal of its commitment to, and celebration of, human imperfection.". DOWN: The Iron Lady. It finally screened this week, and reviews are just so-so, even though pundits praised Meryl Streep highly.
CURRENT PREDIX: The Artist; The Descendants; Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; The Help; Midnight in Paris; Moneyball; War Horse
Best Director UP: Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris). He's the beneficiary of a PBS documentary beginning this week, but will voters be put off by the fact that the longtime Oscar abstainer withheld his name from awards season materials? DOWN: David Fincher (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). Oscar skeptic Fincher isn't bullish on his Dragon Tattoo chances. "There's too much anal rape in this movie" to get nominated, he joked to EW.
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: George Clooney (The Descendants). A.O. Scott raves about Clooney's "brilliance" and "effortless magnetism." Get a room, you two! DOWN: Jean Dujardin (The Artist). It's Clooney's week, but as Mark Harris notes at Grantland, "Top-dollar movie stars are a rare breed who are rewarded by life more often than they are rewarded by Oscars." If that's so, the charming Dujardin could play spoiler.
CURRENT PREDIX: George Clooney (The Descendants); Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar); Jean Dujardin (The Artist); Michael Fassbender (Shame); Brad Pitt (Moneyball)
Best Actress UP: Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady). "If anyone needed a reminder that Streep is the world's greatest living actress, this performance is it," says THR's impressed Scott Feinberg. "It's almost beside the point to talk about the film overall, since Streep's performance so dominates it." DOWN: Charlize Theron (Young Adult). Totally terrific in Young Adult, she's slowly but surely been relegated to dark horse status, thanks to a flurry of "who will get the fifth slot" articles.
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: Christopher Plummer (Beginners). Beginners comes out on DVD this week to remind voters than Plummer's currently got pole position locked down in this category. It doesn't hurt that he plays a dying gay character, says Tom O'Neil, who notes that this sadly specific archetype is awards catnip. DOWN: Jim Broadbent (The Iron Lady). Early reviews indicate that this is The Meryl Show.
CURRENT PREDIX: Kenneth Branagh (My Week With Marilyn); Albert Brooks (Drive); Patton Oswalt (Young Adult); Christopher Plummer (Beginners); Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)
Best Supporting Actress UP: Judy Greer (The Descendants). Greer is surging thanks to lovely reviews this week, but is the role too small for awards attention, especially when compared to her better-positioned costar Shailene Woodley? DOWN: Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids). An occasional party crasher in this category, she'll need some high-profile votes from critics' groups in the next month for Oscar voters to begin taking this funny woman seriously.
CURRENT PREDIX: Berenice Bejo (The Artist); Sandra Bullock (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close); Carey Mulligan (Shame); Vanessa Redgrave (Coriolanus); Octavia Spencer (The Help)
Photo: Fox Searchlight