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Oscar Futures: Best New Artist?

The Artist

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 Artist. The New York Film Critics Circle flipped for this silent-movie tribute, awarding it both Best Picture and Best Director. DOWN: The Descendants. The George Clooney dramedy was shut out at the Gotham Independent Awards, and it didn't get anything from the NYFCC either, even though the group gave Alexander Payne's last movie, Sideways, its top honors back in 2004. CURRENT PREDIX: The Artist; The Descendants; Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; The Help; Midnight in Paris; Moneyball; War Horse Best Director UP: Martin Scorsese (Hugo). After so-so box office last week, the National Board of Review gave Hugo's helmer a shot in the arm by awarding Scorsese and the film top honors. DOWN: David Fincher (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). Though Fincher and producer Scott Rudin managed to convince the NYFCC to postpone voting for a day until they could screen the finished film, Dragon Tattoo didn't turn up on the group's awards list. 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: Brad Pitt (Moneyball). George Clooney and The Artist's Jean Dujardin are seen as the heavyweights in this category, but thanks to the NYFCC, Pitt was the first to win the Best Actor nod from a critics group. More of those could take him from a probable nomination to a potential threat. DOWN: Michael Fassbender (Shame). Though he was the beneficiary of tons of buzz this week and is likely to earn a nomination, Shame got two high-profile pans this week from the NYT and EW, which may hinder his ability to go the distance. 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). After decades of gong home empty-handed, Streep is probably tired of Oscar pundits asking, "Could this be her year?" Still, her NYFCC win helps give her the edge this week in a competitive category. DOWN: Michelle Williams (My Week With Marilyn). The Weinsteins opened Marilyn against their *other* period film about filmmaking, The Artist, and that questionable scheduling move bit into its box office. 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). Always the frontrunner in this category, Plummer is helped further by the sudden resurgence of Beginners, which tied for best Feature at the Gotham Independent Awards and racked up a wealth of nominations from the Independent Spirits this week. DOWN: Nick Nolte (Warrior). At a Los Angeles screening meant to tout the underseen Warrior, Nolte and director Gavin O'Connor sniped at each other about the film's middling box office, which led O'Connor to crack, "You live in a cave at home like Osama bin Laden. You have no access to anything and you pretend like you know more than everybody else." CURRENT PREDIX: Kenneth Branagh (My Week With Marilyn); Albert Brooks (Drive); Ben Kingsley (Hugo); Christopher Plummer (Beginners); Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) Best Supporting Actress UP: Jessica Chastain (The Help). Chastain was this year's hardest-working women in show business, and the NYFCC awarded her for sterling supporting roles in Take Shelter, The Help, and The Tree of Life. But which role (and which film) is most Oscar-friendly? DOWN: Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life). Even though there is a strong Academy contingent that worships the drama Chastain made with Terrence Malick, we think it'll come in second to her irresistible work in the much more widely seen The Help. CURRENT PREDIX: Berenice Bejo (The Artist); Sandra Bullock (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close); Carey Mulligan (Shame); Vanessa Redgrave (Coriolanus); Octavia Spencer (The Help)

Photo: Warner Bros. France