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Oscar Futures: Can Brad Pitt Hit a Home Run?

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: Bridesmaids. The stars aligned for Bridesmaids this week, as nearly every Oscar pundit in Christendom took a serious look at the comedy's Best Picture chances. We still think it's unlikely that it'll pull down the first-place votes it needs to register in this year's rejiggered voting system, but with other Oscar bait fading ... DOWN: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The polarizing drama has split critics down the middle, literally: It's got a Rotten Tomatoes score hovering around 50%. That's not encouraging news for Oscar. CURRENT PREDIX: The Artist; The Descendants; The Help; Hugo; Midnight in Paris; Moneyball; War Horse Best Director UP: Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist). As The Artist continues to solidify its grasp on the big prize -- and A-list directors like Steven Spielberg and Stephen Daldry are hit by some notable pans -- it's starting to look like Hazanavicius has this one in the bag. DOWN: Angelina Jolie (In the Land of Blood and Honey). Jolie wasn't expected to advance much further than her Golden Globes nod, but Blood and Honey was slowed completely this week by muddled reviews. A movie with subject matter this difficult could really use some raves. CURRENT PREDIX: Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris); Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist); Alexander Payne (The Descendants); Martin Scorsese (Hugo); Steven Spielberg (War Horse) Best Actor UP: Brad Pitt (Moneyball). Both Mark Harris and Jeff Wells made strong pushes for Pitt this week, positioning him as a potential alternative to the perceived frontrunner Jean Dujardin. Even Pitt's sperm made the news! DOWN: Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar). Momentum for this performance flagged a while back, though DiCaprio managed to snag nods from SAG and the Golden Globes. Still, with DiCaprio's double-header of The Great Gatsby and Django Unchained arriving next Christmas, voters may feel like they can wait a year to honor him. CURRENT PREDIX: George Clooney (The Descendants); Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar); Jean Dujardin (The Artist); Michael Fassbender (Shame); Brad Pitt (Moneyball) Best Actress UP: Rooney Mara (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). An object of fascination for most critics this week, Mara's take on Lisbeth Salander feels like a surging dark horse. DOWN: Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs). Close's passion project opened to unenthused reviews this week, leaving her vulnerable in this competitive category. But at least the song she cowrote for the film might get nominated! CURRENT PREDIX: Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs); Viola Davis (The Help); Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady); Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin); Michelle Williams (My Week With Marilyn) Best Supporting Actor UP: Jonah Hill (Moneyball). The Sitter may have tanked, but Hill quietly established himself as a likely nominee after last week's SAG nod. Phaedra approves! DOWN: Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close). Still no awards traction, and those reviews aren't helping, though he's been singled out as a bright spot. CURRENT PREDIX: Kenneth Branagh (My Week With Marilyn); Albert Brooks (Drive); Jonah Hill (Moneyball); Nick Nolte (Warrior); Christopher Plummer (Beginners) Best Supporting Actress UP: Jessica Chastain (The Help). 2011's most prolific supporting actress finally got some good face time in Los Angeles this week, where DreamWorks threw a splashy party in honor of The Help. DOWN: Octavia Spencer (The Help). We'd still mark her as the frontrunner, but Spencer didn't even make the top ten of her category in the wide-ranging Village Voice critics' poll -- unlike previous winners Melissa Leo, Mo'Nique, and Penelope Cruz (the latter two of whom topped it). Will Oscar voters take Spencer for granted, too? CURRENT PREDIX: Berenice Bejo (The Artist); Jessica Chastain (The Help); Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids); Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs); Octavia Spencer (The Help)

Photo: Sony Pictures