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Oscar Futures: Is 12 Years a Slave Still the Front-runner?

TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE '12 Years a Slave.'

Every week between now and January 16, when the nominations are announced, Vulture will consult its crystal ball to determine the changing fortunes in this year's Oscar race. Check back every Friday for our Oscar Futures column, when we'll let you in on insider gossip, confer with other awards season pundits, and track industry buzz to figure out who's up, who's down, and who's currently leading the race for a coveted Oscar nomination.

Let's check out this week's chart:

Best Picture

12 Years a Slave. Is 12 Years a Slave still the guaranteed Best Picture winner, as we predicted last month? The rollout has been met with some resistance as wary Oscar voters, fearing the film's "brutality," neglected to pack the house in the film's Academy screening, but reviews are over-the-moon stellar, and there's plenty of time for latecomers to catch up. We're as confident in our pick as we were in September, and almost two thirds of top pundits agree.

Her. At its New York Film Festival debut, Spike Jonze charmed the cognoscenti with Her, his tender, unlikely romance between a man and his virtual operating system. Still, Variety noted that it could fly over the heads of older Academy members, many of whom didn't understand The Social Network three years ago.

Current Predix: 12 Years a Slave; American Hustle; Blue Jasmine; Lee Daniels' The Butler; Captain Phillips; Gravity; Inside Llewyn Davis; Nebraska; Saving Mr. Banks
Best Director

Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave). The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern hailed 12 Years as a "landmark event … certain to transcend the movie realm and become a new reference point in contemporary culture," though he notes, "Movie audiences have never been presented with anything quite like the intertwined beauty and savagery of 12 Years a Slave, so it's anyone's guess whether they'll extend the embrace that Steve McQueen's film deserves." With enough raves like that, Oscar voters may feel compelled to.

Spike Jonze (Her). Can Jonze penetrate a crushing category as this year's young, hip vote? It would help if he weren't going up against two auteurs who are equally revered by the Academy's youngest demo — McQueen and Alfonso Cuarón — but don't forget that Jonze has managed it before, as a 31-year-old nominated for his debut film, Being John Malkovich.

Current Predix: Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity); Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips); Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave); David O. Russell (American Hustle); Alexander Payne (Nebraska)
Best Actor

Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave). Everyone in the 12 Years ensemble is coming in for raves, but "it is Ejiofor — bewildered, sorely tested, morally towering — whose staggered dignity anchors the film," writes NPR's Bob Mondello.

Robert Redford (All Is Lost). As our own Nick Schager notes, voters may be moved to "atone" for ignoring Redford's performances in the past … and what better chance will they have than his work for the "crazy fucking" All Is Lost, which David Edelstein calls a career-best turn?

Current Predix: Bruce Dern (Nebraska); Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave); Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips); Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club); Robert Redford (All is Lost)
Best Actress

Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks). The U.K. embargo is about to break on the buzzed-about Saving Mr. Banks, but word is that Hollywood is already high on Emma Thompson's performance. Hitfix's Greg Ellwood notes that she's the standout in a cast that also includes well-received turns from Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, and Paul Giamatti.

Kate Winslet (Labor Day). WHAT IN THE HOLY HELL IS HAPPENING ON THAT VOGUE COVER. Are aliens even eligible for Academy consideration?

Current Predix: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine); Sandra Bullock (Gravity); Judi Dench (Philomena); Meryl Streep (August: Osage County); Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks)
Best Supporting Actor

Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave). The Times' Manohla Dargis calls Fassbender's villainous performance so "arresting" that "at first it seems as if the performance will soon slip out of Mr. McQueen’s control, and that the character will become just another irresistibly watchable, flamboyant heavy." But as she and other critics have noted this weekend, Fassbender is so layered and human in the role that he gives the movie additional power.

Daniel Bruhl (Rush). As Rush recedes from view with not a whole lot of money in the domestic till, does Bruhl have a shot at being remembered for his terrifically spiky performance? His co-lead performance in this weekend's The Fifth Estate could have been thought of as a boost, but the mild movie is unlikely to make many waves.

Current Predix: Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips); Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave); James Gandolfini (Enough Said); Tom Hanks (Saving Mr. Banks); Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
Best Supporting Actress

Scarlett Johansson (Her). Can Johansson make Oscar history with a nomination that relies solely on her voice? Her role as the OS that charms Joaquin Phoenix in Her is picking up warm reviews, and producer Megan Ellison says a full-court awards campaign is planned.

Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station). Spencer's got an outside shot at a Best Supporting Actress nod this year (as long as Harvey Weinstein can make good on his promise of a second wave for Fruitvale Station), but that TWC screener snafu touting her in the Best Actress category can't have helped.

Current Predix:Margo Martindale (August: Osage County); Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave); Julia Roberts (August: Osage County); June Squibb (Nebraska); Oprah Winfrey (Lee Daniels' The Butler)
Photo: Jaap Buitendijk