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Oscar Futures: Saving Mr. Banks Adds Some Sugar to the Best Picture Race

"SAVING MR. BANKS"

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Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) shows Disneyland to "Mary Poppins" author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) in Disney's "Saving Mr. Banks," releasing in U.S. theaters limited on December 13, 2013 and wide on December 20, 2013.

Ph: François Duhamel

©Disney Enterprises, Inc.  All Rights Reserved. 'Saving Mr. Banks.'

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

Saving Mr. Banks. After a London bow that earned good-but-not-overwhelmed reviews, Saving Mr. Banks made its stateside premiere last night in Los Angeles at the AFI Film Festival and was well-received as a potentially potent crowd-pleaser, even if the film's accuracy is already being questioned.

12 Years a Slave. Fox Searchlight is expanding the film aggressively after two weekends of semi-limited release did well enough to boost the film into the top ten. Still, there's pushback from potential viewers who simply don't want to watch a movie about suffering slaves.

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

David O. Russell (American Hustle). One of the Oscar season's biggest question marks is ready to reveal itself: David O. Russell is starting to show American Hustle, and he'll appear at the AFI Film Festival tonight to screen scenes from the movie. Can it change the race?

Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity). A box office behemoth like Gravity is in little danger of being forgotten, but Warner Bros. is taking no chances: The studio had an intimate cocktail party with Cuarón this week to keep awards buzz strong, and the friendly filmmaker was pretty damn delightful. Other directors wilt after months of press, voter glad-handling, and constant Q&As, but not the energetic Cuarón: "I love it!" he enthused.

Current Predix: Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity); Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips); Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave); David O. Russell (American Hustle); Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Best Actor

Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis). NPR has the Llewyn Davis soundtrack up for streaming, and it makes sense to get this record out there early and often. If CBS Films can plant these gorgeous, Oscar Isaac-sung folk songs in voters' heads, they're more likely to remember Isaac come nomination time.

Bruce Dern (Nebraska). Quentin Tarantino is adding his muscle to Dern's Oscar campaign: He'll show up to tout Dern tomorrow night at a special AFI Fest tribute.

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). Thompson crashes what had been a two-woman race between Cate Blanchett and Sandra Bullock, delivering an irresistible arc as the wary Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks that takes her from hilariously withering to genuinely heartbreaking. She's one to watch.

Naomi Watts (Diana). The Diana biopic opened to miserable reviews and bad box office, this year's son-banging drama Adore proved giggle-worthy, and the upcoming Sunlight Jr. lacks any sort of awards buzz. To put a fine point on it, Naomi Watts is not having the best year.

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

Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club). Dallas Buyers Club scored in limited release this weekend, and Leto's got plenty of industry support: THR's Scott Feinberg notes that Maria Bello, Peter Bogdanovich, Diane Kruger, Sarah Polley, Zoe Saldana, Uma Thurman, Marisa Tomei, and Reese Witherspoon have all hosted Dallas Buyers Club screenings to tout Leto.

Tom Hanks (Saving Mr. Banks). I don't think Hanks is as strong a contender as Thompson, but much like his Captain Phillips performance, this mostly mild-mannered role ends strong with a big old Oscar Moment, this one in the form of a revealing monologue. Unless American Hustle arrives with some tasty supporting performances from Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner, Hanks has got a good shot at being nominated.

Current Predix: Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave); James Gandolfini (Enough Said); Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street; Tom Hanks (Saving Mr. Banks); Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
Best Supporting Actress

June Squibb (Nebraska). The delightful 84-year-old actress steals the show as Bruce Dern's wife in Nebraska, and she's earning rave profiles and guesting on Girls, helmed by brand-new Academy member Lena Dunham. Savvy!

Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine). Cate Blanchett's titanic Blue Jasmine performance endures several months later, but where is the lingering love for Hawkins, who's every bit her heartbreaking match? Sony Pictures Classics, please do right by Hawkins and start a push before this category gets too crowded.

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: François Duhamel/©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.