Oscar Futures: The State of Nebraska

'Nebraska.' Photo: Credit: Paramount Pictures/? 2013 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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

Nebraska. Our own David Edelstein didn't think he'd like Nebraska, wrestling with the trailer, premise, and quibbles about director Alexander Payne's empathy toward the Midwest. But even he was won over by the father-son road trip dramedy, writing, "The movie is a triumph of an especially satisfying kind. It arrives at a kind of gnarled grace." To judge by that 89 percent Tomatometer, he's not alone in thinking so.

All is Lost. The Robert Redford lost-at-sea drama is one of the best films of the year, and with its near-total lack of dialogue, it was never going to be the easiest sell in the world. Still, its expansion to 399 screens last weekend could have gone better: It averaged only $2,833 a screen, less than half what 12 Years a Slave was averaging on 1,144 screens. (Both awards hopefuls have been out for four weeks.)

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

Alexander Payne (Nebraska). Tim Grierson noted this week that Alexander Payne has become "the auteur of the male weepie," and he's not wrong: Nebraska ends with a sequence that's already prompting some eye leakage amongst Academy members, and that ability to stick an emotional landing could earn Payne his third consecutive Oscar nomination.

Spike Jonze (Her). Jonze had a very well-received AFI Fest premiere this past Wednesday … he just had the misfortune of premiering opposite every other awards season event in the known universe.

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). This category could come down to Oscar Isaac vs. Bruce Dern for the fifth slot, and Isaac made a strong case for his candidacy this week at a star-packed concert, where he played songs from Inside Llewyn Davis for some of the Academy's biggest voters.

Bruce Dern (Nebraska). USA Today's Claudia Puig hails Bruce Dern's ornery, confused Nebraska paterfamilias, calling this "the performance of his career" while noting, "Dern's performance never falls into caricature. His portrayal is both reserved and raw, sometimes painful to watch, always masterfully underplayed."

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). Emma Thompson makes her third showing in as many weeks in this position, but that's because nobody's working it harder: The actress made singalong pit stops on both coasts this week to tout Saving Mr. Banks, and there may be no potential nominee more charming.

Judi Dench (Philomena). Now that the ratings controversy has been put to bed, can we forget that those embarrassing James Bond spoof videos ever happened? (Looks like Harvey Weinstein — or the James Bond rights-holders — might agree, since they've been taken off YouTube.)

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

James Gandolfini (Enough Said). Last year's big Oscar winner Ben Affleck made a strong case for Enough Said this week in Variety. Will it be enough to keep the late Gandolfini in contention as new performances from American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street threaten to crowd this category?>

George Clooney (Gravity). Listen, we enjoyed Clooney's cracks at Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe in the new issue of Esquire (seriously, A-plus for candor), but is that really the best foot for Clooney to put forward this season?

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). In the Times, critic A.O. Scott praises Squibb as the key to Nebraska, calling her role as the outspoken wife to Bruce Dern a "jolt of tart comic energy — a dash of vinegar in the mashed potatoes."

Zoe Saldana (Out of the Furnace). When she's not playing fierce spacefarers, Saldana has carved out a recent niche as a supportive but long-suffering love interest in indie dramas like The Words and Blood Ties. Out of the Furnace (which premiered this past weekend at the AFI Film Festival) continues in that vein for Saldana, but it's not flashy enough to make her a contender.

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)