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:
Her. This unconventional, Spike Jonze-directed love story is riding a wave of critical acclaim and year-end top-ten hosannas, which will hopefully coax the Academy's older demo to take it more seriously. One drawback, however: Nearly every other serious Best Picture contender is expected to pick up one or more acting nominations, while few pundits expect Her's Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson to break into their difficult races.
12 Years a Slave. Though 12 Years missed out on those high-profile critics group awards from the NYFCC and LAFCC, it's positively dominated all the regional critics' awards, and it's thus far the most honored on film critics' top-ten lists.
David O. Russell (American Hustle). Despite a dissenter or two, this crime caper opened well at the box office and was cannily positioned by the Los Angeles Times, Hollywood's hometown paper, which called American Hustle "the clear alternative to Steve McQueen's serious-minded historical drama 12 Years a Slave."
Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street). The detractors are making more noise when it comes to Scorsese's latest: A raft of stories timed to the movie's release are questioning the film's morality (or lack thereof) and one offended voter notoriously hurled a "shame on you" at Scorsese himself after a Hollywood screening. Wolf was already trying to make up for lost time as the final contender to screen, and these negative headlines aren't helping.
Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave). With Robert Redford no longer the assumed frontrunner — or even a potential nominee — this category is anybody's to win, and Ejiofor is the best positioned after winning over most of the critics' groups, including the hard-to-please cineastes who gave him the number-one spot in the Village Voice's critic-canvassing film poll.
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street). After Deadline's Pete Hammond saw Wolf just three weeks ago, he raved, "It would be unthinkable to imagine [DiCaprio] won’t be in the top five" contenders for Best Actor. Well, start imagining it. Wolf will almost certainly come to be regarded someday as one of DiCaprio's most iconic roles, but after its bumpy launch, that may not happen fast enough for DiCaprio to slip into this extremely competitive category.
Meryl Streep (August: Osage County). Several high-profile critics aren't exactly enamored with Streep's showy August: Osage County performance: Our own David Edelstein wrote that "she turns into a camp harridan, playing to the balcony," while Times critic A.O. Scott sniffed, "The word 'acting' is inadequate for what the cast of August: Osage County is doing. It’s more of a thespian cage match."
Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks). Now Mr. Banks could really use some saving. Never a strong critical play, the movie was expected to at least get audiences on its side; instead, it opened to a surprisingly weak figure, despite its well-positioned arrival as one of the few family-friendly options out there right now.
Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club). Are you ready for a world where Jordan Catalano has an Oscar? Leto has run an impeccable campaign, charming voters for months and visibly enjoying his awards season press tour in a way that his competitors simply don't. He's also dominated this category when it comes to year-end critics' groups. After mortal lock Cate Blanchett, this is the next acting race that looks to be sewn up.
Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave). Like her costar Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nyong'o has now picked up the bulk of year-end critical laurels. Nyong'o's closest competitor appears to be the fast-breaking Jennifer Lawrence, whose chances are capped somewhat by her all-too-recent Best Actress win.
Margo Martindale (August: Osage County). Martindale is playing a role that won Rondi Reed the Tony in August: Osage County's Broadway incarnation, but she hasn't gotten much awards traction herself: Hollywood Reporter columnist Scott Feinberg is still listing Martindale as a third-tier contender.