Oscar Futures: Milk, Melissa Leo Ride the Wave

Quick, someone hide the pottery wheel!

Every week between now and February 2, 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 to insider gossip, comb the Oscar 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: Milk. Near-universal raves, big per-screen box-office, and total lack of backlash suddenly make this seem like Slumdog Millionaire's strongest competition. DOWN: The Dark Knight. Strong reviews this week for Doubt, Frost/Nixon, and Revolutionary Road mean the Academy might not have to nominate a billion-grossing comic-book movie just to fill space.
CURRENT PREDIX: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Milk, Revolutionary Road, Slumdog Millionaire, Wall-E
Best Director UP: Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon. Better-than-expected reviews for the movie say it's his best work ever, and some claim he even improves Peter Morgan's stage version. DOWN: David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Running around smacking people may not be the wisest campaign strategy.
CURRENT PREDIX: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire; David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Sam Mendes, Revolutionary Road; Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight; Gus Van Sant, Milk
Best Actor UP: Sean Penn, Milk. Great reviews across the board: "Sean Penn amazes me," says Roger Ebert. DOWN: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler. Controversy over that Times Magazine profile might not have helped his case.
CURRENT PREDIX: Leonardo DiCaprio, Revolutionary Road; Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon; Sean Penn, Milk; Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
Best Actress UP: Melissa Leo, Frozen River. The movie's surprise honors from the Gotham Awards, and lots of nominations for Independent Spirit Awards, put its star right back in the mix. DOWN: Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road. What movie does she want to win an Oscar for? This one or The Reader? Why won't she tell us? She can't have both!
CURRENT PREDIX: Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married; Angelina Jolie, Changeling; Melissa Leo, Frozen River; Kristin Scott Thomas, I've Loved You So Long; Meryl Streep, Doubt; Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road
Best Supporting Actor UP: Josh Brolin, Milk. The National Board of Review named him Best Supporting Actor yesterday — maybe he's the Milk star who'll get a nod in this category. DOWN: Josh Brolin, Milk. Too bad he will definitely lose to Heath Ledger.
CURRENT PREDIX: James Franco, Milk; Josh Brolin, Milk; Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt; Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight; Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire; Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road
Best Supporting Actress UP: Penélope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Awards from NBR and the Gothams this week mean she's made it all the way to December with her front-runner status intact. DOWN: Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The more we hear, Button starts to feel less and less like an actors' movie. Plus, her screen time is apparently minimal.
CURRENT PREDIX: Penélope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona; Viola Davis, Doubt; Rosemarie DeWitt, Rachel Getting Married; Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler; Kate Winslet, The Reader
Oscar Futures: Milk, Melissa Leo Ride the Wave