Oscar Futures: Avatar Way Up

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 for insider gossip, comb the 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: Avatar. Surprise! Screenings this week melt critics' brains, rendering them incapable of sticking to Fox's embargo or expressing themselves in nonsuperlatives. "How will Cameron ever top this?" wonders HR. DOWN: The Lovely Bones. Restrained positive reviews for Invictus and A Single Man this week are good enough to keep them in the conversation. Not so for Lovely Bones'.
CURRENT PREDIX: Bright Star, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Invictus, Nine, Precious, A Serious Man, A Single Man, Up, Up in the Air
Best Director UP: James Cameron, Avatar. Creatively included in every review so far: the phrase "King of the World." DOWN: Rob Marshall, Nine. Early reviews aren't great. Harvey should still be able to get the movie a nod, but Marshall's could be tricky.
CURRENT PREDIX: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker; Lee Daniels, Precious; Clint Eastwood, Invictus; Rob Marshall, Nine; Jason Reitman, Up in the Air.
Best Actor UP: Colin Firth, A Single Man. Between him and Morgan Freeman, Firth seems to have critics slightly more impressed this week. DOWN: Daniel Day-Lewis, Nine. "Sporting a scruffy beard and running a hand through long hair only goes so far," says HR. He "looks like he's having stomach trouble," raves EW.
CURRENT PREDIX: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart; George Clooney, Up in the Air; Colin Firth, A Single Man; Morgan Freeman, Invictus; Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker.
Best Actress UP: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side. She's trampling vampires at the box office and smiling on the buzz-trumpeting cover of EW. We like her chances.DOWN: Marion Cotillard, Nine. Is she really "the stuff of bad soap opera"?
CURRENT PREDIX: Abbie Cornish, Bright Star; Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side; Helen Mirren, The Last Station; Carey Mulligan, An Education; Gabourey Sidibe, Precious; Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia.
Best Supporting Actor UP: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds. With buzz cooling on most of his competition, this early front-runner should get a boost when Basterds screeners hit mailboxes next week. DOWN: Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones. We hear he's good, but critics are too busy blasting the movie this week to notice.
CURRENT PREDIX: Matt Damon, Invictus; Alfred Molina, An Education; Christopher Plummer, The Last Station; Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones; Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds.
Best Supporting Actress UP: Julianne Moore, A Single Man. "Marvelous." "Absolutely buoyant." "Explosively good." Pretty much her usual reviews. DOWN: Mo'Nique, Precious. Sure, you think her anti-campaign is funny, but we doubt the Academy does. (She'll still win, though.)
CURRENT PREDIX: Penélope Cruz, Nine; Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air; Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air; Mo'nique, Precious; Julianne Moore, A Single Man.
Oscar Futures: Avatar Way Up