The Oscars Racing Form

With almost all of the contenders finally out (at least for their end-of-the-year qualifying runs), it’s time to look at where they stand. The following predictions are based on the most current Vulture Oscar Futures reports, which are updated weekly.

  the field predicted nominees

At this point last year, it was clear that The King’s Speech and The Social Network were the only two contenders, but this season, it’s anyone’s guess. The Artist and The Descendants have earned critics’-group prizes, but The Help and Midnight in Paris are crowd-pleasers. Out soon: Steven Spielberg’s War Horse and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.The Artist; The Descendants; Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; The Help; Midnight in Paris; Moneyball; War Horse.

This category could be packed with heavyweights this year, as Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen, David Fincher, and Terrence Malick all have films in contention. Still, foreign upstart Michel Hazanavicius could trump them all with The Artist, in the same way King’s Speech helmer Tom Hooper came out of nowhere to snatch the Oscar last year. Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris); Stephen Daldry (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close); Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist); Alexander Payne (The Descendants); Steven Spielberg (War Horse).

Leonardo DiCaprio will struggle to stay in this category as J. Edgar himself, while Michael Fassbender’s sex-madness in Shame is likely to earn a nomination but not a win. Instead, watch for matinee idols George Clooney and Brad Pitt to tussle with charming Frenchman Jean Dujardin, who jambons it up as The Artist’s silent hero. George Clooney (The Descendants); Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar); Jean Dujardin (The Artist); Michael Fassbender (Shame); Brad Pitt (Moneyball).

Transformative performances are always good for the Oscars, and the Best Actress pool includes Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher and Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe, while Glenn Close dressed up like a man and Rooney Mara bleached her eyebrows and pierced her nipple for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. But can they beat the unflashy Viola Davis, who gave The Help its heart and soul? Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs); Viola Davis (The Help); Rooney Mara (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo); Meryl Streep (Iron Lady); Michelle Williams (My Week With Marilyn).

Christopher Plummer has never won an Oscar, but his fortunes should change this year thanks to his role as a dying gay father in the bittersweet Beginners. Everyone else should be happy to get nominated, whether it’s veterans like Albert Brooks and Max von Sydow, or the younger actors hoping for a nod, like Jonah Hill. Kenneth Branagh (Marilyn); Albert Brooks (Drive); Jonah Hill (Moneyball); Christopher Plummer (Beginners); Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud).

Jessica Chastain had an inspired year in Take Shelter, The Help, and The Tree of Life (among many other movies). If she gets a nomination, it’ll most likely be for her irresistible southern tragicomic supporting turn in The Help, but even the chance for splitting the vote with Chastain won’t derail her front-runner co-star, Octavia Spencer. Bérénice Bejo (The Artist); Sandra Bullock (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close); Jessica Chastain (The Help); Carey Mulligan (Shame); Octavia Spencer (The Help).

Photographs: Courtesy of the Weinstein Company (The Artist); Roger Arpajou/© 2011 Mediapro, Versátil Cinema & Gravier Productions/Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics (Allen); Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures (DiCaprio); Baldur Bragason/Courtesy of Columbia Entertainment (Mara); Melinda Sue Gordon/Courtesy of Columbia Pictures (Hill); Courtesy of Dreamworks (Chastain)

The Oscars Racing Form