The clearest thing about this Oscar race is that the whole thing is muddy.

For the first time in as long as I can remember, no single film, performance, director or Screenplay has cornered the precursor market. Critics and industry groups alike spread these awards wildly amongst the likes of The Artist, The Help, Drive and about a dozen other movies. Each new awards sheet brings a new set of contenders. It couldn’t be more exciting.

This may simply speak to the fact that this is a very weak year for films. Ordinarily, a few distinguish themselves early and don’t relent until they hit the Kodak. These films are typically massively praised works like The Social Network, The Return of the King, or anything made by the Weinsteins.

Speaking of whom, they’ve managed to make the tiny Artist into the closest thing to a front-runner we have at this point, but even with them at the helm, it still hasn’t separated itself, and has started to actually lose buzz in the last few weeks.

See? I told you this race was wild. To wit, here is the latest edition of The Oscar Power Rankings, now featuring Screenplay categories too! Remember, these are in order of likelihood of being nominated and have nothing to do with who will ultimately win.

 

ACTOR

1 (Rank Last Edition: 2) – George Clooney in The Descendants
George Clooney has a very slight edge on everybody else in total number of precursors, so I’ll give him the nod in the top spot. At this point, he just seems the least likely not to get nominated.

2 (1) – Jean Dujardin in The Artist
Bumped down a slot because he’s only actually won one precursor award (Las Vegas Film Critics). Not to worry though, silent film fans. He’s still a lock.

3 (3) – Brad Pitt in Moneyball
Wins from New York and Boston as well as the requisite SAG and Golden Globe double have turned Pitt into a lock for this movie. Nobody’s been giving him much for The Tree of Life so vote splitting won’t be much of a problem.

4 (4) – Michael Fassbender in Shame
He missed on the SAG awards but got a nomination from the Globes and Broadcast Film Critics. Plus, he notched a big win from the usually reliable Los Angeles Film Critics. It’s pretty bunched at 4-7, but I like him the most of that group. He’s riding a wave of buzz.

5 (9) – Leonardo DiCaprio in J. Edgar
Leo hadn’t gotten much going early in Oscar season, but then he pulled off the incredible triple of Broadcast Film Critics, Golden Globes and SAG nominations. Getting all three usually makes you a lock, and I’d be happy putting DiCaprio at that status…if those weren’t the only three precursors he’d gotten.

6 (8) – Michael Shannon in Take Shelter
Shannon’s gotten his fair share of precursor awards so far, but he missed the big ones: SAG, Broadcast Film Critics and Golden Globes. He’s still got a good shot at a nomination, but when you miss the big ones, it’s hard to put you in the top five.

7 (6) – Ryan Gosling in Drive
A Broadcast Film Critics and Golden Globe nod for Gosling speak well of his chances, but the movie was entirely shut out by SAG, and they’re the most important voting bloc for the Oscars. Something’s a little fishy about his chances.

8 (5) – Gary Oldman in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
It seemed like this was the year Gary Oldman was finally going to get nominated, but with very little precursor love, he’ll continue to be the biggest and best actor never nominated for film’s biggest prize.

9 (NR) – Demián Bichir in A Better Life
A big-time surprise nominee at the SAGs, but that’s the only precursor mention he’s received so far. Many say that his SAG nomination came as a result of his tireless campaigning. I don’t see that carrying over to the Oscars.

10 (NR) – Brendan Gleeson in The Guard
He picked up a Golden Globe comedy nod, and actually could upset Jean Dujardin for the award, as The Guard plays very well with the foreign press. He’s also likely to pick up a BAFTA nomination. Despite that, he’s still a big-time long shot, but at least he has a shot.

Dropping Out: Woody Harrelson in Rampart (7), Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 50/50 (10)

 

ACTRESS

1 (1) – Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady
It’s not worth saying much. If Meryl Streep is in a well-received movie, she’ll get nominated for an Oscar. Every. Single Year.

2 (2) – Viola Davis in The Help
Davis is steadily picking up precursors including a SAG and Golden Globe nomination on her way to her second Oscar nomination. Buzz for The Help as a whole make her a lock.

3 (4) – Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn
Michelle Williams has actually picked up the most precursors of anybody in this category so far including the SAG, Golden Globe, Broadcast Film Critics triple. She’s still third though, as this movie is pretty small and not as well-received as the others. Still, she’s all but a lock at this point.

4 (3) – Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs
Close was an extremely slow starter (probably because most critics groups decided it was more worthwhile to get their awards out first than actually see Albert Nobbs), but she’s rebounded with SAG and Golden Globe nominations, and now seems to be moving back into the lock status she enjoyed before the Oscar season really started.

5 (5) – Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin
This is a small movie, but Swinton managed to pull off the all-important SAG, Golden Globe, Broadcast Film Critics triple. With a nice collection of precursors to go along with the big ones, it’s hard to see this past winner not getting nominated at this point.

6 (8) – Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene
She’s picked up a nice collection of precursor awards, but missing The Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild means buzz probably peaked to early for this performance. She’s on her way down the rankings.

7 (9) – Charlize Theron in Young Adult
This film seems like a non-starter at this point and Theron’s chances look to be doomed alongside it. She picked up a Broadcast Film Critics nomination and the obvious Golden Globe Comedy nomination, but that was about it. This looks destined for the overlooked female comedic performances pile.

8 (6) – Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
This movie screened way too late for most critics’ awards, but the societies who waited are starting to include Mara on their shortlists. A Golden Globe nomination shows she’s legit, and if the movie hits big, her campaign will intensify down the Oscar stretch.

9 (10) – Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia
Dunst was a runner-up at Dallas, Los Angeles and Chicago. That’s it for her so far, however, as this tiny movie continues to struggle to become a real Oscar force.

10 (NR) – Yoon Jung-hee in Poetry
A surprise winner at the prestigious Los Angeles Film Critics Awards means she’s relevant. The fact that that’s the only precursor she’s won means she’s barely relevant.

Dropping Out: Keira Knightley in A Dangerous Method (7)

 

SUPPORTING ACTOR
1 (2) – Christopher Plummer in Beginners
Supporting Actor is the one race where the precursors are being hogged by two actors, and of those actors Plummer is the only one to pick up a SAG nomination. He’s the one major lock in this category now.

2 (1) – Albert Brooks in Drive
Brooks has nearly doubled Plummer’s precursor haul, but he was strangely ignored by the Screen Actors Guild. I still think he’s a lock, but I can’t put somebody without a SAG nomination at number one.

3 (4) – Kenneth Branagh in My Week with Marilyn
Nobody other than the top two in this category has picked up very many awards, with Branagh’s eight leading the trailers. Of those, he’s the only one to pull off the Broadcast Film Critics, SAG and Golden Globe triple. He’s looking like a lock.

4 (5) – Nick Nolte in Warrior
Nolte started slow, but everybody other than Plummer and Brooks did in this category. Recently he notched a SAG and Broadcast Film Critics nomination. The buzz from September is finally starting to show itself in December.

5 (NR) – Jonah Hill in Moneyball
Oh yes. This is a real possibility. Especially after his SAG and Golden Globe nominations. With nobody other than the top two really piling up the precursors, Hill is as good a bet as anybody.

6 (NR) – Patton Oswalt in Young Adult
Oddly enough, the strongest buzz for this film has been heaped on Oswalt’s performance, and he’s got a Broadcast Film Critics nomination to back that up. He’s going to need a bit more a push, though, to move into the top five.

7 (NR) – Armie Hammer in J. Edgar
Nobody was really paying attention to Hammer and then he popped up with a SAG nomination. In a category without a lot of depth, that SAG nomination carries a lot of weight.

8 (3) – Max Von Sydow in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
This movie is an extremely odd case. Dogged by re-shoots and a change to the score, this film screened very late for critics with some screenings cancelled, and screeners never really made their way to precursor voters. This could explain why he missed SAG, The Golden Globes and Broadcast Film Critics. It could also be that this movie just isn’t very good. It’s hard to say. He could be a surprise late-riser once this movie’s campaign gets on track.

9 (8) – Andy Serkis in Rise of the Planet of the Apes
The Washington, DC Film Critics, Houston Film Critics, San Diego Film Critics, Broadcast Film Critics, and Golden Satellites. Those are the precursor groups foolish enough to nominate somebody for pretending to be a monkey and then not actually appearing in the film. Luckily, it didn’t extend to SAG or the Golden Globes or Serkis would have a real shot.

10 (9) – John Hawkes in Martha Marcy May Marlene
Hawkes’ chances have been dwindling as he hasn’t picked up a precursor mention since the Phoenix Film Critics about a week back. Maybe he’d be doing better if he had his performance overlayed with a digital monkey.

Dropping Out: Jim Broadbent in The Iron Lady (6), Brad Pitt in The Tree of Life (7), Ben Kingsley in Hugo (10)

 

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

1 (1) – Octavia Spencer in The Help
This is a strange category, as I’ll point out below, but there’s no reason not to think Spencer is a lock at this point. The Golden Globe, Broadcast Film Critics and SAG nominations tell us so.

2 (3) – Bérénice Bejo in The Artist
With buzz for this film going strong and the Weinsteins at her back, Bejo is looking like a lock for the nomination. It certainly helps that she got the Globe, SAG, Broadcast triple.

3 (6) – Jessica Chastain in The Help
Here’s why this category is so weird: Chastain has actually gotten the most precursors of anybody. The problem is that she’s gotten them for a variety of films. Sometimes from groups who are so misguidedly pretentious that they give her one award for multiple performances, like that makes sense. The fact that the Globes and SAG singled out The Help make her chances a little more clear, but I still can’t get over that vote split. I have her third because I think she will get nominated, but because there isn’t an absolute choice for her, there’s going to be some vote splitting no matter what.

4 (2) – Shailene Woodley in The Descendants
Woodley missed SAG, but she got every other important nomination along the way. The buzz for this film is roiling right now, and she looks to be swept up in it. A SAG would have cinched it.

5 (4) – Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids

McCarthy missed The Golden Globes, but she got a SAG and Broadcast Film Critics nomination. Comedy is always tough a the Oscars, even for someone with as much buzz as McCarthy, but I think she has enough to overcome that.

6 (7) – Janet McTeer in Albert Nobbs
Like her co-star Close, McTeer started very late in her Oscar campaign. Despite this, she’s notched a SAG and Golden Globe nomination, with a few others along the way. She’s starting to look like a very good candidate. Though she’s not quite in yet.

7 (5) – Carey Mulligan in Shame
Mulligan looked like a pretty good bet and then she missed both the Golden Globes and SAG awards. In a crowded category, those misses are probably too big to overcome.

8 (8) – Vanessa Redgrave in Coriolanus
Redgrave’s picked up a few precursors, but not much. Missing out on all the big awards means she’s probably looking at another Oscar miss. She’s a lock for a BAFTA, though.

9 (NR) – Kate Winslet in Carnage
We’re pretty much grasping at straws now, and I’m putting Winslet here because she loves to get Oscar nominations. I’m not going to rule her out entirely.

10 (9) – Sandra Bullock in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Nothing for Bullock, but that could be explained by the Extremely Loud campaign debacle. I don’t know if I see her turning it around though.

Dropping Out: Emily Watson in War Horse (10)

 

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

1 – The Artist by Michel Hazanavicius
I like to save the screenplays for a few weeks in, because it’s hard to figure out which films are going to be recognized for their screenplays until the awards actually start coming in. A few weeks in and one thing is clear: The Artist is a lock.

2 – Midnight in Paris by Woody Allen
Speaking of locks, how about “The Return of Woody Allen”? Allen used to get screenplay nominations at will. That’s faded recently, but I don’t think there’s any way the Academy will overlook his best-received movie in years.

3 – 50/50 by Will Reiser
I’m very happy to report that 50/50 is currently running third in the precursor total, and with no clear fourth, it’s looking like a lock. A WGA nomination will put it over the top. Here’s hoping.

4 – The Tree of Life by Terence Malick
It’s hard to figure out how anybody could determine the quality of this film’s screenplay based on the movie itself, but several critics groups have done just that. Given the fact that Terence Malick is probably the most respected filmmaker in the industry, I like his chances here.

5 – Win-Win by Thomas McCarthy
He’s gotten more precursors than Malick, but McCarthy doesn’t have near the cache of Malick. He’s starting to gain credibility though, and another Oscar nomination seems like a safe bet this year.

6 – Bridesmaids by Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig
There’s always a big mainstream comedy that becomes a major Oscar player in this category. This year, Bridesmaids is clearly the choice to fit that bill.

7 – Beginners by Mike Mills
Mills is helped greatly by Plummer’s near-lock status in Best Supporting Actor. The film, though, may be a bit too small and a bit too distant to make an impact across all categories.

8 – Margin Call by J.C. Chandor
If there’s one thing the Academy loves to do, it’s pat itself on the back for making movies that are “relevant”. This is the most relevant of them all and remains a decent contender for a screenplay nod.

9 – Young Adult by Diablo Cody
Eventually the luster is going to wear off of Cody’s Oscar of a few years back. Until that happens, she’s going to be a threat to get nominated for any decently reviewed movie.

10 – A Separation by Asghar Farhadi
The last few years, the biggest Foreign Language contender has made an impact in the screenplay categories. This is a down year for those films, but A Separation is still the clear front-runner and must be considered for its screenplay.

 

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

1 – The Descendants by Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
This has been a duel between the top two contenders splitting the screenplay precursors. I’ll give the edge to The Descendants as it also has the best shot at Best Picture.

2 – Moneyball by Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian
This has taken home the most precursors in this category and Sorkin is suddenly an Oscar darling after never getting nominated before last year. The only reason it’s not on top is because the film itself has barely been mentioned this Oscar season.

3 – The Help by Tate Taylor
It’s hard to say who else is a big contender with the top two films taking nearly all of the awards. Having said that, The Help looks very strong due to the love for the film as a whole and its handling of the book.

4 – Hugo by John Logan
The buzz for the film is overwhelming and Scorsese has a tendency to carry his screenwriters along with him to the Kodak. It probably needs a WGA nomination, but it’s in a good position right now.

5 – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan
With this film missing on the Best Picture buzz and Gary Oldman looking like he’s going to miss, this remains its only real shot at a nomination. Proponents of this film will vote this one big here, I don’t know if that will be quite enough to carry it to the nomination though.

6 – War Horse by Richard Curtis and Lee Hall
Buzz is building slowly on this one, and a strong box office showing could push it over the top. If it starts to get bigger, expect the screenplay from two veteran writers to make an impact.

7 – Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Eric Roth
As with everything related to this film, it’s very hard to discern how high voters are on the screenplay due to the slow burn of the campaign.

8 – Drive by James Sallis
I was unaware this movie had a screenplay, but despite that it’s been getting some love from the critics groups. With buzz for the film growing, it has a shot here too.

9 – The Ides of March by George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon
This screenplay picked up a Golden Globe nomination, but that’s probably just because the Golden Globes want to make absolutely sure George Clooney shows up. Still, it’s something most other contenders don’t have.

10 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow, Part 2 by Steve Kloves
I’m putting this here because it’s Potter‘s best shot at a major nomination this year, and it’s the last chance the Academy has to honor the franchise. They just might do it.

 

BEST DIRECTOR

1 (1) – Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist
He’s leading the category in precursors and has the Weinstein machine backing him up. All that makes him a lock in this category.

2 (2) – Martin Scorsese for Hugo
He might need a DGA nomination to become an out-and-out lock, but it’s impossible to ignore the love and buzz for this film. Clearly Scorsese is beloved by the Academy and industry, so anything he makes with this type of acclaim makes him a top contender.

3 (5) – Terence Malick for The Tree of Life
I held on even when buzz was down for this movie, and I’ve been rewarded with a slew of precursors for Malick. I told you he was going to get nominated, and now he’s looking like a lock.

4 (3) – Alexander Payne for The Descendants
Payne grabbed a Golden Globe and Broadcast Film Critics nomination to cement his status as a near-lock in this category. A DGA nomination will cinch it for him.

5 (8) – Nicolas Winding Refn for Drive
His batting average in terms of winning precursors rather than just getting nominate is enviable, but that’s partly because he doesn’t quite have the totals of those above him. Still, he’s rightly being recognized for his stylish accomplishment. I can’t help but foresee his being snubbed by the DGA though.

6 (7) – Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris
Woody is always a good bet for a screenplay nomination, but he’s been having a lot of trouble getting director nominations the last couple decades. This is his best-received movie in that time; however, and that means he’s got his best shot in quite some time.

7 (6) – Steven Spielberg for War Horse
Spielberg has been pretty under-the-radar for this movie so far, with only a Broadcast Film Critics nomination to his credit. That’s a big one, but it’s not much by itself. He’ll need a DGA nomination to really be a threat.

8 (4) – Stephen Daldry for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Daldry was absent before he picked up a Broadcast Film Critics nomination. The campaign for this movie is confusing and looks like it will ruin Daldry’s perfect mark as a Director getting Oscar nominations.

9 (10) – David Fincher for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Only the St. Louis Film Critics have honored Fincher so far, but this seems like the buzz is just starting to build for this movie and he could become a threat as the race moves on.

10 (NR) – Tate Taylor for The Help
There hasn’t been much recognition for Taylor, but the film is so hot, that he has to be considered at least a darkhorse.

Dropping Out: Bennett Miller for Moneyball (9)

 

BEST PICTURE

1 (1) – The Artist
Leave it to the Weinsteins to turn a silent film into the most surefire Oscar nominee for Best Picture this year. The buzz continues to grow and the precursors are coming in droves.

2 (2) – The Descendants
While this film seems a bit under the radar, it’s actually leading in precursor count in this category. It also picked up a SAG ensemble nomination despite its small and relatively inexperienced cast. It’s clearly an industry favorite.

3 (4) – Hugo
All the way from my dismissing it outright as a children’s movie with no chance up to third in the power rankings. It notched a Golden Globe nod to go with its slew of precursors and outstanding reviews. It’s not a lock until the Guilds come out, but it’s very close.

4 (3) – War Horse
War Horse has been predictably barely registering with the smaller critics groups, but the Globes and larger critics awards have all lauded the film. With Spielberg’s stature in the industry, it’ll likely be a force at the Guilds and that will propel it to an Oscar nomination.

5 (9) – The Help
The Help has hit almost all the major groups, most notably with a SAG ensemble nomination. It’s ready to pick up three acting nominations, and with actors as the biggest voting bloc, it’s likely one of the favorites of the masses. It may miss the Producers and Directors Guilds, but with more than five nominations probably coming out at The Oscars, it’s a very good bet.

6 (10) – The Tree of Life
This is third on the precursor tally behind the top two films on this list as it’s just about owned the critics awards in the early part of the season. Expect Malick’s stature to propel it to a DGA and probably PGA nod as well. Those two will just about cinch its nomination.

7 (7) – Midnight in Paris
Here’s where it gets a bit muddy. I think the top six are pretty solid bets for nominations, but Paris is a little less surefire. Its SAG ensemble nod is a big jewel in its crown, but it still has to overcome being a comedy and Allen’s recent track record in this category. I think it’s in, but it’s on the borderline.

8 (9) – Drive
The buzz has been really building for this movie as the last batch of Critics groups have included it almost unanimously. The problem is that it got completely shut out by SAG, and with the actors as the largest voting group, that’s definitely worth noting. It’s certainly on the outside looking in right now.

9 (6) – Moneyball
While Pitt and the screenplay are looking like locks, the movie has been pretty distant in the precursors so far. The fact that its director Bennett Miller basically got bupkus at the precursors thus far, speaks very negatively for this film’s picture chances. It’s turning into a major longshot.

10 (4) – Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
As mentioned previously, the campaign for this film is very slow getting out of the gate. With re-shoots and other things causing screeners to get out even after the SAG deadline, not a lot of people have seen it yet, so it’s hard to determine where it stands. Normally, films like this don’t quite work out, so I have it as a long shot.

11 (13) – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
It looks like the reviews for this will fall into the “good, but not great” category and it hasn’t gotten any precursor momentum. A lot of that is due to the late release date, but when a movie with big stars and a foreign setting misses the Globes (where it was screened in time), that’s very telling.

12 (NR) – Bridesmaids
This is really just a comedy, but so was The Hangover and that got very close to a nomination a couple years back. Its SAG ensemble nomination makes it worth mentioning.

13 (11) – Shame
I’m keeping this one around due to the buzz surrounding Fassbender. There’s not much else to speak of with it, but it at least has a glimmer of hope.

14 (8) – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy
I’m keeping this one on the board because it’s very likely to pick up a lot of BAFTA nominations, which will boost its profile toward the end of Oscar season. In America, though, it’s pretty much gone and forgotten.

Dropping Out: The Iron Lady (12)