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This week there's so, so much going on that has absolutely nothing to do with the Oscar race, and it seems almost crazy to bring it up. There's the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, of course, which I'm witnessing in my own small way here in Brooklyn (though with power and running water and no damage to my friends or home, I'm exceptionally lucky). And there's the final days of the Presidential race, which will have me writing next week's column on pins and needles after I go vote at my local precinct-- and probably writing then about how it feels weird to be talking at all about the Oscars.

But there are a few things to talk about this week, starting with a brief post-mortem on Cloud Atlas, which opened last weekend and quickly got labeled with "flop" status, making just $9.6 million. That's not nearly enough to stave off the mixed reviews, and with the exception of a possible Best Makeup nod or visual effects, that's an Oscar campaign that is officially over-- though few people, even fans of the movie like me, thought it was much of a contender to begin with.

On the other hand Argo only bolstered its status over the weekend, taking the #1 spot for the first time in its run with $12 million, and steadily building up as a modest hit for grown-ups. The anecdotal evidence of my parents going to see it over the weekend suggests that word of mouth is keeping it not just alive but strong, and right now there's no stronger Best Picture hopeful out there.

Coming this week we've got two films whose names might be mentioned on Oscar night. The big one is Flight, which is a strong Best Actor candidate thanks to Denzel Washington's lead performance, and could also slip into the Best Picture race if it opens strong-- we'll talk more about that next week.. Washington showed up in a poncho on last night's hurricane-altered Letterman show, which could only help his cause. It also occurs to me this week that Kelly Reilly ought to be campaigned for Best Supporting Actress, an incredibly weak category where it wouldn't be difficult to slip in a new name. Reilly's storyline isn't the strongest thing about Flight, but she gives a solid performance and deserves at least a campaign from Paramount. Also opening this week is Wreck-It Ralph, a new animated comedy from Disney that, in a bizarre turn of events, seems to be a much likelier candidate for Best Animated Feature than the year's Pixar film, Brave. Who ever though they'd see that happen?

And now, on to the charts!

oscar winner prediction
BEST PICTURE

I figured I wouldn't declare any Mortal Locks until November began, but it's October 30, so close enough. And truly, Argo is as strong a contender as you can imagine, with rave reviews and steadily building box office creed. It may get knocked down in stature by some of the contenders yet to come, but its nomination in this category is pretty much assured.

MORTAL LOCK

Argo
LIKELY CONTENDER

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
STILL IN THE RUNNING

Amour
Anna Karenina
Django Unchained
Flight
Hitchcock
The Impossible
Les Miserables
Moonrise Kingdom
Promised Land
Skyfall
Zero Dark Thirty
OUTSIDE CHANCE

Arbitrage
The Avengers
Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Cloud Atlas
End of Watch
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Killing Them Softly
The Master
Not Fade Away
Quartet
Rust and Bone
The Sessions
This Is 40
oscar winner prediction
BEST DIRECTOR

No changes here, but I'm really starting to wonder about Paul Thomas Anderson. The Master has all but disappeared from awards season conversation beyond chatter about Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, but the fact that the Weinstein Company is backing this movie keeps me from counting it out-- even though I have an increasingly hard time imagining Anderson making it into that top 5. I'll keep everyone steady for now, and yes, holding my horses on Affleck, who's incredibly strong but still in a tough category. Argo has a large category and definitely room to get nominated; Affleck has to beat out a lot of more experienced directors for a room in this group of 5.

MORTAL LOCK

NONE
LIKELY CONTENDER

Ben Affleck, Argo
Michael Haneke, Amour
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
STILL IN THE RUNNING

Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Tom Hooper, Les Miserables
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
Gus van Sant, Promised Land
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
OUTSIDE CHANCE

Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom
Jacques Audiard, Rust and Bone
Juan Antonio Bayona, The Impossible
Sacha Gervasi, Hitchcock
Peter Jackson, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Sam Mendes, Skyfall
Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, Cloud Atlas
Joe Wright, Anna Karenina
Robert Zemeckis, Flight
oscar winner prediction
BEST ACTOR
It's so hard to declare anything a mortal lock before the movie opens, because you never know-- it could bomb, there could be some terrible tragedy that overshadows its release, and everyone just wants to talk about something else. But Daniel Day-Lewis's nomination for Lincoln has an air of inevitability to it, and that's only increased with Time magazine covers and other hoopla. So he's my first Mortal Lock in this category, as we wait for Flight and Silver Linings Playbook to open and for the rest of the field to get a little clearer. I've also cleaned up a bit with the Outside Chance section-- Affleck will be much stronger in the best Director category for Argo, while Tommy Lee Jones is such a runaway success for Lincoln that a Hope Springs nomination would just be a distraction.

MORTAL LOCK

Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
LIKELY CONTENDER

Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
John Hawkes, The Sessions
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master Denzel Washington, Flight
STILL IN THE RUNNING

Matt Damon, Promised Land
Anthony Hopkins, Hitchcock
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Jean-Louis Trintignant, Amour
OUTSIDE CHANCE

Jack Black, Bernie
Jamie Foxx, Django Unchained
Richard Gere, Arbitrage
Jake Gyllenhaal, End of Watch
Tom Holland, The Impossible
Bill Murray, Hyde Park on Hudson
Liam Neeson, The Grey
Brad Pitt, Killing Them Softly
Suraj Sharma, Life of Pi
oscar winner prediction
BEST ACTRESS
Only change here is to bump up Helen Mirren to "Still in the Running" for Hitchcock. I really don't know what to expect from that movie, but she's up front and center in the newly released poster, so she's at least angling for the consideration.

MORTAL LOCK

NONE
LIKELY CONTENDER

Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
STILL IN THE RUNNING

Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Judi Dench, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Keira Knightley, Anna Karenina
Helen Mirren, Hitchcock
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
OUTSIDE CHANCE

Halle Berry, Cloud Atlas
Melanie Lynskey, Hello I Must Be Going
Meryl Streep, Hope Springs
Barbra Streisand, The Guilt Trip
Rachel Weisz, The Deep Blue Sea
Michelle Williams, Take This Waltz
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Smashed
oscar winner prediction
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
I've removed all the Cloud Atlas actors from the bottom category-- better luck next year, you men of many talents. I'm now keeping an eye on next week, when Skyfall opens in the United States and we might be able to start talking seriously about Javier Bardem's chances for his villainous role. I am going to keep beating this drum until you guys believe me!

MORTAL LOCK

NONE
LIKELY CONTENDER

Alan Arkin, Argo
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
STILL IN THE RUNNING

Javier Bardem, Skyfall
Russell Crowe, Les Miserables
Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained
Jude Law, Anna Karenina
Ewan McGregor, The Impossible
Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being A Wallflower
Michael Pena, End of Watch
David Strathairn, Lincoln
OUTSIDE CHANCE

Bryan Cranston, Argo
Garrett Hedlund, On the Road
Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild
John Krasinski, Promised Land
William H. Macy, The Sessions
Eddie Redmayne, Les Miserables
oscar winner prediction
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Kelly Reilly has been added, as mentioned above, though I think we need to wait on Flight's box office performance to assume she'll truly break out of the pack.

MORTAL LOCK

NONE
LIKELY CONTENDER

Amy Adams, The Master
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
STILL IN THE RUNNING

Samantha Barks, Les Miserables
Judi Dench, Skyfall
Kelly Reilly, Flight
Amanda Seyfried, Les Miserables
Maggie Smith, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Kerry Washington, Django Unchained
OUTSIDE CHANCE

Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Pauline Collins, Quartet
Salma Hayek, Savages
Frances McDormand, Promised Land
Jacki Weaver, SIlver Linings Playbook

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