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Oscar Buzz: Who's ahead in this year's key races?

December 1, 2008  |  1:00pm
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There's a surprisingly gargantuan Internet faction dedicated to predicting who will be up for film's most coveted prize, the Academy Award. Publications like Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Entertainment Weekly, Los Angeles Times and New York Times all have Oscar blogs that obsessively trail the fluctuations in buzz amongst the year's top films. That's not to mention stand-alone sites like Awards Daily and In Contention, or well-known bloggers like Jeff Wells, Dave Poland and Anne Thompson. Even Roger Ebert has devoted a wealth of recent ink on the subject. But, the truth is, no matter how much someone knows, it's still just a wild guessing game.

Here's a look at the films and performances that seem to be ahead in the eight major categories, at this vantage point. Take note: this is merely speculation about who will be nominated, not who will win. It's also just that: speculation.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

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1. Woody Allen, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
2. Dustin Lance Black, Milk
3. Jenny Lumet, Rachel Getting Married
4. Thomas McCarthy, The Visitor
5. Mike Leigh, Happy-Go-Lucky

Strong Contenders: Nick Schenk, Gran Torino; Robert D. Siegel, The Wrestler; Andrew Stanton, Wall-E
Longshots: Charlie Kaufman, Synecdoche, New York; Martin McDonagh, In Bruges; Joel and Ethan Coen, Burn After Reading

Allen has been nominated 14 times as a screenwriter. He's a shoo-in. Likewise, Milk, The Visitor and Rachel Getting Married are exactly the type of indie films typically embraced in this category. The fifth slot seems wide open. The Academy loves Leigh, so he gets the edge (see: Vera Drake, Secrets & Lies).

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

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1. Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
2. Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
3. John Patrick Shanley, Doubt
4. Justin Haythe, Revolutionary Road
5. David Hare, The Reader

Strong Contenders:
Peter Morgan, Frost/Nixon; Jonathan and Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight
Longshot: Clayton Frohman and Edward Zwick, Defiance

The lack of contenders assures this category will be stock full of films also in the running for best picture. Any combination of the eight picks above sound plausible, but word on Frost/Nixon is still soft and The Dark Knight doesn't seem to be particularly lauded for its writing. The Reader seems likely, even if the film doesn't score in any other major category.
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