Here's the latest installment of our new weekly feature documenting latest twists and turns on the derby track, published every Thursday.
BEST PICTURE — "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" suffered a shocking snub from the Gotham Awards when the indie film group issued its nominees. Does that mean it's hurt in the top Oscar races? No, according to the experts pooled by Gold Derby — read their reax here.
However, the Gotham Awards nominations did help to boost the Oscar hopes of its best-picture nominee "The Hurt Locker," which is getting a full-throttle academy campaign. The other top three Gotham nominees are not so Oscar lucky: "Amreeka," "Big Fan" and "The Maid."
BEST ACTRESS — Are Hilary Swank's new Oscar hopes may be crashing just like Amelia Earhart's plane? Early Oscar expectations soared high for the two-time nominee who's never lost ("Boys Don't Cry," "Million Dollar Baby"). Swank stars as a heroic figure in an epic biopic — usually that's a free ticket to Oscar heaven. And she managed to get some good early notices from the Hollywood Reporter and The Envelope's own Pete Hammond, but "Amelia" got scathing reviews from the Associated Press, Entertainment Weekly. Variety harrumphed, "To say that 'Amelia' never gets off the ground would be an understatement; it barely makes it out of the hangar." Still, many reviewers do still single out Swank's performance as a plus, like Roger Ebert, who calls it "sound" while she "uncannily embodies" the pioneering aviator. Is that enough to help her take off in the actress race if the film can't land in the best-pic category?
Meantime, the Oscar prospects of Helen Mirren are brightening in the best-actress derby. After viewing a recent screening of "The Last Station," Nathaniel Rogers of TheFilmExperience calls her shot at a nom "golden" as reward for her sensitive portrayal of the long-suffering wife of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. All Oscarologists know how much voters love to reward roles of long-suffering wives (Reese Witherspoon in "Walk the Line," Jennifer Connelly in "A Beautiful Mind," Marcia Gay Harden in "Pollock" plus gads more in both lead and supporting).
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR — Peter Sarsgaard's Oscar odds just increased now that he's officially decided to opt for the supporting race. That news was broken Wednesday by Scott Feinberg (And The Winner Is …). Sarsgaard could've easily gone lead. He's not only got the most screen time among male stars of "An Education" (competing with Alfred Molina as Carey Mulligan's grumpy, skinflint papa), but he's the target of Mulligan's romantic yearning. Thus he's the emotional heart of the film — or at least he's got a lock on Mulligan's character's heart. Sarsgaard's role is rather lightweight, though, because it's mostly reactive to Mulligan's fawning and goo-goo-ing. He twinkles a lot. You don't get nominated for best actor of the year for best twinkling, but anybody can a ride into the supporting race if the film's got major Oscar mojo — even if they're undeserving, like Mark Wahlberg in "The Departed."
Photos: Summit Entertainment, Fox Searchlight, Lionsgate