With all due respect to ‘The Fifth Estate,’ the only real Oscar contender to open in theaters last weekend (in limited release) was Steve McQueen’s uncompromising, emotional '12 Years a Slave.’ Now that audiences are starting to gain access to this visceral commentary on American slavery, you can begin to understand why it is carving out a place on the top of several of our charts.

Over the past few weeks, though, more contenders have reached theaters, from ‘Captain Phillips’ to ‘Gravity’ and ‘All Is Lost.’ Have the charts changed? Are the shifts drastic? Let’s catch up on the latest frontrunners in our major Oscar categories.

  • 1

    Alfonso Cuaron, ‘Gravity’

    Last Week: 1

    Cuaron is a brilliant director, whose credits include the mesmerizing ‘Children of Men,’ the scintillating ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’ and the best ‘Harry Potter’ installment, ‘Prisoner of Azkaban.’ And yet, his three Oscar nominations have been for editing and screenplay (twice). This year, he seems poised to break into the Director category with ‘Gravity,’ a game-changing exercise in tension and execution that left jaws on the floor at Telluride, Venice and Toronto. ‘Gravity’ is a magic trick of a film, an unprecedented trip to outer space that will have audiences floating. If he doesn’t earn a nomination, the entire system is broken.

  • 2

    Steve McQueen, ’12 Years a Slave’

    Last Week: 2

    Masterful direction on the part of McQueen makes the harrowing, brutal ’12 Years a Slave’ a can’t-miss proposition … even though I’m in no rush to watch his drama again any time soon. It’s just a lot to handle, this story of a free man (Chiwetel Ejiofor) having his existence stripped by deceitful slave traders. But it’s impossible not to appreciate McQueen’s calculated decisions as he brings this true story to the screen. ‘Slave’ earned a healthy amount of awards heat in recent weeks, and I believe he is locked into a Best Director slot.

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  • 3

    Paul Greengrass, ‘Captain Phillips’

    Last Week: 3

    Greengrass’ true-life account of the heroic Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) and his fight to survive against Somali pirates opened this year’s New York Film Festival, and turned up the heat on the film’s Oscar campaign. Both Hanks and the movie, in general, received over-the-top raves … with several awards pundits saying the director could earn his second Director nomination. Seeing as how he was robbed for the blistering ‘United 93,’ a make-up win isn’t totally out of the question, either.

  • 4

    Martin Scorsese, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’

    Last Week: --

    Look who’s back in the game. Reports of Scorsese’s ‘Wolf’ being pushed back to 2014 were exaggerated, and the Wall Street scandal now claims it will make it to theaters in time for a Christmas Day release. Obviously, we’ll pass more accurate judgment on ‘Wolf’ once a finished cut is actually screened. But with Scorsese reteaming with Leonardo DiCaprio, I like the director’s chances of earning his seventh Best Director nom.

  • 5

    David O. Russell, 'American Hustle'

    Last Week: 5

    I’m starting to hear rumblings that this is going to be Russell’s year. He has been in contention lately with Oscar-winning dramas ‘The Fighter’ and ‘The Silver Linings Playbook.’ We don’t know a lot about ‘American Hustle,’ and it’s looking like it will be one of the last awards contenders to reveal itself … which just might work in its favor, seeing as we’ll have picked over ‘Gravity,’ ’12 Years’ and the Oscar frontrunners that come before it. Plus, if 'Hustle’ is as good as sources tell me it is, Russell will secure his fourth Oscar nomination.