It’s unclear if the “great settling” is truly in effect, but the holiday box office may have actually had a significant impact on this year’s best picture race.  Here’s a rundown of the major contenders still in release and how ticket sales have helped our hurt their cause.

Slumdog Millionaire

Latest: $5.8 million, $9,600 per screen
Total: $19.7 million
Lowdown: Biggest indie of the year is well on its way to becoming the serious favorite for Oscar gold.  The question is: who is its competition?  After this weekend that’s looking more and more like…

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Latest: $39 million, $13,052 per screen
Total: $39 million
Lowdown:  Brad Grey you can open your eyes now.  It’s a hit!  Paramount’s Fincher gamble paid off nicely (though let’s keep those media and marketing budgets as far away from investors eyes as possible).  With this sort of enthusiasm it’s hard to imagine “Button” getting shut out of the final five. More likely, it’s cementing itself as the true challenger to little “Slumdog’s” throne.

“Frost/Nixon”
Latest: $1.5 million, $7,179 per screen
Total: $3.7 million
Lowdown:  Don’t panic!  Don’t stress! Just tell yourself it’s this year’s “Letters from Iwo Jima” and your audience found you on screeners and at guild screenings. Yep, Oscar nominee morning can’t come quick enough for the peeps at Universal.
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“Doubt”
Latest: $7 million, $5,524 per screen
Total: $8.9 million
Lowdown:  Damn you Rudin and Cynthia Schwartz!  You fool us again! Middling reviews, but SAG and Golden Globe love, plus a movie that audiences are actually entertained by has lead to an excellent expansion and a growing possibility of being included in the big dance.

“Revolutionary Road”
Latest: $192,000, $64,000 per screen
Total: $192,000
Lowdown: So, here’s the plan: let big studio brother “Button” take most of the attention (and theaters) over the holidays, but give yourself an impressive per screen average to grow on and tout until ballots are due.  Risky and calculated, but it could work.  Maybe.

Gran Torino
Latest: $2.4 million, $29,048 per screen
Total: $4.3 million
Lowdown: Well, besides the fact that Variety continues to be overly enthusiastic about its box office (geez guys, I thought the Clint Cult meeting wasn’t until Wednesday?), Eastwood’s “win me a best actor Oscar” campaign continues.  How far it goes?  Nobody knows.

Milk
Latest: $1.8 million (weekend only), $5,833
Total: $13.6 million
Lowdown:  Ouch, was that a wall I ran into? Lots of ten best list love, but word is the love isn’t outside the big cities. Does that really affect the Academy? Probably not, but a bigger theatrical take would help.  Personally, this prognosticator isn’t convinced it’s in, but it’s still a safe bet for most.

The Reader

Latest: $617, 319, $5,787 per screen
Total: $1.3 million
Lowdown: Deader than Winslet’s character in the movie (whoops, spoiler!) and with it, her chances of winning best supporting actress, for the best performance of her career mind you, seem to be slipping away.  Plus, it’s actually playing at the Laemmle Sunset 5 on the Hollywood side of town instead of the “take me seriously” Arcwhite, I mean Arclight Cinemas.  At this point, only a SAG or Golden Globes miracle can save her now.

The two wildcards remaining are, of course,  “The Dark Knight” and “WALL-E.”  I’m on record saying “Knight” is in and Pixar’s latest “classic” isn’t.  Both have been fixtures on year-end top ten lists so while they are no longer playing in theaters, they are hardly out of mind.

Oh, and yes, "The Wrestler" did a fantastic $381,068 with a per screen of $21,700 for a new total of $900,601, but besides nods for Rourke, Tomei and Aronosfsky (probably just screenplay), it's not a real best picture player. And that's sad to say as a true fan.

Sigh, when does that PGA nods come out again?