The following conversation actually happened about three hours ago. I didn’t record it, but this is a fairly precise recollection. It was between myself and a Manhattan p.r. guy who knows everyone and everything and has been around the track dozens of times.

Graph stolen from latest Movieline race-assessment chart, which is primarily informed by handicapping commentary from Stu Van Airsdale.

Hollywood Elsewhere: I think the inevitability of Annette Bening thing is over. For now, at least. It could come back but right now all I feel — and I admit this is coming out of the recent Black Swan surge out of Los Angeles — is Natalie Portman, Natalie Portman, Natalie Portman.

N.Y.-Based Publicist: And look what they’re doing to Annette! They’re running Julianne Moore for Best Actress right alongside her, and they’re going to cause Annette to lose all over again.

Hollywood Elsewhere: But they’re not really running Julianne. I mean, they “are,” sort of, but not really.

N.Y.-Based Publicist: Of course they are! They’re running them side by side. Annette and Julianne.

Hollywood Elsewhere: Well, the thinking — and I understand this from a political sense — is that they don’t want to offend or alienate either party. Bening and Moore are equal costars, after all, with the same weight and pathos in that film, and so they’re running them as equals.

N.Y.-Based Publicist: Look, do they want to win the Oscar or not? If they don’t make it a pure Annette thing, you watch as Natalie Portman just gets stronger and stronger. And you can feel it out there. It’s happening right now.

Hollywood Elsewhere: I’m just worried about Lesley Manville. I realize it’s too late and they’ve made their decision to run her for Best Actress, but if she was running for Best Supporting Actress she’d wipe the floor.

N.Y.-Based Publicist: No, she wouldn’t.

Hollywood Elsewhere: Whaddaya mean?

N.Y.-Based Publicist: Helena Bonham Carter.

Hollywood Elsewhere: Oh, come on! She’s gonna coast in on the coattails of The King’s Speech, you mean?

N.Y.-Based Publicist: That and her history. Howard’s End, Fight Club, Sweeney Todd, A Room With A View, the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland.

Hollywood Elsewhere: I see. A career-tribute Oscar. Because…you know, she’s very dry and fine in The King’s Speech, but in and of itself her performance is nothing to do handstands over.

N.Y.-Based Publicist: Doesn’t matter.

Hollywood Elsewhere: It should. Because in a one-on-one between these two on the strength of performance alone, Lesley Manville would take it hands down.