February 13, 2009 at 05:00 AM EST

EW asked three high-profile Academy members to tell us, anonymously, who’s getting their votes and why. If their answers are any indication, this year’s Oscar races are far from over.

An Actor
A journeyman who has run the gamut in his career from leading-man roles to character parts, micro-budgeted indies to massive studio blockbusters, this former Oscar nominee is true to unpredictable form in his picks, going against the grain in several major races.

Best Picture: Milk
”Harvey Milk was such a firebrand maverick, and the movie gives a great historic snapshot of a time that’s really a landmark, not just for the gay rights movement but for human rights. I wasn’t a big fan of Slumdog Millionaire. Thematically, I thought it was terrific: the backdrop of strife, the unrequited love between the dork and the babe. But it didn’t affect me the way Milk did.”

Best Director: David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
”It took me three nights to get through Benjamin Button on DVD. It’s kind of like homework. Still, it was beautifully crafted: the photography, the editing, the music. I’ve loved Fincher’s work for a long time. Zodiac, The Game, Fight Club, Seven — I just think he’s got an amazing, creative mind.”

Best Actor: Sean Penn, Milk
”It’s a tough category. Brad Pitt’s terrific in Button, but his performance only really starts to come through at the end of the movie. Mickey Rourke is amazing in The Wrestler. But I’m going to have to go with Sean Penn. He just manages to immerse himself so deeply in Harvey Milk.”

Best Supporting Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
”Heath Ledger is amazing in The Dark Knight, and the sentimental vote goes toward him, but I’m leaning toward Hoffman. Stem to stern, I just think Doubt is a great movie. Michael Shannon is terrific in Revolutionary Road, but he’s in, like, five scenes. Robert Downey Jr. was fantastic in Tropic Thunder, but the performance didn’t quite carry the weight that the others did.”

Best Actress: Kate Winslet, The Reader
”She had two amazing performances this past year; she was terrific in Revolutionary Road, too. It’s kind of a vote for both performances, quite frankly.”

Best Supporting Actress: Amy Adams, Doubt
”Viola Davis is great in Doubt, but I think Amy Adams gives a towering performance. She’s something else.”

A Director
Our versatile Oscar-winning filmmaker, whose credits include both acclaimed dramas and mainstream hits, is impressed with this year’s field of nominees. ”I think it’s really strong, especially in the acting categories,” he says. ”In general, I’m pretty happy with it.”

Best Picture: Milk
”It’s an important film that was beautifully made, and it really moved me. I loved Slumdog, but I guess if I have to choose one film, it’s something that makes a difference — and for me, that’s Milk.”

Best Director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
”Gus Van Sant also really deserves it for Milk. But just watching how Danny Boyle pulled off Slumdog — how he was able to capture those performances and make it all so beautiful and real — I couldn’t imagine doing anything close to that.”

Best Actor: Sean Penn, Milk
”He gives one of the most remarkable performances I’ve ever seen. So much so that I was having a conversation with some friends a couple of weeks after the film came out, and someone said, ‘I think Sean Penn is gay.’ I said, ‘Get the f— out of here!’ I mean, his performance is that good that people have to rethink who he is. He completely transformed himself — and that’s what you look for.”

Best Supporting Actor: Josh Brolin, Milk
”I think Josh absolutely deserves it. Heath Ledger certainly did a brilliant job in The Dark Knight. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robert Downey Jr., Michael Shannon — they were all brilliant. But I was really surprised by Josh’s performance in Milk. It’s a true supporting performance — he only has a few scenes. But I love being surprised.”

Best Actress: Melissa Leo, Frozen River
”It’s a strong category. Kate’s brilliant. Meryl — what can you say? I loved Angelina Jolie in Changeling. Anne was miraculous in Rachel Getting Married. Melissa’s obviously the underdog. But I loved her in Tommy Lee Jones’ film a few years ago, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, and her performance in Frozen River was so compelling and moving and honest, I think she really deserves it.”

Best Supporting Actress: Penélope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
”I think she has deserved it a couple of times now — even for films that haven’t been nominated. I watched Vicky Cristina again recently, and she just dove into that role. You look at her and you think you know who she is — or at least you know her public persona — and then you look at that character, and she completely transformed herself and was so vibrant.”

An Executive
Wondering where all the ‘Slumdog’ love is? This high-ranking studio executive has plenty of it. In a couple of key acting races, though, the decisions get a little more agonizing.

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire
”It’s original, it’s not cynical, I love the acting, the way it looks — I love everything about it. People are trying to pick on it now that it’s the front-runner, which I think is despicable. I really liked Doubt, but it didn’t get nominated. I liked Frost/Nixon a lot, and I loved Milk. But I think you should honor something that’s extraordinary and different and special — I want to vote for a movie like Slumdog.”

Best Director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
”He’s a fantastic filmmaker, and it’s been really interesting to watch his evolution. Gus Van Sant is my close second for Milk, but that isn’t bravura filmmaking. Benjamin Button is trying to be bravura filmmaking, but it’s not. I don’t think people like that movie much. You feel like you’re supposed to, but you don’t.”

Best Actor: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler; Sean Penn, Milk
”I kind of want Mickey Rourke to win, because I find his personal story so moving. He turned his chances up a notch with his speech at the Golden Globes. When he talked about his dogs, I wanted to cry. But Sean Penn was unbelievable in Milk. It’ll probably be a last-minute decision.”

Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
”He was a wonderful actor and this is the only chance to honor him. You almost feel like the other nominees should just not show up.”

Best Actress: A Real Toss-Up
”I didn’t like any of those nominees. Angelina Jolie was good in Changeling. I thought Meryl Streep was pretty good in Doubt but definitely not the best she’s ever been. Kate Winslet — her speech at the Golden Globes, when she said [to herself], ‘Gather,’ I just thought, ‘I don’t know if I can ever see her in a movie again.’ Anne Hathaway was great in Rachel Getting Married, but I wanted to take my skin off while watching that movie, so I can’t vote for her. I’m totally undecided.”

Best Supporting Actress: Penélope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
”I loved that movie. It just made me happy.”

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