- Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)Last year's revelation, Jessica Chastain seems to have the edge because unlike Lawrence, she delivers a dramatic performance and unlike Watts, her film is a very strong BP/BD contender.
- Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)Still, Lawrence is in the crowdpleaser of the season, coming off a fantastic year that garnered her critical acclaim AND superstardom. She is definitely the It-girl of the year, question is, will she be the It-girl of the (Awards) Season, too ?
- Naomi Watts (The Impossible)I've been saying this for months : she could WIN. She is widely considered as one of the best Oscar-less actresses, she plays a very Academy-friendly role in a family drama that has sleeper hit writen all over it. Hopefully she will have no trouble securing the nomination, and if the film becomes a Box Office hit by the time they start voting for the winners, I'm telling you, she WILL have a shot at this...especially if the Academy likes/loves her film enough to nominate it in other categories, too...after all, we all know it only needs a small, passionate fanbase to land a BP-nod (5% No1).
- Marion Cotillard (Rust & Bone)Precursors and precedent definitely favor her and it's very likely she will get her second Best Actress nomination for this film BUT I think there is a chance she will split votes with fellow French actress, Emmanuelle Riva. It's unlikely the Academy would nominate both of them – they rarely (=never?) nominate two foreign language performances in the same category in the same year, let alone in the same language - , so while I am fully aware the most likely scenario is 'CotillardIN/RivaOUT', I could see Riva replace her OR both of them losing the nomination after cancelling each other out. Rust & Bone is divisive and doesn't have the kind of unanimous critical acclaim Amour does, so I think as unlikely as it seems, Cotillard might get the 'We need to talk about Kevin' treatment in the end.
- Helen Mirren (Hitchcock)Like Cotillard, Mirren also has the kind of precursors that usually result an Oscar nomination, having said that, I don't think she has the kind of passionate fanbase this year that several underestimated contenders in the Best Actress race do. Also, the usually reliable British-vote could be all over the place this time, she will probably lose a good chunk of it to fellow British contenders, Naomi Watts, Rachel Weisz, Maggie Smith and Keira Knightley.
- Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)
- Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)Like, Riva she also has very vocal supporters, and I don't even think the SAG/Golden Globe snubs are the dealbreaker here, after all she was ineligible for SAG and the HFPA rarely (=never ?) nominates Oscar-worthy child performances. What MIGHT be the dealbreaker is a combination of remarkably damaging factors that will be close to impossible for the film to overcome : lack of star power, early release date, mixed Academy screening. Unfortunately I don't think the film will receive any nominations.
- Rachel Weisz (The Deep Blue Sea)She jumped out of nowhere on the first official day of the Awards Season, when she won the prestigious Best Actress Award of the New York Film Critics Circle and even though it's always important to emphasize critics don't vote for the Oscars, if there is one group that MIGHT influence the ones who do, that's the NYFCC. Then she received a semi-unexpected Golden Globe nomination and now she could actually have the kind of perception that – thanks to the early Academy deadline - could land her an Oscar nomination.
- Maggie Smith (Quartet)Let's see : she is an acting legend directed by another acting legend, playing a likable character in a well-received crowdpleaser distributed by Harvey Weinstein. Not bad for a No9. The comedy Golden Globe nod was a given, IF she also receives a Bafta nomination on January 9, then we might consider the possibility that with the help of the overlapping Oscar/Bafta voters (a.k.a. 'the British-vote'), she might just pull off a surprise the next day (January 10 – Oscar nominations).
- Keira Knightley (Anna Karenina)Unfortunately after the SAG/GG/BFCA snubs all in one week, she is now officially considered a long shot. There are two things that convinced me NOT to write her down completely just yet : 1. the Academy surprised with the two previous Wright/Knightley films (important nominations without the crucial guild-love) 2. the last time she played an iconic lead role, the Academy recognized her work even without serious precursor-love (no SAG or even BAFTA nod for Pride & Prejudice). Anna Karenina most certainly feels like a role of a lifetime, and I firmly believe she should be in the top5, not only because she gave a wonderful and memorable performance, but also because she has been doing great work since the first time she made the cut AND proved herself once again this year by excelling one of the most iconic, complex and difficult female roles ever written. As much respect as I have for her competition, I don’t think there is a Best Actress contender this year with a more challenging role than Anna. In my humble opinion, she doesn’t only deserve the nomination, for this performance she deserves to WIN !
- Sally Field (Lincoln)I know. Her screentime is VERY limited. I know. She is campaigned VERY succesfully in supporting. So for the record, I am fully aware there is like a 1% chance the Academy will mess with her category placement BUT if they go all-in for Lincoln – which is very likely – I could see them upgrade Sally Field to lead. They awarded her twice in that category and a case could be made that even if she isn't THE lead, she is definitely the FEMALE lead and if there is a supporting actress contender this year whose role is prestigious enough for an upgrade, well then, that's Mary Todd Lincoln.
- Helen Hunt (The Sessions)There was category confusion for a reason : in my opinion, Helen Hunt is just as much (or more) a female lead of The Sessions, as Jennifer Lawrence is of Silver Linings Playbook, so I guess her category placement has more to do with Oscar-strategy and studio politics than reality. She delivers a truly outstanding performance, so frankly I just want her to get nominated, I don't care where and I hope the Academy won't reconsider her supporting campaign, because that could lead to the kind of last-minute category confusion that usually costs the contender in question the nomination.