One Of These 21 Women Will Probably Win Best Actress At The 2016 Oscars

It's Cate Blanchett vs. Cate Blanchett and a host of other ladies.
Universal/TWC/Fox/Sony Classics

Welcome to For Your Consideration, The Huffington Post's breakdown of all things Oscar. Between now and Feb. 28, 2016, entertainment editors Matthew Jacobs and Joe Satran will pore over awards season and discuss which films will make the most noise at the 88th annual Academy Awards.

It is time, once again, to turn our eyes to the Oscar race. By most accounts, the derby began around Labor Day with the fall-festival triumvirate (Venice, Telluride and Toronto), but now that the holidays are upon us, studios' multimillion-dollar campaigns begin in earnest.

Which Best Actress contender can charm the Academy's massive acting branch the most? As things currently stand, it seems the category has four front-runners (Cate Blanchett, Brie Larson, Jennifer Lawrence and Saoirse Ronan) and one wild-card spot that could go to any number of worthy ladies. But this is the Oscars we're talking about. A lot could change over the next few months, especially as the Golden Globes and other precursor prizes influence the race. Here are 21 women whose names will be plastered across awards season, ranked in ascending order of likelihood.

Helen Mirren, "Woman in Gold"
The Weinstein Company
We would write this movie off without a second thought, but Harvey Weinstein was determined to make Helen Mirren an Oscar candidate after "Woman in Gold" did decent box-office business in June. Never underestimate Weinstein's ability to give an underdog stamina. He took out ads touting Mirren's recent Tony win and calling her performance in the historical drama "Oscar caliber." It will take a huge push to propel "Woman" to actual gold, but it helps that Mirren, 70, is a four-time nominee who last won in 2007 for "The Queen." -Matthew Jacobs
Amy Schumer, "Trainwreck"
Universal Pictures
Remember when nobody knew who Amy Schumer was? Neither do we. She was everywhere this year. Google lists 28 million results for the query "year of amy schumer 2015." And "Trainwreck" was the centerpiece of her media dominance. Everyone knows that Academy voters generally shy away from comedy. But "Trainwreck" ended up being a far more serious movie than the trailers suggested. It was anchored by a surprisingly earnest -- and affecting -- emotional story about fictional Amy's relationship to her father, giving Schumer a chance to demonstrate real range as an actress. Schumer probably has a better shot in the Golden Globes' comedy/musical actress category (and even possibly in the Best Original Screenplay category) than in the Best Actress Oscar race. But nominating her could be a great way for Oscar voters to show that they care about mainstream pop culture. -Joe Satran
Sandra Bullock, "Our Brand Is Crisis"
Warner Bros.
The first question Barbara Walters asked when she was interviewing Sandra Bullock for her 2010 Oscar special was whether Bullock would start pronouncing her first name "Sawn-druh" rather than "Sahn-drah" if she won Best Actress. Bullock's response was perfect. "People have been trying to make it 'Sawn-druh' for quite some time, but I don't think I have the class or the personality to support a 'Sawn-druh,'" she said. That's still true, thankfully. Even though Bullock did win that year -- for "The Blind Side" -- and then was nominated a second time, for her even more compelling performance in "Gravity," she remains one of Hollywood's least pretentious, most genuine, stars. OK, so the terribly titled "Our Brand Is Crisis" wasn't all that great and bombed in its opening weekend. But Bullock was as charming as ever in it. And that may just be enough. -JS
Julia Roberts, "The Secret in Their Eyes"
STX Entertainment
“The Secret in Their Eyes” doesn’t feel like a fall title, nor does it seem like typical Oscar fare. But it does have one huge thing going for it beyond a flashy November release: the coveted trifecta of Oscar nominees Nicole Kidman, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Julia Roberts, who appears onscreen less and less these days. In the thriller -- previously made as an Argentinian movie that won the 2010 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film -- Roberts plays an FBI investigator probing the brutal death of her daughter. Her wig in the movie may be Razzie-worthy, but never discount Roberts when it comes to Oscar talk. Her most recent nod -- the fourth of her career -- came in 2014 for “August: Osage County.” -MJ
Julianne Moore, "Freeheld"
On paper, Moore has a lot going for her. She's been nominated for five Oscars, so the Academy clearly loves her. The subject matter of "Freeheld" -- a court case involving a committed lesbian couple -- is very zeitgeisty. And her role, a terminally ill police officer, checks off some important Oscar boxes. But Moore won Best Actress last year for "Still Alice." The last person to win Best Actress for two consecutive years was Katharine Hepburn, for "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" in 1967 and "The Lion In Winter" in 1968. And "Freeheld" is no "The Lion In Winter": It's gotten mediocre reviews and made almost no money at the box office. So while we'd never begrudge the divine Julianne Moore an award, it may not be in the cards this year. -JS
Bel Powley, "The Diary of a Teenage Girl"
Sony Pictures Classics
If you haven’t witnessed Bel Powley’s assured turn as a 15-year-old cartoonist experiencing her sexual awakening in 1970s San Francisco, you are missing out on one of the year’s great movie surprises. “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” based on the 2002 graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, just got a bump from the Gotham Awards, where Marielle Heller’s directorial debut collected an impressive five nominations, including one for Powley. “Diary” hasn’t been able to recoup its $2 million budget at the box office since its August release, and Powley’s name will prompt mostly “who?” shrugs from Oscar voters, but she does have the benefit of Sundance raves and the support of awards-friendly distributor Sony Pictures Classics. -MJ
Meryl Streep, "Ricki and the Flash"
TriStar Pictures
After a record-breaking 19 nominations, Meryl Streep merely breathing onscreen merits Oscar talk. No way is she a proper contender this year, especially since a “Ricki and the Flash” producer told Variety that it's probably not the “kind of movie” that would earn an awards bout. Count Streep in for the Golden Globes, though, where she has managed nominations for such blithe comedies as “Hope Springs,” “It’s Complicated” and “Mamma Mia!” Even if Diablo Cody’s script succumbs to a series of clichés, Streep is a delight in this movie as a cover-band singer who abandoned her family in search of a rock career than never panned out. - MJ
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, "Tangerine"
Magnolia Pictures
This is a historic occasion: the first Oscar campaign for transgender actresses. Magnolia Pictures launched efforts last month to score nominations for Kitana Kiki Rodriguez (lead) and Mya Taylor (supporting), who starred as sex workers in the heartfelt "Tangerine." Sean Baker's acclaimed dramedy, shot on iPhones for a microscopic budget, doesn't have the money to stage a splashy "for your consideration" crusade, but the studio has hosted Academy Q&As and plans to distribute screeners to voters. Even more so than Powley, the obstacle will be getting the acting branch to remember Rodriguez's name, as "Tangerine" is her first movie. If there's ever been a time for a grassroots campaign among fans and critics, this is it. -MJ
Angelina Jolie, "By the Sea"
Universal Pictures
Angelina Jolie’s Wold War II epic “Unbroken” didn’t hit the festival circuit last year, and it was shut out of every major Oscar and Golden Globe category. Jolie won’t make the same mistake with “By the Sea,” which will premiere this week at the AFI Fest. She wrote, directed and stars with hubby Brad Pitt in the 1970s-set drama, which follows a couple who escape to a seaside getaway in hopes of salvaging their marriage. The trailer has an art-house ambiance that may or may not register with the Academy, but it looks like Jolie and Pitt have enough rage-filled scenes to spark attention. We’ll find out for sure after the first reviews come in this weekend. -MJ
Blythe Danner, "I'll See You in My Dreams"
Bleecker Street
“I’ll See You in My Dreams” was the first screener that hit Academy voters’ mailboxes, furthering the Oscar buzz that began at Sundance in January. Blythe Danner was cemented as a candidate when she was saluted at a West Hollywood campaign luncheon two days before the Gotham Awards included her among their six Best Actress nominees. Danner’s performance as a widow who embarks on a positive new chapter in her life has been called “radiant,” “jaw-droppingly great” and “quietly resplendent.” This would be her frist Oscar recognition, though she boasts two Emmy trophies for Showtime's "Huff." -MJ
Emily Blunt, "Sicario"
Emily Blunt has a penchant for being the best thing about every movie she's in: She was brilliant, and more than a little scary, in "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Edge of Tomorrow." The Academy hasn't recognized the British actress' down-to-earth strength with a nomination yet. (Although the Hollywood Foreign Press loves her: She's been nominated for five Golden Globe awards, and won one.) You could argue that Blunt's main obstacle has been the slightly lowbrow reputation of most of her movies -- and if that's the case, "Sicario," directed by Denis Villeneuve, might help her chances a bit. It's probably her most serious movie so far, even if it doesn't scream Oscar bait. She's terrific as an FBI agent pursuing murderous drug dealers in Mexico. -JS
Charlize Theron, "Mad Max: Fury Road"
20th Century Fox
Imperator Furiosa is an icon. No other character on this list has inspired a tenth as many GIFs or Halloween costumes. To be sure, part of the appeal is purely visual. So part of the credit goes to the brilliant costume design and makeup of "Mad Max: Fury Road." But it was Theron's deep commitment and fierceness that made this one of the most memorable roles of the year; the decade, even. There are at least two big barriers between Theron and a gold statue: the Academy's general aversion to genre films and her 2003 win for "Monster." But Theron is still probably the best shot "Fury Road" has for breaking out of the technical categories. - JS
Maggie Smith, "The Lady in the Van"
Sony Pictures Classics
There’s probably only one spot available for an actress older than 60, and it appears that Charlotte Rampling and Lily Tomlin have an edge on their competition. But when the new trailer for “The Lady in the Van” premiered last week, many headlines focused on Maggie Smith’s Oscar buzz. That murmur technically dates all the way back to 2000, when Smith earned an Olivier Award nomination for originating the role on the London stage. Smith is already a two-time Oscar winner, and her unlikely turn as a cantankerous homeless woman has been called "glorious” and a "tour de force.” -MJ
Cate Blanchett, "Truth"
Sony Pictures Classics
"Truth" is in the unfortunate position of being Cate Blanchett's second most acclaimed movie of 2015. You could certainly argue that Blanchett's performances in "Truth" and "Carol" are two of the five best of the year, but Oscar rules don't allow a performer to be nominated twice in one category in the same year. Blanchett is such a terrific actress that she's actually found herself in this position before: She was a contender for both "I'm Not There" and "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" in 2007. In that case, she was nominated for Oscars both roles -- but as lead actress in "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" and supporting actress in "I'm Not There." The Weinstein Company is campaigning for Blanchett as lead for her titular role in the lesbian love story "Carol." And it rarely pays to bet against Harvey Weinstein. Theoretically, Blanchett could go for Supporting Actress for her role as Dan Rather's producer Mary Mapes in "Truth." But she's the first-billed actor in the movie, and utterly central to the plot, so it would be a tough sell, especially as "Truth" isn't really popping with audiences or reviewers. -JS
Carey Mulligan, "Suffragette"
Focus Features
Carey Mulligan may have more heat in this contest than we'd imagined. Several GoldDerby prognosticators have given her a spot in their predictions, and understandably so: Mulligan has led the charge as the standout in an otherwise bland portrait of the early British feminist movement. The movie's themes could reverberate with voters who see modern parallels amid today's fight for gender equality. But "Suffragette" has seen a sluggish rollout since opening in limited release on Oct. 23, and whether it will gain momentum as it expands wider this weekend opposite "Spectre" and "The Peanuts Movie" is questionable. At least Mulligan can say she won some hardware from this past weekend's mostly meaningless Hollywood Film Awards. -MJ
Lily Tomlin, "Grandma"
Sony Pictures Classics
Lily Tomlin’s last Oscar nomination was way back in 1976, when she lost Best Supporting Actress for her turn in “Nashville.” Now she’s battling for the wild-card fifth slot for playing a weed-smoking lesbian poet who helps her teenage granddaughter secure an abortion in “Grandma.” A brisk 79 minutes, this isn’t a movie that screams Academy Award chatter. But Tomlin’s performance is crusty and lived-in enough to make her one of the year’s most memorable. Sony Pictures Classics has already sent screeners to Oscar voters, and the 76-year-old actress, who earned an Emmy nomination in July for “Grace and Frankie,” is likely to get a boost from the Golden Globes, where thin competition means her potential Best Actress – Comedy or Music nod is a near-guarantee. Plus, there's no reason to believe the industry doesnt flat-out adore Tomlin. -MJ
Charlotte Rampling, "45 Years"
Artificial Eye
Despite five decades in the business, Charlotte Rampling is the front-runner with the least star power. The 69-year-old British actress has accrued four nominations from the Cesar Awards, France’s equivalent of the Oscars, but her splashiest American credits are small roles in indies like “Melancholia” and “Never Let Me Go.” Rampling’s Oscar buzz dates back to February, where her “45 Years” performance won the Berlin Film Festival’s actress prize. Critics’ voracious praise offers Rampling a further boost, but the real question is whether U.S. distributor Sundance Selects can make Rampling a name star among Academy voters. - MJ
Saoirse Ronan, "Brooklyn"
Fox Searchlight
“Brooklyn” is this year’s little Sundance movie that could. Based on Colm Tóibín’s celebrated novel, the movie became the festival’s heftiest acquisition in January when Fox Searchlight paid $9 million for distribution rights. That’s good news for Ronan, as Fox’s indie arm has mounted campaigns for the previous two Best Picture winners, “Birdman” and “12 Years a Slave.” The studio shouldn’t have a hard time scoring this nomination, either. Ronan nabbed a Best Supporting Actress salute for “Atonement” in 2008, and “Brooklyn” -- the story of an Irish emigrant who leaves home for a better life in America -- is the sort of soul-searching poetry that easily resonates with audiences. -MJ
Jennifer Lawrence, "Joy"
20th Century Fox
Does Jennifer Lawrence need another Oscar? Of course not. She was 22 when she won her first, for "Silver Linings Playbook," not to mention the star of two blockbuster franchises. But would her lead performance in David O. Russell's "Joy" be a shoo-in for an Oscar if she hadn't already won? Probably. Her turn as Joy Mangano, the single mother of three who invented the Miracle Mop, is at once a throwback to the types of strong female roles that Bette Davis pioneered in the '40s and a furtherance of the slightly unhinged, electric style of acting that has already become Lawrence's trademark. Plus, Lawrence's essay on pay disparities in Hollywood renewed everyone's affection for her just as it was starting to look like she was getting overexposed. Count on a nomination, if not a win. - JS
Cate Blanchett, "Carol"
The Weinstein Company
Blanchett is two for six, which is a pretty phenomenal Oscar record to achieve in the 16 years since her first nomination. Her last win, for “Blue Jasmine,” was a mere two years ago. Does that mean the Academy might resist awarding the 46-year-old Aussie again? When it comes to “Carol,” maybe not. Blanchett looks like a character in an Edward Hopper painting, and her performance is the classiest thing you’ll see onscreen this year. She and Rooney Mara, playing a retail clerk who falls for Blanchett’s married title character in 1950s New York, are essentially co-leads in Todd Haynes’ film, but The Weinstein Company -- the Oscar kingfish distributing the film -- plans to tout Mara as a supporting contender. That leaves room for Blanchett to shine in the Best Actress derby, unless voters are split on whether to reward her for “Carol” or “Truth,” as Academy rules stipulate that a performer can only receive one slot per category. Blanchett is splendid in both movies, but the odds lie with “Carol,” a far superior film destined to parlay its rapturous Cannes reception to critics’ year-end lists. -MJ
Brie Larson, "Room"
Hollywood insiders have been obsessed with 26-year-old Brie Larson at least since her star turn as the head of a group home for troubled teenagers in 2013's "Short Term 12." "Room" showed the rest of us why. Larson's performance as a young mother imprisoned with her son in a windowless garden shed is exactly the type of virtuoso performance that the Best Actress Oscar was made for. Larson is moving, raw and powerful -- despite the fact that for much of the movie, her only scene partner is an 8-year-old boy. Larson also benefits from being one of the few true newcomers in contention. She's the odds-on favorite to win, with good reason. -JS

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