These 17 Women Are Vying For Best Actress At The 2017 Oscars

Could Natalie Portman score her second trophy?

One way we know this sludge of a year isn’t over yet? The Oscar race is just now getting muddy.

Over the next few months, I’ll handicap the annual Hollywood derby, starting on a high note: the hectic Best Actress contest. So many of your favorites are on this list, ready to flaunt themselves for the voting body as studios churn multimillion-dollar “for your consideration” campaigns. These women are ranked according to their likelihood of being feted, which, of course, could shift drastically before nominations are announced Jan. 24.

Jennifer Lawrence, "Passengers"
I almost left this one off the list, but it is Jennifer Lawrence, a four-time nominee in the span of six years. Co-starring Chris Pratt and helmed by Best Director nominee Morten Tyldum, "Passengers" is a big-budget sci-fi romance sandwiched in the midst of a crowded awards season. The trailer prioritizes its movie-star power -- after all, Pratt and Lawrence are two of America's most well-liked celebrities. Reviews will have to be glowing to convince the Academy that "Passengers" is more than a product of the genre assembly line.
Rachel Weisz, "Denial"
Bleecker Street
Rachel Weisz's best work this year was in "The Lobster," though she was also quite good in "The Light Between Oceans" and "Complete Unknown." Instead, it's "Denial" that offers the surest road to awards glory. Weisz plays a historian who must defend her work in court against a Holocaust denier with Trumpian undertones. The film is staid and formulaic, but Weisz could find favor with voters looking to honor her collective work. She's won once before, for her supporting gig in 2005's "The Constant Gardener."
Amy Adams, "Nocturnal Animals"
Focus Features
The first of two Amy Adams performances in consideration this year, "Nocturnal Animals" is an arty melodrama that will have to put in overtime to make the Academy's shortlist. Focus Features would be wiser to throw its campaign weight behind "Loving" and "A Monster Calls" instead, especially with Adams competing for the more Oscar-friendly "Arrival."
Sally Field, "Hello, My Name Is Doris"
Roadside Attractions
We haven't seen Sally Field in many lead roles over the past two decades, so it was nice when her dotty hoarder from "Hello, My Name Is Doris" attracted positive notices back in March. Therein lies the rub: "back in March." There's no room for Field at this point, save a Golden Globe nomination. The whole grandma-renaissance thing recently worked for Lily Tomlin ("Grandma") and Judi Dench ("The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"), but both became Oscar also-rans.
Rebecca Hall, "Christine"
The Orchard
A toast of this year's Sundance, Rebecca Hall seemed poised for a big 2016. Her performance as Christine Chubbuck, the Florida news anchor who shot herself on live TV, was one of the festival's hallmarks. Hall is full of brooding, hunched-over aggression -- it's transcendent work, enveloped in depression and misogyny and other ailments. But "Christine" is drifting through theaters with barely a fizzle, effectively killing Hall's chances at the nomination she deserves.
Susan Sarandon, "The Meddler"
Sony Pictures Classics
In the April comedy "The Meddler," Susan Sarandon plays a widow who moves to Los Angeles to integrate herself in the life of her busy daughter. It's Sarandon's finest performance in years, and the movie itself is a fiesta of charisma. But Sarandon hasn't made many liberal friends by refusing to support Hillary Clinton, so it may be hard to separate her political meddling from her cinematic one.
Marion Cotillard, "Allied"
"Allied" reviews are embargoed until next week, but the early buzz is tepid. Could the frenzy surrounding Brad Pitt's divorce bring extra eyeballs to this World War II thriller? Marion Cotillard has one Best Actress trophy to her name already, so don't count her out.
Kate Beckinsale, "Love & Friendship"
Roadside Attractions
One of the year's indie success stories, "Love & Friendship" thrives on the merit of Kate Beckinsale, who plays a Jane Austen widow manipulating her way into financial security. Her line delivery is tart and tight, just the kind of thing the Golden Globes' comedy/musical actress category will embrace. But is enough of the Academy willing to devote a slot to a humorous turn from someone currently known as the star of the "Underworld" franchise? In a fairer world, the answer should be yes.
Jessica Chastain, "Miss Sloane"
Jessica Chastain seems to flirt with the Oscar race annually. She made the cut for "The Help" and "Zero Dark Thirty" but missed out on "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby," "A Most Violent Year" and "The Martian." Prone to hysterics and pill-popping, Chastain's ruthless gun-control lobbyist in "Miss Sloane" is a harsher character than we're used to seeing her play. For a political tale tackling sexism and addiction, the whole affair is a bit campy -- but Chastain carries its weight well. No movie in EuropaCorp's 19 years of distributing films has earned an acting nomination, but the studio has already booked a host of guild screenings to excite momentum. With someone as well-liked as Chastain, it could work.
Isabelle Huppert, "Elle"
Sony Pictures Classics
There can only be one older European thespian without a massive American following per Best Actress shortlist. (See: Charlotte Rampling in "45 Years," Emmanuelle Riva in "Amour," Imelda Staunton in "Vera Drake," Brenda Blethyn in "Secrets & Lies.") This year's hopeful is Isabelle Huppert, the French veteran who has long held clout with global cinephiles. She has two movies in the ring: the cat-and-mouse thriller "Elle" and the divorce drama "Things to Come." Huppert gives a far splashier performance in "Elle," and she has the critical momentum to compete in this tournament, if voters can stomach a character who doesn't follow the conventional stages of victimhood. In 2016, that's a big if.
Meryl Streep, "Florence Foster Jenkins"
Meryl Streep could slaughter a "Stranger Things" kid and she'd still be an Oscar front-runner. (She got a Golden Globe nomination for "She-Devil," after all.) Here she is again, contending for her title role as a New York heiress who funded her own delusional opera career. In fairness, it is a delightful achievement, one that guarantees Streep another Globe nod. Can it become her 20th Oscar nomination? In a less crowded year, Streep could coast on name alone -- but this is a Best Actress contest to be reckoned with, and hitting the right notes will be harder for awards season's high priestess.
Taraji P. Henson, "Hidden Figures"
The "Hidden Figures" footage shown at September's Toronto Film Festival previewed a galvanizing performance from Taraji P. Henson, already an Oscar nominee for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." Henson plays one of the female mathematicians responsible for advancing NASA's role in the 1960s Space Race. Voters will be anxious to avoid another year of #OscarsSoWhite, and the open-arms accessibility of "Hidden Figures" should make it an easy project to rally around, especially since the movie just began screening in full, bypassing the fatigue that sometimes stymies titles with months' worth of festival buzz.
Amy Adams, "Arrival"
Leonardo DiCaprio was 0 for 4 before coasting through last year's Best Actor race on the backbone of an "overdue" narrative. Julianne Moore was also 0 for 4 when she won for "Still Alice" in 2015. Amy Adams is currently 0 for 5. If she's nominated, will the Academy really pass her up again? Adams hasn't been billed as the darling of this race, maybe because her turn in the cerebral sci-fi drama is restrained. The other problem? Performers can't be nominated twice in the same category, and voters may have trouble deciding whether she's worthier for "Arrival" or "Nocturnal Animals."
Ruth Negga, "Loving"
Focus Features
Ruth Negga's delicate turn as Mildred Loving, the soft-spoken Virginia woman whose 1960s Supreme Court case overturned bans on interracial marriage, has won critical favor like few others this year. Without many notable credits to her name, the question is whether enough voters will be familiar with Negga, and whether they'll respond to a race movie that doesn't end in stirring Hollywood melodrama. She has an early bump, though: The Gotham Awards -- a low-key bellwether that carries weight as the season's first precursor -- included Negga among its Best Actress nominees.
Annette Bening, "20th Century Women"
Like Amy Adams, Annette Bening has "overdue" stamped on her forehead. Her 30-year career has proffered four nominations, and she's arguably come close to victory a couple of times. "20th Century Women" is a very Annette Bening role. Playing a single mother in 1979 California, she is both enlightened and restless. You want to give her a hug, which aptly sums up Bening's offscreen reputation as well. Trendy indie studio A24 pushed Brie Larson to an awards-season landslide last year for "Room" -- what's to say they can't do it again?
Emma Stone, "La La Land"
The biggest thing Emma Stone has going for her? Charm. The lady is a talk-show diamond and a magazine-cover superstar, and that's important during the whirlwind awards season where front-runners are everywhere. She is the highlight of "La La Land," a contemporary Ginger Rogers singing, dancing and romancing through the streets of Hollywood. The movie could very well sweep on technical and emotional merits, making Stone an easy choice. But the last two actresses nominated for proper musicals (Renée Zellweger in "Chicago" and Nicole Kidman in "Moulin Rouge!") lost to more conventional dramatic turns. The Academy likes its lead actresses to emote, and Stone is more moving than she is transformative. Right now, a box-office boost would do wonders: "La La Land" is the sort of thing you want to watch again and again, so a bangup theatrical run in December could make it unstoppable.
Natalie Portman, "Jackie"
Fox Searchlight
Natalie Portman doesn't have the pizzazz of Emma Stone's "La La Land" work or the overdue narrative surrounding Annette Bening, but she may have something even more important: a total transformation. When she steps into Jackie Kennedy's shoes, portraying the First Lady during the week after her husband's 1963 assassination, Portman sheds everything we know of her as an actress. Raging and grieving for 95 haunting minutes, and shot prominently in revealing extreme close-ups, Portman's is the type of performance that will fire up voters. The Academy could feel it's someone else's turn, considering Portman won in 2011 for "Black Swan." But "Jackie" is like a darker version of "The Queen," and that worked for Helen Mirren. Another fun narrative: Portman was pregnant the last time she campaigned for an Oscar, and she's pregnant this time around too.
Oscars 2015 Red Carpet