Welcome to For Your Consideration, The Huffington Post's breakdown of all things Oscars. Between now and February 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.
This time last year, Patricia Arquette had already become the bulletproof Best Supporting Actress front-runner. She won just about every prize there was to win for "Boyhood." This year, there's no such pacesetter. The two thespians who come the closest to being favorites are Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander, but could their odds be jeopardized by Oscar machinations? Their movies' studios are touting them as supporting players even though both roles are really leads, which might puzzle voters, who are otherwise looking at a wide-open field.
Next week's Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations will provide more focus, but in the meantime, we've nixed a host of third-tier candidates from our list -- Ellen Page ("Freeheld"), Helena Bonham Carter ("Suffragette") and Julianne Nicholson ("Black Mass"), for example -- because that's how crowded and hazy this race is. But that's the best kind, right? Below, we'll rank the ladies with Best Supporting Actress trophies dancing through their dreams.
A note on the headline:We've compiled these lists of Oscar contenders for a few years using the same headline structure: One Of These 22 Men Will Win Best Actor At The 2016 Oscars. Every time we've posted one, comments indicate readers think we're making clear-cut predictions instead of comprehensively handicapping the race. "Wow, you're really going out on a limb, HuffPost," our kind commenters scream. So let us clarify: Even though our lists are ranked, they are intended as all-encompassing windows into the ever-evolving Oscar derby, where narratives shift weekly and studios spend months -- and millions -- jockeying for their candidates. Twenty-two people may sound like a lot, but that's the point. You wouldn't believe how many Hollywood execs are shoveling money into Oscar crusades, no matter the odds. Honestly, these lists could be twice as long -- and that's part of what makes awards season fun. Regardless, we've tweaked the headline format for clarity's sake. Now, onward!
Phyllis Smith, "Inside Out"
Walt Disney Studios
How fun would it be to have Phyllis Smith’s name in the mix? She has a Hollywood story good enough for her own biopic. She worked as a burlesque dancer in the '70s before moving to LA to work in casting. And she was casting the American version of “The Office,” and already over the age of 50, when the show’s creators offered to create the part of Phyllis specifically for her. She shined on the NBC comedy, but it was as Sadness in “Inside Out” that she proved just how strong an actress she truly is. Sadness seems like she’s going to be a drag at the beginning of the movie -- and that’s how her fellow emotions see her at first. But she proves, over the course of her journey through Riley’s mind, that joy is meaningless without its opposite. Smith’s superb voice work made Sadness into the most moving character in a movie that led audiences to cry enough tears to fill a moderately sized lake. That’s why it’s so upsetting to realize that she almost certainly won’t be nominated. No actor has ever received an Oscar nod for voice-over work. Not even Andy Serkis, who got tons of buzz for his stunning voice and motion-capture work as Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” movies, managed to land one. And voters have been reluctant to recognize Pixar movies outside the Best Animated Feature category. - Joe Satran
Kristen Wiig, "The Diary of a Teenage Girl"
Sony Pictures Classics
Kristen Wiig had a quietly beautiful 2015, departing from her "Saturday Night Live" roots for "The Martian" and a trio of stellar indie dramedies: "Welcome to Me," "Nasty Baby" and "The Diary of a Teenage Girl," in which she portrays a 1970s San Francisco mother who can't shed the halcyon hippie days that have just passed her by. Wiig plays a sensual booze hound who is more fixated on the Patty Hearst case than she is her teenage daughter, who is having an affair with her boyfriend. One of Sundance's best-reviewed films, "Diary" has already netted four Gotham Award and three Independent Spirit Award nominations. If there's justice (or campaign dollars to spread around), Sony Pictures Classics would stage a huge push for Wiig. She deserves it. - Matthew Jacobs
Helen Mirren, "Trumbo"
Helen Mirren's "Trumbo" performance boasts a lot of things Oscar voters appreciate: decadent costumes, a period-piece accent and relics of the industry's history. She plays notorious gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, who went after blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo amid the height of America's Communism panic in the 1950s. I thought Mirren was a bit campy in the role, but others I spoke with after its Toronto Film Festival premiere praised her. Given the tepid reception surrounding "Trumbo," Mirren doesn't appear in the film enough to merit inclusion. But Harvey Weinstein has her lobbying for "Woman in Gold," so this four-time nominee might as well toss in some "Trumbo" promotion as she goes. - MJ
Tessa Thompson, "Creed"
What could have been a stock girlfriend character becomes a richly drawn contribution to "Creed" thanks to Tessa Thompson's dynamic performance in the boxing comeback tale. "Creed" is far better than it deserves to be, with some critics declaring it an instant Best Picture contender. Thompson, who broke out with last year's "Dear White People," will have to claw her way onto the finalists' list, but it's not impossible -- after all, her role truly supports the film, unlike some of the other contenders who are campaigning as demoted leads. - MJ
Jessica Chastain, "The Martian"
20th Century Fox
Has the Academy soured on Jessica Chastain? She was nominated for awards in both 2012 and 2013, and seemed certain to win eventually. But her name has been missing the past two years, despite a string of great performances. So if voters still have goodwill for her, this could be the time for them to prove it. There's no doubting that "The Martian" is Matt Damon's movie, so it makes sense that he's garnered the bulk of the awards buzz, but Chastain delivered a stellar performance as Melissa Lewis, the captain of the Hermes. Sure, she revisits some of the notes she hit in "Interstellar" -- but since the Academy didn't nominate her for that one, that's all the more reason to nominate her here. - JS
Cynthia Nixton, "James White"
The Film Arcade
Cynthia Nixon does some of the year's most moving work in "James White," where she plays a cancer-stricken New Yorker who depends on her unreliable son (Christopher Abbott) as a part-time caretaker. With escalating frailty, Nixon channels her own mother's recent death in a performance that has been universally praised since the film's first-rate Sundance reception back in January. The Independent Spirit Awards followed suit, nominating Nixon and bridging what is, for such a low-budget indie, a sadly improbable path to the Oscars. - MJ
Marion Cotillard, "Macbeth"
The Weinstein Co.
Marion Cotillard is one of our most beguiling actresses, and Lady Macbeth is one of the greatest dramatic roles of all time. But do the two add up to an Oscar? Shakespeare has a weirdly bad track record at the Academy Awards. Laurence Olivier, who won in 1948 for starring in "Hamlet," remains the only actor to win for a straight Shakespearean role. (Rita Moreno won Best Supporting Actress for her part in "West Side Story," which was based on "Romeo and Juliet," but she wasn't speaking Elizabethan language.) On the other hand, Cotillard's Best Actress nomination for "Two Days, One Night" was one of the biggest surprises of last year's awards. And even her 2008 win, for Edith Piaf biopic "La Vie en Rose," was unexpected; it was the first (and, so far, only) Oscar for a French-language performance. So don't count Cotillard out yet. - JS
Mya Taylor, "Tangerine"
Mya Taylor doesn't just waltz through "Tangerine" -- she storms through it like someone in full command of the camera. You won't believe it's actually her first movie. Taylor plays a transgender Los Angeles sex worker who dreams of being a stage performer in this rowdy, heartfelt Sundance comedy. "Tangerine" was shot on iPhones with a teeny budget, but Magnolia Pictures' Oscar push has already paid off: Taylor nabbed an Indie Spirit Award nod and won the breakthrough-performer prize at this week's Gotham Awards. - MJ
Diane Ladd, "Joy"
20th Century Fox
If anyone on this list is overdue for an Oscar, it’s Diane Ladd. The 80-year-old was on the shortlist for this category three times between 1975 and 1992, but hasn’t yet won. She’s been working steadily since her last nomination, but David O. Russell’s “Joy” is her biggest movie in decades. (Though it’s not necessarily her meatiest role in recent memory. She was the bitter heart of HBO’s “Enlightened” as the mother of Amy Jellicoe, who was played by her real-life daughter Laura Dern.) The reason we’re not more confident about Ladd’s chances is that few people have seen “Joy” at this point, and she's competing against co-stars Isabella Rossellini and Virginia Madsen. We can count on Ladd to do the best with what she’s given, but it’s not yet clear that her role will be substantial enough to draw awards attention. - JS
Kristen Stewart, "Clouds of Sils Maria"
It was hard to tell from the "Twilight" movies whether or not Kristen Stewart could act. She was, in her own way, oddly captivating as Bella. But she also had some off moments, and it occasionally felt like she was just playing a version of herself. That's why her riveting turn in Olivier Assayas' "Clouds of Sils Maria" came as such a pleasant surprise. As Valentine, personal assistant to Juliette Binoche’s aging star Maria Enders, she not only proves up to the task, she manages to upstage Binoche, a veritable screen legend. She crackles with intelligence, wearing her beautiful features and slightly diffident expression like a mask that conceals unexpected reserves of emotion and longing. The main barrier to Stewart’s success at the Oscars is that “Sils Maria” was released in the States way back in April, and never quite broke out of the arthouse scene. It’s likely that few voters saw it, and fewer will remember it when it’s time to submit their ballots. Still, the movie made us excited to see more serious work from Stewart -- and made us think it might not be so long before she becomes an Oscar winner. - JS
Julie Walters, "Brooklyn"
It's a testament to Julie Walters' skillful acting in "Brooklyn" that you can watch the entire movie without thinking once about Molly Weasley. Walters inhabits the role of Mrs. Kehoe, the den mom of Eilis' Clinton Street boarding house, so fully that she feels just feels like a real person. But then you look at her IMDB page, and you realize that she played the character who killed Bellatrix LeStrange in the one of the most cathartic scenes of the "Harry Potter" movies! It's a wild revelation. On the other hand, Mrs. Kehoe isn't on screen for much of the movie. And the fact that you never really see Walters acting -- the very strength of the naturalistic performance -- may make it hard for voters to get excited about voting for her. Unless they remember Walters' two prior nominations, for "Billy Elliott" and "Educating Rita." - JS
Rachel Weisz, "Youth"
“Youth” is stacked with terrific performances. All five of the top-billed actors could conceivably land nominations for their work in the movie, directed and written by Italian auteur Paolo Sorrentino. And maybe they all will! But chances are that some will be left behind. It’s hard to say who, Rachel Weisz or Jane Fonda, has the better shot at Best Supporting Actress. Both have won Oscars before. Fonda has won two, and Weisz has won one. But the last time Fonda took home a trophy was 1979, while Weisz got hers in 2006, for “The Constant Gardener.” So let’s count that as a draw. Weisz, playing the daughter of Michael Caine’s character, is in the movie for longer, and has a resonant emotional arc, but Fonda's brief appearance is splashier. The fact that Fonda is turning 78 in December, and would be the oldest-ever Best Supporting Actress winner if she won, might put her over the edge. - JS
Joan Allen, "Room"
Joan Allen's character in "Room," Nancy, could so easily have been forgettable. She only shows up about halfway through the movie. And her main task is to care for her daughter and grandson, played brilliantly by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. So a lesser actress might have played Nancy as The Supportive Mom and been done with it. The film would probably still have worked just fine. But Allen, thank goodness, goes much further. Her precise movements and vocal intonations convey the vast ocean of feeling beneath Nancy's strong veneer. She makes us understand how painful it was for Nancy to lose her daughter, how grateful Nancy is to get her back and how trying the reality of the return is, without big showy speeches. The risk of this subtle approach is that Oscar voters might not recognize it as the feat it is, especially given the bravura performances of the two leads. On the other hand, Allen was nominated thrice before, most recently in 2001, and hasn't yet taken home a trophy. So if "Room" emerges as one of the year's biggest awards movies, and grabs a ton of nominations -- a real possibility -- Allen has a great chance of being recognized. And she still has a shot even if "Room" doesn't end up soaring to those heights. - JS
Elizabeth Banks, "Love & Mercy"
Elizabeth Banks could be the dark-horse contender to fear. Her turn as Brian Wilson's protective love interest in "Love & Mercy" was one of the biopic's many refreshing surprises. It's certainly the most worldly performance Banks has committed to the screen yet, with reviewers calling her work "honest" and "superb." Banks' recent Indie Spirit Award snub hurts, but she knew what she was doing by hosting one of the season's best "Saturday Night Live" episodes under the guise of "Hunger Games" promotion. If Roadside Attractions revs up its campaign on her behalf, there's a good chance Banks could wiggle her way onto the shortlist. Having directed one of the year's highest-grossing movies, "Pitch Perfect 2," contributes to her banner year. - MJ
Rachel McAdams, "Spotlight"
Open Road Films
The sole-woman-in-a-man's-game thing seems to be an unfortunate trope of this year's Oscar contenders -- just ask Charlize Theron ("Mad Max: Fury Road"), Jennifer Jason Leigh ("The Hateful Eight") or Rachel McAdams, who wields a dynamic presence in what is ultimately a simple role. In the ensemble gem "Spotlight," she plays one of the Boston Globe journalists investigating sex-abuse allegations against priests. But McAdams injects the character with a detached sympathy that's apt for a hard-nosed newspaper reporter. By the time the two-hour film ends, we somehow feel like we know a great deal about her, when really we know very little. The question is whether McAdams is showy enough to topple the category's competition. Stints in the much-loathed "True Detective" and "Aloha" don't shine the brightest light on McAdams' 2015, and Open Road Films, which distributed "Spotlight," couldn't manage a nomination for Jake Gyllenhaal's dynamite "Nightcrawler" work this year. But phenomenal reviews suggest the studio doesn't need to work hard to secure McAdams' fate. - MJ
Jane Fonda, "Youth"
Jane Fonda appears in roughly five minutes of "Youth," but her cameo as an aging screen star is so fierce and campy that it became one of the Cannes Film Festival's big talking points in May. There's plenty of precedent for Fonda, particularly in this category, where Beatrice Straight won for a six-minute appearance in "Network" and Judi Dench garnered a trophy for eight minutes of screen time in "Shakespeare in Love." Fonda has been everywhere this year, traversing the festival circuit, headlining Netflix's "Grace and Frankie" and appearing on the cover of The Hollywood Reporter's annual actress issue. Already a seven-time nominee at 77, Fonda will appeal to the significant faction of voters who love to see Hollywood depicted on the big screen. - MJ
Jennifer Jason Leigh, "The Hateful Eight"
The Weinstein Co.
As one of only a few women in Quentin Tarantino's male-dominated "Hateful Eight," Jennifer Jason Leigh won't have a hard time standing out. Her brief appearances in the trailers have been deliciously manic, and with The Weinstein Company quarterbacking the movie's campaign, Jason Leigh has consistently ranked among the year's front-runners for her role as a Civil War-era fugitive. The National Board of Review took notice this week, handing her its supporting-actress prize. The 53-year-old indie fixture has also generated attention for Charlie Kaufman's acclaimed "Anomalisa," which netted her an Indie Spirit nom. We'll soon see how kindly critics take to Tarantino's latest. Reviews are embargoed until Dec. 21, but the movie has begun to screen for critics in New York and LA, so word will soon trickle out. - MJ
Kate Winslet, "Steve Jobs"
Even if "Steve Jobs" was a disappointment at the box office, Kate Winslet can go ahead and book her trip to the Oscars. Her role as the titular Apple titan's key confidant should yield Winslet's seventh nomination. We're talking about an actress who doesn't have to do much to catch the Academy's attention: 2001's "Iris," for example, earned a third of what "Steve Jobs" did, and Winslet still made off with a supporting-actress nod. Her Polish accent in "Steve Jobs" is fleeting, but that's a minor distraction in a performance seeped in resolve. In many ways, Winslet's character is the movie's hero. The Academy will like that. - MJ
Alicia Vikander, "The Danish Girl"
What a year Alicia Vikander has had. The 27-year-old Swede had been in a few English-language films before, most notably 2012’s “Anna Karenina,” but 2015 was when she crossed over to Hollywood stardom. She’s been in four big movies since the New Year: “Ex Machina,” “Burnt,” “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” and “The Danish Girl.” You could actually make a compelling case that the best of these roles was the eerie robot Ava in “Ex Machina,” opposite Domnhall Gleeson, her on-screen husband in “Anna Karenina.” But “Ex Machina” is an indie with a modest budget, and a sci-fi movie to boot. “The Danish Girl” is the better bet for Oscar night. The film has an impeccable pedigree. It was directed by Tom Hooper, who led “The King’s Speech” to Best Picture and Best Director wins in 2011, and Vikander’s co-star is Eddie Redmayne, last year’s Best Actor winner. Vikander plays painter Gerda Wegener, who struggles with the decision by her husband Einar (played by Redmayne) to become one of the first people to undergo sex reassignment surgery. The reviews for “The Danish Girl” have been disappointing, with many arguing that it’s too tasteful for its own good, but no one has anything but praise for Vikander’s performance. It’s just the kind of nuanced, emotional role that the Academy loves to award. And a nomination, or even a win, would be a phenomenal way to recognize Vikander’s ascension. - JS
Rooney Mara, "Carol"
The Weinstein Company
Let's get something straight: Rooney Mara should have won Best Actress in 2012 for "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Her performance as Lisbeth Salander was iconic, riveting, scary, vulnerable and utterly transformative. Mara just had the bad luck to be nominated in the year when the Academy decided to finally give the divine Meryl Streep her third Oscar. (In fairness, Streep was impressive as Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady," sure, but it certainly wasn't her best performance of the decade.) But why dwell on the past when "Carol" gave Mara another chance to shine? Cate Blanchett's title character is the showier part, but Mara more than holds her own as Therese, the object of Carol's affections. Phyllis Nagy's script doesn't provide a ton of concrete details about Therese's backstory or the moment-to-moment workings of her emotional life, but Mara's acting fills in every blank. We know her, even if we don't know everything about her; we empathize with her, even if we don't always know exactly what she's thinking. You could even argue that Therese is the lead, despite the title. Of the two, she's the one who grows more over the course of the movie. But The Weinstein Company is (smartly) pushing her for Best Supporting Actress. The combination of Harvey's magic, widespread adulation for the film and Mara's powerful performance should propel her to a win. - JS