The Best Actress race this year is the most competitive it has been in a long time. There are some great performances this year, but there can only be 5 nominees. So far we have mostly seen the results of the critics awards. The critics aren’t great Oscar predictors, but they can influence the race based on who they award. The Academy is not in the business of criticizing films. They choose what they think is the best of the year based on many more factors than what a critic does. Is the actress likable? Does she have a body of work? Is she working the awards circuit and campaigning? Does she “deserve” their recognition? Does she have “it”?  

We will know more on January 29th, when the SAG winners are announced. Remember the majority of Oscar voters are actors and members of SAG. This makes SAG the best predictor of who they will nominate and ultimately vote as the winner. 
The SAG nominations for Best Actress in a Leading Role are:

Amy Adams-Arrival 
Emily Blunt-The Girl on the Train
Natalie Portman-Jackie
Emma Stone-La La Land
Meryl Streep-Florence Foster Jenkins

This give us an idea of who is at least part of the conversation right now. 

To build a list of possible Best Actress nominees, you should look at the SAG nominations and consider some of what the critics are saying. 

Emma Stone (La La Land):
Stone is a lock for a nomination. She has been the frontrunner to win most of the year. Something to consider though is that she failed to win most of the critics awards that she was been nominated for. Of the 8 awards she was nominated for, she only won one. Normally an Oscar frontrunner is winning everything up to this point. She will most likely win the Golden Globe since they have both comedy and drama categories. The real tell will be the SAG awards. If she doesn’t win the SAG, then you can count her out. 

Natalie Portman (Jackie): Another lock for a nomination. Portman is quickly rising to the top. Her win over Emma Stone at the Critics Choice awards was the first clue that Portman has the support. She also won both the Chicago and Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Awards. Portman plays a much more showy role than Stone does in La La Land. Playing a real person can often come off as a bad imitation, but Portman plays Jackie Kennedy just subtly enough to make it a great performance. She is quickly rising to frontrunner status if she wasn’t there already. 

Amy Adams-Arrival: Not quite a lock, but most likely will get the nomination. Poor Amy Adams. She has been nominated XX times and has never won. There is a good chance that this year will be her XX nomination and another loss. If Arrival gets a Best Picture nomination then Adams is almost certain to get a nomination also. You just can’t compare the performance of Adam’s next to a great one like Natalie Portman. 

Those are the 3 that look to be the leads for a nomination. The tricky part is predicting the other 2. Emily Blunt has the SAG nomination, but the reviews for The Girl on the Train take it out of the Oscar race. Blunt’s performance clearly resonated for some. Also in the mix are: 

Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins): Not a lock, but the SAG and Golden Globe nominations help. Streep had been nominated a record 19 times for and Academy Award. She won 3. This will not be Streep’s year to win a 4th, but if she can maintain some momentum, she may be in for her 20th nomination. 

Annette Bening (20th Century Women): Not a big showy performance and 20th Century Women is not really being talked about as an Oscar movie. The thing is Bening has never won an Oscar. Nominated 4 times, but never a win. She could be this year’s Julianne Moore and win for her body of work rather than from this particular performance. She didn’t get SAG nom. but does have a Golden Globe nod. 

Isabelle Huppert (Elle): Somehow Elle didn’t make the shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film. Huppert is getting some attention. The Academy occasionally nominates foreign actors in its acting categories (Marion Cotillard, Juliette Binoche and Emmanuelle Riva). She is excellent in this film and can certainly take the 4th or 5th spot. 

Ruth Negga(Loving): Unfortunately Loving is not getting the attention everyone thought it would. Negga’’ performance is fantastic, but probably too small to get nominated. The Academy likes big performances. They like a movie with that one great scene that shows the actors range. Loving is not that kind of movie. 

Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures): Hidden Figures has great word of mouth in the Oscar circles. People seem to have taken to it. Henson also doesn’t have that big showy scene, but she is also in Moonlight. Being in 2 big movies in the same year can help to get you some attention. 

With all that said, here is my best guess at who will get a Best Actress nomination:

Emma Stone-La La Land
Natalie Portman-Jackie
Amy Adams-Arrival
Meryl Streep-Florence Foster Jenkins
Annette Bening-20th Century Women

A lot will change over the next few months. The Golden Globes will happen January 8th. A GG nomination is not a good Oscar predictor but a win is. 

With a lot of strong female performances this year, anything can happen.